Know Your Blindspots, Be A Better Leader.
Cultural Blindspots Impact Your Decision-Making:
Discover 5 Tips For Leading with More Cultural Consciousness & Emotional Intelligence
Anyone who drives a car knows that blind-spots exist.
Do you remember the last time you consciously looked twice before switching lanes?
The truth is, good drivers tend to check their mirrors intuitively before switching lanes because we’ve done it so many times.
You see, developing new habits isn’t always easy, especially when it’s not intuitive. In fact, it almost always takes time to internalize new habits.
And yet, we learn the necessary behaviors when our safety is at risk.
Now, here’s where it gets more complicated. Unconscious blind-spots are also real. They’re called implicit biases.
Implicit biases are blind spots in our unconscious mind. In a 2012 study, The Kirwan Institute states that implicit biases are “pervasive and robust” , “activated involuntarily, unconsciously, and without one’s awareness” , and “do not necessarily align with our declared beliefs”. Implicit biases are often laden with cultural values from our childhood, which makes them extra complicated.
So, the unconscious mind is laden with cultural values, beliefs, and experiences that exist to protect our safety, which means that our upbringing influences how we react under stress.
Now, what’s that have to do with being an adaptive, culturally conscious leader?
As leaders of multicultural, multigenerational, multiracial teams, it’s imperative that we understand our own unconscious biases in order to have and sustain trusting relationships–especially during changes and transitions.
Neuroscience helps us better understand this topic. David Rock’s research on managing with the brain in mind helps us see that we’re wired for self-preservation. Here’s an article he wrote that sums it up.
Now, when we add a layer of social stress and/or when we experience abrupt change, our brains are wired to protect our safety.
Even for folks who identify as having a high level of consciousness and self-awareness, if we are under pressure, there is an increased likelihood that our brain is going to react with biases and blind spots.
Because big changes impact our ability to communicate clearly and behave caringly, we must be intentional in our leadership moves.
We need to stay “in the driver’s seat” (to take the metaphor all the way home) and have awareness of our blind spots so we can communicate at our best.
Here’s the good news: just like mindsets can shift and we can learn to intuitively check our mirrors in our car, our biases are malleable.
We can practice intentional strategies to counteract biases that no longer serve our leadership.
Here’s an example:
My Leadership Coach observed me facilitating a meeting and shared several observations with me afterwards. I’ll just share two for now:
- He mentioned that my body language was closed-off (arms crossed, leaned back) when a particular colleague was speaking.
- He also noticed that I didn’t pick up on the fact that my African American male colleague (the only one on the team) raised his hand to speak up, but several white colleagues kept talking and either didn’t see–or ignored his nonverbal communication
I didn’t see it.
I wasn’t consciously aware. I had no idea that those two things were happening. I felt terrible after he told me. “How could I have missed that?!” I thought.
I now know what was at play: implicit bias, stress, exhaustion, and lack of self-awareness and social intelligence.
When my coach shared resources on Stereotype Threat (here’s a quick informative video) and responsive facilitation, I felt a different level of responsibility towards being more intentionally and mindfully inclusive.
Because of that conversation, I reflected on why I was frustrated with colleague #1, had awareness of my body language moving forward, and checked in with colleague #2 to apologize, hear about his experience, and learn how I could support him.
Those few shifts in my leadership stance changed the way I approached subsequent meetings.
Here’s another example:
Back when I was a school administrator, a colleague of mine (who identifies as Latina) brought to my attention that there were no images or posters celebrating male Latino students’ academic achievement in the hallways. She wondered why.
The truth is: I hadn’t noticed. I was moving so fast. I knew hallway committees put up posters and photos, but I wasn’t consciously aware or mindful of the types of pictures that were up. I certainly hadn’t slowed down to consider the impact that would have on our young people, until this colleague brought it to my attention.
I felt badly that I hadn’t noticed. I was sensitive and described as very inclusive, but I had missed that. My blindspot won.
So what did I do?
I appreciated her for bringing it to my attention, and I said we should change the narrative. We shared the request to the committee, and within 24 hours the hallways looked different.
Do you think the students noticed?
