How to Recognize Your Blind Spots Before They Derail Your Career

 

Drivers know to watch for their blind spot when they’re on the road, but there are other blind spots in your life you need to look for–things that can trip you up if you’re not careful. From skill gaps to behavioral issues, areas of personal vulnerability can stop you from reaching your potential, and it’s important to identify and correct them, says Carter Cast, professor of business management for the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University and partner with Pritzker Group Venture Capital.

“People who have an inflated sense of skill level are six times more likely to derail in their career than people who have an accurate self-assessment,” says Cast.

Blind spots happen because most of us have a hard time being objective about ourselves, says Cast. “It’s generally painful to recognize a weakness or accept that you’ll never be strong in a particular area,” he says. “What we can do is try to reach minimal level of performance in the area so it doesn’t impede our ability and hurt us.”

Five common areas for blind spots are detailed in Cast’s new book, The Right—and Wrong—Stuff: How Brilliant Careers Are Made and Unmade:

  1. A me-first attitude that leads to poor listening skills
  2. Micromanaging others, hindering your ability to build and lead a team
  3. Being too comfortable with routines and resisting change
  4. Having narrow perspectives on business that undermine your ability to be strategic
  5. Not following through on promises due to poor organization or task management skills

“Chances are high that you have an issue in one of those areas,” says Cast. “It’s nothing to be ashamed of—we all have blind spots. If you can understand them, you can manage around them.

HOW TO FIND YOUR BLIND SPOTS

Early in his career, Cast had a blind spot that nearly derailed him. “I was under a heavy-handed boss who was a micromanager,” he says. “Instead of understanding how he liked to work, I removed myself and tried to create more freedom and distance by not keeping him in the loop. It got to the point where the boss said I was uncommunicative and difficult, and I was kicked off his team.”

If you don’t have a boss who points out your blind spot, you’ll have to be proactive. First, get in the habit of formally or informally asking for feedback, says Cast. “For example, ‘How did I do in the presentation I just gave? What is one thing I could have done better?’” he suggests. “You can give a person the right to be direct by pointing out an area you think you need to improve, such as, ‘I thought that my introduction was too long.’”

Next, try hard to observe other people’s reactions to you. “If you are in a presentation or meeting, are they sitting with their arms crossed?” says Cast. “Are they staring two inches above your eyes? Fidgeting? If so, move faster.”

Finally, seek counsel with a coach. “When I was younger, I never relished the idea of getting a coach,” says Cast. “I was dead wrong. Hiring a formal career coach is smart and useful for asking for advice. They can help you see what you’re blind to.”

CORRECTING YOUR BLIND SPOT

Whether you have a skill gap or a behavioral issue, you need to put corrective action in place by “applying constant, steady pressure to the area,” says Cast.

“Let’s say you are told you’re non-strategic, and you’re not promotable until you become strategic,” he says. “Ask yourself, ‘What does success look like in this area? And what will I need to learn?’ It can be smart to interview people in different departments who are good at those activities.”

Sometimes you can find work-arounds to your blind spots, such as outsourcing the task or simply relinquishing the duty. “You can hire people who are good at what you’re bad at,” says Cast. “Or you can seek help from other people so this area doesn’t stop you from progressing in your career.”

And request help from your boss. “Ask, ‘What will I have done in two years to make you think this is no longer an issue?’” says Cast. “Ask for specific examples of where your blind spot shows up in your work. Also find out which employee in your company models this behavior. Then put corrective plans in place, and keep it front and center so you don’t forget about it.”

Cast has written down his career blinds spots and posts them in the place he puts his belt away at night. “I look at my areas of vulnerability and assess how I did today,” he says. “Did I succumb, or did I work to make sure they didn’t come out to play?”

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