Webinar Wrap-Up: How to Identify and Address Leadership Blind Spots through Coaching

Eager for answers? Jump straight to the Q&A.

Do leaders see themselves as others see them? Probably not as often as they think.

And for coaches, that creates a challenge. If you rely on conversations with your coachee to understand what their developmental needs are, you could be missing important parts of the picture. Fortunately, there are strategies to help leaders see their blind spots – making your coaching more relevant, and helping them achieve the self-awareness that’s critical for success.

In the webinar Leadership Blind Spots: How to Identify and Address them Through Coaching, the MRG experts revealed new research findings about blind spots, and practical tactics for coaching to close awareness gaps.

Read on for highlights and key findings from the webinar, or watch the full webinar on-demand now. And be sure to scroll to the end of this post for answers to attendee questions.

Finding Blind Spots: How to See What a Leader Can’t

To research patterns in blind spots – and inform our coaching – we undertook a global study of nearly 40,000 leaders who took the LEA 360™, a behavioral assessment that collects data from leaders and their observers (bosses, peers, and direct reports).

The LEA 360™ questionnaire collects data that is descriptive, not evaluative. This neutrality is important for collecting feedback that is based in action, not effectiveness – making it uniquely malleable and informative for practical development.

For this study, we defined a “blind spot” as a behavior where the difference between Self scores and Observer scores (averaged) was greater than 30 points (on a 100-point scale) – in other words, a noteworthy difference is present between how leaders rated themselves, and how their observers rated them.

A New Study on Blind Spots: 5 Fascinating Findings

1.    Blind spots are common.

The study revealed that leaders have an average of 7.6 blind spots – more than 1/3 of the 22 leadership behaviors measured.

2.    There are 3 behaviors leaders are most likely to overestimate.

Leaders are more likely to overestimate how often they make decisions independently (SELF), seize opportunities and adapt (TACTICAL), and delegate to others (DELEGATION).

3.    There are 2 behaviors leaders are most likely underestimate.

Leaders are more likely to underestimate how thoroughly they communicate (COMMUNICATION), and how frequently they ensure everyone is meeting commitments (CONTROL).

4.    There are 5 behaviors where leaders and their observers are most likely to align.

Leaders are more likely to be aligned on some of the behaviors associated with interpersonal relationships: PERSUASIVE, OUTGOING, EXCITEMENT, RESTRAINT and EMPATHY.

5.    Blind spots are universal.

The study explored whether there were noteworthy differences when splitting the data – did some demographics more blind spots than others? The short answer is no. The average number of blind spots was consistent across management level, region, gender, industry, work location (remote, in-person, or hybrid), and generation.

Addressing Blind Spots: Coaching to Close Awareness Gaps

Not only are blind spots common – they’re also to be expected. After all, an individual’s self score includes not just what they’re doing publicly, but all of their internal thoughts as well. An observer score can only account for what is external during the limited time a leader is spending with their colleagues.

So addressing blind spots requires us to contextualize scores, find those that are truly relevant and important, and then make our developmental plans accordingly.

At MRG, we ground this work in the LEA 360™ assessment, using the results as a data-driven foundation for coaching and creating a developmental plan.

Here are three things to keep in mind when coaching to address blind spots:

1. Maintain Perspective

It’s easy for a coachee to be reactive when they find that others don’t see them as they see themselves. As a coach, you can lay the foundation for constructive conversation by putting these results into perspective. Remind your coachee how common blind spots are, and that they’re present in every leader. Reinforce that these gaps in awareness are opportunities, not accusations.

Some findings may cut deep. Give your coachee space to explore those feelings, but don’t dwell, catastrophize, or let the conversation give way to justification for the findings.

2. Rely on the Fundamentals

When using the LEA, reiterate an essential aspect of the LEA assessment: low scores aren’t bad, high scores aren’t good. That means it’s descriptive, not evaluative – these scores aren’t indicating effectiveness (or ineffectiveness!) at anything.

From there, take a simple, three-phased approach to the coaching work:

INTERPRETATION: Help your participant understand what their scores mean.

CONTEXT: Together, talk through what their overall goals are, how some of their data may relate to those goals, and establish a developmental path based on that broader context.

ACTION PLAN: Establish specific behavioral changes your coachee can focus on to help achieve their developmental goals – and incorporate accountability into the plan.

3. Leverage resources and input to take meaningful action.

Recognize that data insights are a useful starting point, but it’s important to supplement them with qualitative feedback. Coachees should ask questions and get context for the scores they received. To turn what they’ve learned into practical action, leverage resources from the assessment provider (MRG provides resources like Action Steps and Learning Libraries to help individuals target specific behaviors for development). Use the context and resources to identify key action items that are highly specific, and create structure (tasks, deadlines) to make them happen. Often very small behavior shifts can result in big wins.

Curious about what this process might look like in action? During the webinar, Drew walked through a case study of coaching a rising leader struggling with two common blind spots. Watch the case study here to see how these insights can be applied.

The bottom line: blind spots are extremely common. And while we’re never going to see ourselves exactly as others see us, developing more self-awareness can lead to stronger working relationships and fewer misunderstandings.

You can watch the full webinar on-demand and dive into more related resources here.

Read on for answers from the experts to questions that arose during the webinar. (Has this research raised questions for you? Ask us!)

