Do you ever leave a meeting feeling like you are the only one who sees the ‘right’ answer to a problem? How does it make you feel? Frustrated? Indignant? Isolated?
I know that as soon as I feel that way, it’s a big bright red flag. Why? Because it reminds me of a time that was not my proudest moment.
I served on a Board of Directors for a local hospital. We were presented with a complex issue relating to board governance. The details aren’t important now, but at the time I was obsessed by them. I couldn’t imagine how my very smart, very capable colleagues could see the so many shades of grey in the debate. The right answer felt so clear to me that I let myself get wrapped up in my “rightness” to the exclusion of being able to see the big picture. I was so stuck in my position that I spent way too much time and energy fussing about how this could have happened rather than trying to understand how we could prevent it from happening again. I felt frustrated, righteous, and alone.
I see this in my clients too. I work with a woman who is a specialist in a team of generalists, a subject matter expert in a team of operational leaders. She makes decisions and communicates them based strictly on the facts. She can’t understand why her teammates don’t see the world through the same black and white lens. Just as they can’t understand why she can’t see the shades of grey that are so clear to them.
Just like me, she is letting her attachment to being right get in the way of seeing the bigger picture. She’s so attached to one way of being and so comfortable focusing on what the data says that she’s being seen as a roadblock rather than an integral part of the leadership team.
A big part of the challenge here is that her style has brought her success so far. She takes great pride in her skills and experience and is comfortable with this image of herself. But with these skills and ways of knowing, all of us unwittingly develop blinders and filters that prevent us from recognizing an opportunity to adapt our leadership approach to our situation.
This is especially true for women. We work so hard to establish ourselves as experts in a field that we risk getting stuck in a specific style. After all, our way of being right has brought is success so far, so why change it?
As we grow and take our more senior roles, our core expertise is certainly important, but we’re also paid for our judgement and our ability to see situations from multiple perspectives.
We need to be mindful of how we apply our skills, how we look at situations broadly and put the facts into context, how we listen before we speak, how we explore solutions and how we put ourselves in others’ shoes before we go off on a tangent.
I know that if I had taken a broader perspective in my situation, I would have used much less of my own and the organizations’ time and energy and would not have had to rebuild my credibility with my colleagues. My client is working on reframing her pride in her deep knowledge to seeking ways to use her knowledge can help support the business. We all need to pause and consider how we can shift our perspectives when we get stuck in this mode of thinking we are the only person with the right answer.
You may be wondering how can you teach yourself to address this blind spot? It’s tough because it is exactly that, a blind spot. Some focused self-reflection is a good place to start. Ask yourself:
– What am I missing?
– What am I assuming about this situation?
– What might others know that I don’t?
– Am I being curious about the best long-term solution, or I am I being judgemental?
These types of questions can help you get unstuck and even more importantly can help you start a dialogue that might even lead to a more effective solution to the original issue.