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What You Don't Know Can Hurt You

Uncovering my own blind spots

I discovered the truth about my own professional blind spots years ago when a co-worker figuratively provided me with a rear-view mirror, bravely sharing her observations about my work behaviors. In my attempts to climb the corporate ladder, I always wanted to be taken seriously. Apparently my “all business, all the time” approach backfired. She told me I had a reputation for being machine-like, overly driven and even lacking a sense of humor. Her comments were shocking. Even a little painful. I still cringe when I recall that moment. However, that candid feedback helped me make the changes that moved my career forward at a much faster pace. This was a critical discovery for me: eliminating blind spots is just as critical to survival in the business world as it is on a busy highway.

You’ve likely seen the impact of blind spots throughout your own career. Think about the sharp, knowledgeable professionals who lose out on promotions or miss big opportunities even though they seem to be doing everything right to advance their careers. Exceptional credentials don’t count. They look great on paper, but something intangible keeps sabotaging their success. Whether that scenario applies to your co-workers or you, blind spots are the culprit.

I sometimes describe blind spots as perception disconnects – when the people around us don’t perceive our words and behaviors in the way we intended. We might believe that our calm, composed demeanor is a serious advantage in a high-stress workplace. Unfortunately, our co-workers perceive us as robotic and uncaring. Our goal might be to appear decisive and candid, but others actually think we’re abrupt and insensitive. Are we energetic and driven? Or relentless and annoying? Are we methodical and systematic? Or inflexible and overly cautious? Sometimes there’s a very fine line there. But, at the end of the day, perceptions trump intentions. Despite our goals and the impressions we intend to make, our business success is determined by our reputations and the perceptions of us held by our supervisors and colleagues.

What causes these blind spots? Many times, these inadvertent behaviors stem from the way we are naturally “wired” or from limiting beliefs that we formed during childhood. If I have always been rewarded for my enthusiasm, I might think that adding more is always the secret to success. Like blind spots in the car, we simply don’t have the perspective to see when that once-positive trait morphs into an irritating idiosyncrasy. No wonder we’re confused when a less-qualified co-worker gets tapped for the corner office.

Another thing I have learned about blind spots: no one is immune. We all have them. However, highly successful people recognize these blind spots and develop strategies to overcome them. First of all, top leaders work hard to understand their strengths and weaknesses. Through self-awareness, they can strike the right balance of confidence and humility in their professional relationships. Second, they perfect the art of “reputation management” by monitoring the way others see them. They actively seek feedback from the people around them to determine if they are being perceived as they intended. And if they uncover any disconnects, they quickly take action to make improvements.

For those who feel like their careers are stuck or simply not progressing as quickly as they expected, these strategies can have an enormously positive impact. Are you reaching your full career potential? Take the steps to improve your professional reputation by identifying and correcting the blinds spots that could be undermining your progress. Once you harness the power of managing your reputation, you’ll have the key to accelerating your career in exciting new ways.

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