Denial as a Career Derailer

There a many reasons why leadership careers go off course. Most of them have the same root: denial. It’s human to have blind spots about our behaviour and other personality traits. The problem occurs when we don’t try and find out about these blind spots and take appropriate action.

The Johari window provides a simple and powerful way of tackling this issue. Aspects of our personality can be assigned to one of the four windows:

  • Open I know I act like this and others know it also. An example of this is putting things off until the last moment.
  • Private Facets of my personality that I keep under wraps at work. One of my reports had low self-confidence at work. It turned out that they were excellent at their chosen sport. (The leadership challenge became: how to help them transfer this self-confidence to the workplace.)
  • Blind Spot Aspects that I’m in denial about and that others see in me.
  • Unknown Aspects of my personality that neither I nor my colleagues know about. This can cover anything from not-yet-discovered talents and interests, to unresolved childhood traumas.

The larger my Open pane in the window, the more effective my leadership potential. Having large Blind Spot and Private panes limits my effectiveness. Blind Spot is limits because staff see my weakness and also see that I’m doing nothing about it. (Many think, “if I know about it, he must too!”) Asking for feedback is a basic leadership tool to counteract this. We’ll explore how to do this in upcoming entries.

It’s worth shrinking the Private pane by letting staff have a more complete picture of you. After all, they need to know who it is that they are allowing to lead them.

Three strategies offer themselves for dealing with the Unknown pane. The first is to get familiar with a personality model. I’ve had good results with the Enneagram. By finding my Type in the model, I was able to find out about aspects of my personality that I’d never considered before. This opened up new possibilities for my leadership and these days for my coaching. Another strategy is to do some self-discovery work; here coaching or (in sime cases) therapy can be helfpul. The third strategy is to undertake some shared discovery activities with your staff or colleagues.

At different stages in their careers, many managers find it difficult wither to ask for or accept feedback. Starting out as managers, it is often due to the problem that this is viewed as a sign of weakness; and they need to show that they’re on the case. Later on, the challenge becomes one of trust: most of the people in a position to give feedback are viewed as rivals.

It’s important to have different sources of feedback; this prevents the Johari Window getting skewed. Three useful sources to start with are:

  • your partner: who knows you better?
  • an old friend: who knows you longer?
  • your mentor: who’s been watching out for you over the years?

Who can you ask, to help keep your career on track?


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