Wake-up; You’re Blind
Most of us are forced to manage as if most of what we need to know about leading others is already known, already discovered, and specifically, known to us. But in our quiet moments, we would have to at least agree intellectually that of all of the vast body of knowledge on the planet about leading people effectively, we have been exposed to perhaps less than 10%. And beyond that, it is logical to conclude that aside from what we know, what we don’t know we don’t know about human beings and what makes them loyal, committed, and high performing is a body of knowledge that dwarfs what we do know.
Given this perspective, we would have to declare ourselves “blind” when it comes to leadership. And it would be more appropriate to examine the plight and coping mechanisms of the blind when it comes to evolving as a leader.
Is “Blind” the Right Word?
Main Entry: blind
Etymology: Middle English, from Old English; akin to Old High German blint blind, Old English blandan to mix — more at BLEND
Date: before 12th century
1 a (1) : SIGHTLESS (2) : having less than 1/10 of normal vision in the more efficient eye when refractive defects are fully corrected by lenses b : of or relating to sightless persons
2 a : unable or unwilling to discern or judge <blind to a lover’s faults> b : UNQUESTIONING <blind loyalty> <blind faith>
3 a : having no regard to rational discrimination, guidance, or restriction <blind choice> b : lacking a directing or controlling consciousness <blind chance> c : DRUNK 1a
4 : made or done without sight of certain objects or knowledge of certain facts that could serve for guidance <a blind taste test>; especially : performed solely by the aid of instruments within an airplane <a blind landing>
5 : DEFECTIVE: as a : lacking a growing point or producing leaves instead of flowers b : lacking a complete or legible address <blind mail>
6 a : difficult to discern, make out, or discover b : hidden from sight : COVERED <blind seam>
Given the definition, if the practice of leadership is conducted “without sight of certain … knowledge of certain facts that could serve for guidance”, we might conclude that one way to talk about it is to say that we’re “blind.”
Blind from Birth
What is it like to be blind from birth? No remembered images for colors and sights. No sunrises and no sunsets. No visual perspectives like the view of the distance between home and the office. When you’re blind from birth, you have to make up the images in your mind from descriptions provided by others and by running your hands over things in your environment. You have no memory or experience to draw on. And you can easily reach conclusions and develop images that are far from accurate.
And when you’re blind from birth, things that you haven’t perceived don’t exist. You don’t know what you don’t know. So if you’re walking down the street and it begins to snow, you might only conclude that the air was colder and wetter than usual, but developing the mental picture of snow would be quite difficult and unexplainable in your perceptive framework. You could easily miss altogether the knowledge of the existence of a snowflake.
And when you found yourself at the ocean and heard the crashing of the surf and approached the edge of the water, you might reach down and feel a wave crashing over your hand, but without someone describing to you in visual terms what you were hearing and feeling, how could you turn that into a complete picture of a wave?
What about a blind leader? We have no visual images for a high-performing organization. We can’t see what people can really do. Just like the snowflake, we have no real concept of the intricacy of organizational performance.
And like the visit to the ocean, we’ve experienced the feeling of working in an organization. We’ve had the experience because we worked in an organization and experienced leadership. But does that mean that we know what leadership really is?
If we are truly blind to leadership, how can we know what real leadership might be?
The Enlightened Leader
Most managers will travel along the horizontal path for their entire career. They will develop their skills, and gain knowledge that will lead to becoming a better manager. Their results will improve and they’ll find it easier to manage people every year they remain committed to it. Their skills at performance management, planning, communicating, and handling conflict will all improve and at the end of their career, all those who have come to know them will praise them for their even hand and track record of achievement.
Meanwhile, because we are blind, no one will guess that the performance available from an organization under this manager could have broken all records.
In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.
The successful person who has functioned without the use of sight since birth knows they are blind. They begin almost immediately to develop their other senses and their ability to create pictures of their world. The successful blind person doesn’t have to deal with the normal barriers that sighted people have. They develop their imagination and capacity to create clear pictures of performance in any situation from the time they are very young.
Meanwhile the sighted leader functions under the impression that because they can see, hear, touch, smell, and taste, that they are in possession of all of the data they will need to build a high performance organization. Yes, having the use of the five senses is a definite handicap in the world of leadership.
Because what our five senses tell us about the world has been proven to be false, or haven’t you heard? Think about the implication of these scientific facts:
- We are not separate physical bodies but a part of a universal energy field.
- What appears to be solid matter is nothing more than an energy field that we perceive to be solid.
- What we expect to observe is what we observe; our expectations cause our experiences – not the other way around.
So given these simple scientific facts, we have everything to do with the performance of those around us… in fact, we are the cause of organizational and individual performance or lack thereof.
And we’re “blind” about that fact and don’t know it. Because if we were aware of this blindness, we would begin seeking to build our mental pictures toward the end of making up for that blindness.
The Blind Leader
Here are some things that a “blind leader” might do to discover the landscape and the road to high performance.
- Conduct many experiments to learn what works and doesn’t work to gain loyalty, commitment, and ownership among the workforce. Develop mental pictures of people performing favorably. See people over-coming obstacles and dealing with tough problems.
- Establish leadership values for the organization. Make a values contract with the workforce. Rely on the self-management, personal responsibility, and innovation of the people in the organization.
- Explore ways of changing your perceptions to allow people around you to be OK. Provide encouragement even when there might be reasons not to if all the facts were known.
- Approach daily work as if you didn’t know what you’re doing rather than from the perspective that you do know what you’re doing. Assume that you don’t know everything you need to know. Listen as if everyone has the ability to brief you on a part of reality that you missed and need to know in order to be successful.
- Follow the road in the direction it’s going. In the song, “He ain’t heavy” the Hollies sing the lyrics, “The road is long; with many a winding turn; that leads us to who knows where.” When a team is clear on its vision, the universe conspires to place the road before us with everything we need to complete our mission. A blind leader doesn’t question the road.
- Learn about process maturity. Managing and accelerating improvement in an organization is impossible without a roadmap. The Process Maturity Model is that roadmap. Everything else is just firefighting cleverly disguised as progress.