Why this matters:
We all crave validation and affirmation. When we don’t SEE or HEAR someone who looks like us showing us that we can achieve at high levels, then we’re less likely to intuitively believe we can do it. This doesn’t mean we can’t do it, but it just isn’t an association our brain quickly makes.
The good news: When we have exposure to and experiences with people who counter our biases, then our brain builds a new synapse and is more quickly able to make a positive association with the subject at hand.
So, if we want to be experienced as a culturally conscious, inclusive, and emotionally intelligent leader, we must be mindful and aware of how our blind-spots impact our leadership/community.
Just like drivers have, we need resources and strategies that support our ability to develop new habits.
Especially with the sociopolitical landscape as it is and workplace tension at an all time high.
I believe that, as leaders, it’s our responsibility to utilize strategies and tools to counteract those biases.
I’ve been reading up on this topic for years now, and the truth is uncovering and confronting our blind-spots isn’t easy. It takes time, dedication, and support.
Just like my leadership coach so supportively “held up the mirror” for me, you need people who care about you and respect you enough to tell you the truth about the impact of your decisions.
More good news:
- Once we’re clear about our blind-spots, then we can become more conscious of how bias operates within us.
- We can utilize more practices like the JoHari Window, intentional reflection, and strategic agenda design.
- We can engage in group courses that focus on building new skills and habits in order to become more emotionally and socially intelligent.
Bottom line: being a self-aware, adaptive, and inclusive leader requires intentionality.
And it all starts with self-reflection.
There are ways you can raise awareness of your blind-spots through intentional reflection. The SPARK Acronym helps us with that. Here are some questions you can ask yourself.
Slow down. Know thyself
- Biases and blind-spots are more likely to be acted upon under stress, time-crunch, pressure, cognitive overload– Have I allowed myself space to pause and breathe?
- Am I aware of my own triggers?
Pause and set intention
- What do I intend to give and get from this interaction?
- Am I listening with empathy and trying to put myself in their shoes?
Ask yourself good questions and be courageously curious.
- What assumptions am I making right now?
- Am I suspending judgment and being open-minded?
- Am I showing curiosity or certainty about someone else’s experience?
Respect Diversity & Connection
- Human contact matters–who’s not at the table?
- Whose point of view am I not paying as close of attention to?
- Am I exposing myself to as many perspectives as possible?
- Am I creating and seeking out different narratives (with non-stereotypic imaging)?
Kindly expect tension and ambiguity
- Am I trying new processes and structures opens up new possibilities?
- Am I letting go of control and designing experiences that consistently lift up other points of view?
These questions are just the tip of the iceberg, but they’re a great start. If you want to learn more about our leadership development offerings and coaching packages, we’d love to share more. But so you know…
S.P.A.R.K. Leadership development experiences involve:
- Acknowledging and accepting unproductive mindsets and old patterns of behavior, raising awareness of blind-spots and biases that impact one’s leadership
- Interrupting those patterns by setting intentions and taking small steps to shift habits
- Embracing the unique strengths and assets that each leader has, which in turn helps them lead authentically with intentionality, conviction, confidence.
- Increasing comfort navigating the transitions, tensions, and complexities of their organization.
Curious to learn more?
- Download our new S.P.A.R.K. Leadership Self-Assessment here
- Connect for virtual coffee with Rachel to learn more about her coaching programs here
- Apply for her Leadership Program here (launching 6/5)
S.P.A.R.K. was founded in 2016 by Rachel Rosen, a seasoned facilitator, racial equity leadership coach, and LGBTQ advocate. S.P.A.R.K. offerings sit at the nexus of Rachel’s personal and professional passions, and she is on a mission to bring more empathy to the world, one conversation at a time. With a Masters from Stanford, and extensive training in leadership, coaching, team and organizational development, S.P.A.R.K. experiences are grounded in theory and practice. S.P.A.R.K. offers experiences that support leaders and teams to unleash their potential to facilitate powerful experiences, collaborate, and build trust.
Fun fact: Did you know that we physically have blind-spots in our eyes? Basically it comes down to the structural makeup of our eyeball. If you don’t know much about this, there’s a really cool science experiment here.
Image credit & article referenced: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/how-make-better-decisions-identifying-your-blind-dan