Q&A with the Experts

Using Blind Spots in Development

Q: If there’s no data correlation between the number of blind spots and effectiveness, then why address blind spots at all?

A: Watch a conversation with Maria and Drew discussing this question:

Q:  How much does behavior change over time?

A: See the answer from Drew:

Q: Could you coach co-leadership to help address blind spots? 

A: All leaders have their own blind spots, which are unique to them. To address these blind spots, one approach is to use shared or co-leadership. Shared leadership is an excellent way to compensate for the fact that no leader is perfect, and expecting a leader to excel at everything is unrealistic. When it comes to blind spots, shared leadership may allow a leader’s self-awareness gaps to be mitigated because they can focus on what they are best at, while another person takes care of another aspect of leadership. MRG has some excellent shared leadership content that is relevant to blind spots, as well as introducing the concept to organizations as a way to address many leadership challenges.
Resources: Shared leadership Webinar | Shared Leadership Coaching Crib Sheet | Shared Leadership Article in Coaching Perspectives Magazine
– Drew

Q: Any recommendations for research or reading on behavioral change?

A: Assuming the behavior change is desired by the individual (verses demanded by someone else or the organization) there are some good resources to support behavior change.
First, this is one of the best overall articles I’ve come across that covers a wide range of both psychological and neuroscience insights into behavior change.
Next – the research and insights about the neuroscience of habits if very useful to learn about in supporting behavior change. There are a lot of good options for resources. I like “The Power of Habits” by Charles Duhigg and “Atomic Habits” by James Clear.
Finally, there are the situations where individuals want to change but somehow have been unable to make the desired change. For that I think there is no better methodology than “Immunity to Change” by Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey. – Tricia

Understanding the Research

Q: Is the reference to “30 points” a percentile score?

A: LEA 360 results are presented to participants as percentile scores. Raw scores on the assessment are compared to a regional norm to yield the percentiles. We find that this provides important context for interpreting results. Leaders can see how they compare to others who work in their region. – Maria

Q: How do you account for potential bias from observers related to gender, race, and other elements? Have any patterns been identified in the data?

A: See the answer from Maria:

Q: How do you determine whether a difference in score (30 points) between the subject and observers is due to an actual blind spot versus different interpretations of the question?

A: In the LEA questionnaire, each behavior is measured 10 or 11 times, using different question stems and response options. One of the benefits of that is that a single difference in interpretation here and there will not be the only influence on a behavior score. The options are fairly specific and even if there are some differences in the interpretation of what they mean, what is more important is that the type of behavior they describe can be contrasted with the other two options so a respondent can identify which more closely describe the leader. – Maria

Q: How do you define “management level” in the data?

A: Management level is a demographic factor measured in the LEA 360; participants select from nine options from the top to the entry levels within organizations. The values shared during the webinar refer to the leaders completing the assessment and not their observers. – Maria

Q: Does this data include smaller businesses?

A: This sample included organizations of all sizes. Approximately 14% of participants worked as business with fewer than 100 employees. – Maria

Q: When you calculated the differences, was it based on absolute value differences, or averages? For example: if a boss was higher but peers and reports were lower was it the average or sum of differences?

A: See the answer from Maria:

Q: When you talk about a Communication score, are communication methods measured? (Online, email, etc)

A: Communication is one of the dimensions measured in the LEA 360. It is defined as:

Explaining things clearly and thoroughly; expressing thoughts and ideas readily; keeping others well informed; clearly stating viewpoints; being explicit about what is needed or wanted

For the purpose of this research we only used dimensions measured through the assessment. Observers were most likely considering all types of experiences with the leader when responding to items about how often they communicate clearly and share information, including in-person, email, and virtual interactions. In other words, the result refers to the emphasis placed on clarity and not the medium involved. – Maria

Q: What is the basis for the behaviors selected for measurement in the LEA 360?

A: The set of leadership behaviors measured by the LEA 360 comes from years of research and practice in leadership development. During its development, the assessment underwent a strenuous process of validation. Since then, the assessment is evaluated regularly to ensure continued reliability and stability using contemporary samples of leaders around the world representing many industry, organizational, personal and demographic categories. The results of these analyses can be found in the LEA Technical Considerations Document Executive Summary (or the full Technical Considerations document if you’re up for some extended reading!). – Maria

Q: Can you clarify what the “alignment” finding means? I’m not clear on the distinction between blind spots and alignment in the research.

A: See the answer from Maria:

Q: What is the average score for Empathy? What about Restraint? I’ve noticed that when I assess leaders many of them are low on those dimensions, is that why there is so much alignment?

A: LEA scores are reported as percentiles. The research was conducted using those percentile scores. Because of the nature of the scoring system and the fact that this is a rather large sample, the average score on any dimension will be very close to 50. The finding that there were fewer blind spots on 5 dimensions was based on data from the full sample of leaders which included leaders across the full range of scores. We did not look at whether the score gap was smaller when leaders’ self-scores were in the tails of the range. A future question for this research is whether high tail scores (≥85) that may indicate more automatic responses by leaders, have fewer blind spots because of the greater frequency of use across situations. – Maria

About the author

Lucy is the Head of Marketing at MRG. She's a passionate people person who talks with her hands even when she's on the phone. She will not rest until everyone on earth has taken their IDI.

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