Leadership Blindspots, by Robert Bruce Shaw (Hardcover, 2014)|
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Reviewer: Mark Lamendola, author of over 6,000 articles.
One of the best leadership books to come along in a long time. It's at the
opposite end of the scale from Who Cut the Cheese or whatever that silly book
was. A common theme in the leadership literature is some formula for how you can
be a great leader. Another common theme is a set of requirements (usually 10)
that you need to meet if you want to be a great leader. But we can look at great
leaders like Ken Chenault at American Express or the late Steve Jobs of Apple
fame and we see they did just fine without fitting the specific idea the author
has in mind for what a great leader should be.
In my own experience, I have worked under great leaders who also didn't
fit the prescribed mode. But somehow, they managed to instill loyalty,
motivate the troops, and avoid disasters. I have arguably been such a leader
myself, though plagued by faults that are tsk-tsk'd in the leadership
literature and not possessing the "must have" traits espoused therein
Now I understand what the missing ingredient is. And it's an essential
ingredient. While most leadership books try to tell you what you need to be
and how you need to change, this one is telling you that you have to work
with what you've got and be aware that it's never enough. You are going to
have blind spots. How you deal with them is what matters.
If this sounds crazy, then think about driving a car. You have blind
spots. Being aware of them and taking appropriate measures is how you avoid
having a nasty collision. The same concept applies in business leadership. I
think it also applies in leadership positions outside of business; for
example, how a parent leads a child (there are no omniscient parents).
It's not a situation of "Gee, I might have blindspots so I need to get
rid of them." You won't get rid of them. The key to success is understanding
what your particular blindspots are (and what the blindspots are of those on
whom you depend) and making allowances for those blindspots. It's not a
matter of eliminating them, but of working around them.
In business leadership positions, blindspots arise for a variety of
reasons. Some are situational. Some are just the flip-side of the leader's
own strengths. On that latter, Shaw uses the example of Steve Jobs.
Basically, whatever is your strong point as a leader is also going to be
your source of blindspots. For example, a highly analytical leader is likely
to rely heavily on analysis and miss subtler cues. Shaw provides several
case examples that illustrate this point.
The introduction alone is hugely edifying and instructive. Don't skip
over it. The main text of this book consists of three sections.
In the first section, Shaw explains why blindspots matter. He talks about
the dangers and rewards they present (Chapter 1), how to spot them in
yourself and others (Chapter 2), the common ones that hold leaders back
(Chapter 3) and why they are an ever-present challenge. There's no distilled
sound-bite takeaway from this section (or the other two). I would be doing
this section an injustice if I attempted to summarize it. But I can
In the fourth chapter, Shaw discusses, dissects, and illustrates (sorry,
but all those verbs really do apply here) twenty blindspots that he has seen
in his work with leaders. Now, just to be clear, this isn't a list of "the"
twenty blindspots. And he doesn't say something along the lines of "fix
these twenty blindspots and you'll be a great leader." A given leader who
crashes and burns might do so because of having just one of these blindspots,
while a successful leader might have five of them but is able to deal with
In the second section, Shaw explains how to identify (he uses the term
"surface") and overcome blindspots. This takes up five chapters (five
through nine). Same logic as in Section 1. Highlighting something for this
review, in Chapter 6 he discusses seeking out that which disconfirms what
you believe. This is actually an aspect of critical thinking, and it's
something people are generally very resistant to do. Included in Shaw's
advice on this are specific techniques any leader can implement.
In both sections, Shaw frequently uses tables to help the reader more
easily assimilate and mentally organize the information. These are quite
So what about Section 3? It's titled "Additional Resources" and is
organized into four appendices: Resource A, B, C, and D.
Resource A: Blindspot Q&A. So you get done reading the book, and some
questions are still in your mind. Following the FAQ model, Shaw presents
likely questions, immediately followed by the answer.
Resource B is a self-assessment. If you're looking for something that
gives you a grade you can brag about, this isn't it. The idea of this
assessment isn't to give you a false pat on the back, but to help you
identify where you have blindspots. We all have them. They are neither good
nor bad, so no shame there. What matters is knowing what yours are and then
making allowances for them. This self-assessment helps you do exactly that.
Resource C is a feedback worksheet you can use if you are seeking help
from others in soliciting honest feedback. One use I see for this is you
could use it in place of face to face discussions and make it anonymous. I
think you still need those face to face discussions, but as Shaw repeatedly
points out, people don't like to take the risk of telling their boss what
he's doing wrong. So for this purpose, a worksheet can help remove the fear
factor so you get the actionable and honest feedback you need.
Resource D is a useful take on the traditional reading list. Each
suggested resource is accompanied by a paragraph explaining why Shaw
This book also has extensive backnotes and an index. Something I look at
in notes and bibliographies is the caliber of the references. Shaw took his
research seriously. If you take your leadership challenge seriously and want
to excel as a leader, this book will help you do that.
This took less time to read than I had anticipated, because it's really
not very long. I don't like length for length's sake, so I'm glad Shaw
didn't feel obligated to add a couple hundred pages of filler just to get
thud factor. His writing style is clear, and the text is accessible to
leaders at any level.