What are you not seeing on purpose? It’s a question that I ask often when I coach leaders who get stuck while trying to make a big decision.
You might be surprised at the answer.
The typical reply? “Do you mean, what am I avoiding?”
Nope, not exactly. I mean this:
- Where are you not looking because you think you’ve already checked there?
- Where are you not looking because you suspect that what you discover won’t make a difference to the problem at hand?
- Where are you not looking because you don’t have the time, or the energy, or the patience?
- Where are you not looking because what you might find will scare the heck out of you?
What are you not seeing on purpose?
My coaching clients are not unlike most leaders. They, just like the rest of us, believe their perception skills are keen. As convinced as they may be, what’s in front of them is rarely all there is.
What’s going on when leaders don’t see?
According to Professor Max Bazerman, author of The Power of Noticing: What the Best Leaders See
Leaders often fail to notice when they are obsessed by other issues, when they are motivated to not notice, and when there are other people in their environment working hard to keep them from noticing.
Even if you have a superior grasp of common blind spots, you must remain alert for unplanned surprises and acknowledge your cognitive biases. Even the most venerated leaders make egregious mistakes, failing to notice—or even ignoring—essential data. As they handle an emerging crisis, they may ask: “How did this happen?” or “Why didn’t I catch this sooner?
They should really be asking themselves:
• “What information should I have gathered, beyond the basic facts?”
• “What information would have helped inform my decision?”
Imagine your advantage in negotiations, decision-making and overall leadership if you could teach yourself to spot and evaluate information others routinely overlook. More than a decade of research shows that leaders take no notice of critical, readily available information in their environment. This happens when they have blinders on, focusing on limited information they’ve predetermined to be necessary to make good decisions.
Does this sound even a little bit like you? There are some terrific business books about the high-level decision-making required of senior executives. If you want to improve your ability to see more clearly, you’ll want to give them a read.
I’ve already mentioned one by Harvard Business School Professor Max Bazerman, The Power of Noticing: What the Best Leaders See (Simon & Schuster, 2014). Max Bazerman is the co-director of the Center for Public Leadership at the Harvard Kennedy School and the author of numerous books, including:
- Negotiation Genius with Deepak Malhotra,
- Blind Spots with Ann E. Tenbrunsel,
- Judgment in Managerial Decision Making with Don A. Moore.
Drawing on real-world examples, from the Challenger Space Shuttle disaster to Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme, Bazerman diagnoses what information went ignored in these situations, and why. He challenges leaders to explore their cognitive blind spots, identify any salient details they are programmed to miss, and then take steps to ensure it won’t happen again.
His book will help you spot the hidden details that can change your decision-making and leadership skills for the better, teaching you to:
• Pay attention to what didn’t happen
• Acknowledge self-interest
• Invent the third choice
• Realize that what you see is not all there is.
I’ve been posting a lot of tips for coaches in the last while. I’m going to shift gears over to leaders for a bit. In this next series of posts, I’ll share with you some of what I’ve learned about the skill of noticing, and how you can avoid falling short when making important decisions.
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Have you ever been blindsided by something you didn’t see on purpose? Post a comment below, I’d love to hear from you.
Oh, and if you’ve got a big sticky business problem you’d like to work through with a coach, let’s talk!
Author: Cathy Shaughnessy
Cathy Shaughnessy is a PRISM award winning ICF Master Certified Coach and author of the book series The Really Competent Coach. Cathy coaches senior leaders, mentors credentialed coaches, trains fledgling coaches and helps organizations build strong coaching cultures.
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