“He can’t see the forest for the trees,” was a phrase my mother used whenever she observed someone getting so bogged down in the detail that they lost sight of the bigger picture. It is a trait I see often in businesses, and especially when the leader spends more time analyzing data than interacting with customers. It leads to what I call “business blind spots.”
There are two main blind spots that I see time and time again within companies:
The first is that almost everybody at a senior level buys their own story. Because their jobs and incentives rest on the business being a success, they have a tendency to filter out potential risks, seeing and hearing only what reaffirms the original goals. The CEO only gets to hear good news and positive feedback. Unfortunately, nothing ever goes in a straight line in business — and an unwillingness to consider other viewpoints can lead to problems. It takes a very mature emotional IQ from the leaders of a business to know when they are buying their own stories.
The second blind spot is that many times companies do not listen to their customers. It is a big fault of business, and strangely enough it is one of the most neglected aspects. Business leaders too often remain inside their silo as they attempt to figure out answers to their problems. What they should be doing is listening to the people who could tell them exactly where their blind spots are. Instead they have junior employees or outside consultants talk to the customers for them, and then read the feedback report. The problem is that the employee wants to impress his or her boss, and the consultant knows the chances of getting more work are greater if he or she tells the CEO what the CEO wants to hear. Much of the risks and challenges that can be intimated in negative feedback get filtered out. It is customers who can tell you not only what is wrong with your business but also what is going right, but you have to hear it first hand.
A good business leader is not afraid to hear the truth. By considering alternate views and asking those who know the outer-workings of your business, you can rid yourself of the most troublesome of blind spots.
© 2012 Trevor Blake, author of Three Simple Steps: A Map to Success in Business and Life