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Thursday, 20 September 2007 00:00

The Blind Spot Featured

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I have almost died on several occasions. I’d like to blame these near-death experiences on others, but I suppose they might have something to do with me. Let me explain…

Anyone who has driven for a length of time in Atlanta can testify to the horrors of its traffic situation. I’m sure other cities can make the claim of worst traffic in America, but I can’t imagine anyplace worse than Atlanta. To complicate the problem, I wouldn’t describe myself as a particularly patient person. In fact, my wife might describe me as downright impatient—and she would probably be right.

When in traffic, I’ve always subscribed to the bob-and-weave philosophy. If rampant lane changing can save me a car length or two, then I’ll switch lanes like Liz Taylor switches husbands.

Unfortunately, there have been a few instances when I’ve not been diligent in checking my blind spot when shifting lanes. And, let me tell you, nothing jolts a person like the angry honking of a car horn only a few inches to his left or right! Thankfully, I’ve been able to survive without crashing or receiving anything worse than a friendly wave of the middle finger from a fellow driver. Since my blind spot has nearly caused my demise several times, I now pay extra attention to it. I double and triple confirm no cars are there before I merge into another lane.

Blind spots can wreck a leader’s journey. In this edition of LW, I would like illustrate one of the most common blind spots I have observed in leaders. Next edition, I’ll explore a second customary blind spot faced by leaders, and in each lesson, I’ll give you advice for avoiding the dangers of the blind spot.


The Blind Spot – An area in the lives of people in which they continually do not see themselves or their situation realistically. This unawareness often causes great damage to the people and those around them.


Most every leader has a blind spot, in fact, all probably do. We are trapped in our own perspectives, unable to see the world completely from another person’s point of view. We are absorbed in our world, caught in our present circumstances, consumed by selfish thoughts, and confined by our narrow experiences.

To illustrate, consider King George III of England’s journal entry on July 4, 1776: “Nothing happened today.” Of course, unbeknownst to King George, the American Declaration of Independence had been issued that day, and it would change the course of history.

One reason for our singular perspective can be attributed to our self-perception, or attitude toward self. As I wrote in the Lens Principle: who we are determines how we see others. A naïve optimist may be blind to the less-than-ideal intentions of those around them. Oppositely, an eternal pessimist may be blind to the kindness of a co-worker, instead suspecting ulterior motives.

A second cause of singular perspective comes from our tendency to judge ourselves based on intentions, while judging others by their actions. Such a bias allows us to cut ourselves slack and to justify our actions, because, after all, we meant well. However, since we aren’t able to see the motives of others, we evaluate them solely by their actions. We attribute shortcomings in their behavior to shortfalls in character without regard for their present circumstances, mood, or emotional frame of mind.

We are fully aware of our history, but ignorant of the background of others. For this reason, context is the third and final cause of a blinding singular perspective. Decisions we take make perfect sense to us given our beliefs and experiences, but they may surprise others who are not as familiar with us. On the other hand, since we don’t know the particulars of another person’s childhood, past relationships, or prior involvements, we often have trouble conceiving why the person acts the way he or she does.


As trite as it may sound, putting yourself in another person’s shoes does open you to their perspective. To broaden your limited perspective, try to envision their opinions and feelings. Attempt to be aware of their motives and the values they hold dear.

Leaders avoid the blind spot of singular perspective when they seek to understand before seeking to be understood. As I wrote in Winning with People, “The entire world, with one small exception, is composed of others.” Followers are focused inwardly, and they wonder, “How will this affect me?” Conversely, leaders are focused outwardly, and they ask, “How will this affect others?”

Finally, leaders may avoid the blind spot of singular perspective by examining themselves before casting blame on others. As Jesus of Nazareth taught, “Don't pick on people, jump on their failures, or criticize their faults— unless, of course, you want the same treatment. That critical spirit has a way of boomeranging. It's easy to see a smudge on your neighbor's face and be oblivious to the ugly sneer on your own,” (Matthew 7:1-3, The Message).

“I am sorry.” What makes it so hard to say those words? They seem so simple, yet we’ve been fighting against saying them since we were kids. “Say you’re sorry,” a parent commanded us. Maybe we had stolen a toy from a friend, had spoken a bad word in front of guests, or had hit a sibling. Stomping over to the offended party, we would mutter, “I’m sorry,” as quickly and quietly as possible, as if it the apology was physically painful to say.

Our human nature cringes to admit guilt. We hate to be wrong, but worse yet, we hate to confess to having wronged others. That’s what made Pope John Paul II’s apology spectacular on March 12, 2000. In a speech at St. Peter’s Basilica, the aged pope asked forgiveness for a list of sins committed by the Catholic Church. The confession included the church’s sins against other cultures, sins against women and minorities, sins of human rights abuses. Given The Catholic Church’s professed position as the authority on faith and morality, the apology is a remarkable admittance of guilt.


A leader will inevitably make a mistake. Perhaps a misjudgment of where to allocate finances, maybe a bad decision related to hiring or firing employees, or possibly a lapse in moral judgment. The mistake may be small and affect only one or two employees. Or, the mistake may be visible and far-reaching, affecting employees, shareholders, partners, and the community. Regardless of the mistake’s size and scope, a leader must learn how to apologize.


The half-apologies of celebrities or public officials are almost laughable. The sound bites are usually as follows, “I regret that my words were misinterpreted,” or, “I’m sorry if they felt that way about my actions.” Notice how, in these phrases, the person is not even admitting guilt. Rather, they are almost blaming those they have offended for being unable to properly interpret their words or for being overly sensitive to their behavior.


In her article, “Always Apologize, Always Explain,” featured on Oprah.com and CNN.com, Martha Beck offers sound advice for giving an authentic apology.

1. Fully Acknowledge the Offense

Tell the full account of your misdeeds. Take complete responsibilities for what you did wrong, and as Beck advises, don’t avoid the worst truths. Don’t put the onus of the offense on the person who was offended, i.e., “I’m sorry they reacted that way.” Instead, assume total culpability for having made the offense.

2. Give an Explanation

While avoiding justification of your actions, explain why you made the mistakes you did. Allow your humanity to show. Admit you may need help in an area, maybe it’s treatment for substance abuse or counseling for an uncontrollable temper.

3. Genuinely Express Remorse

By recounting the ways your behavior has caused harm, you convey awareness of your misbehavior and its consequences. By doing so, you also communicate sincere regret for what you have done. Apologies should be given, not because they’re expected or because the guilty party has been caught, but because the offender has hurt someone and feels bad about having done so.

4. Repair Damage Done

If the damage is tangible, like money embezzled or assets stolen, then the apologizer should, of course, payback what was taken. Oftentimes, however, the offense creates intangible harm. This happens during an assault on a person’s character, a slur against their ethnicity, or a betrayal of their trust. “In such cases, writes Beck, “Your efforts should focus on restoring the other person's dignity.” In every instance, to make amends should be your aim.

To read the full text of Martha Beck’s article, “Always Apologize, Always Explain,” visit http://www.cnn.com/2007/LIVING/personal/07/11/always.apologize/index.html.


“In the history of the four major professional sports in the United States (football, basketball, baseball, and hockey), there has never been an umpire, referee, or other in-game official indicted or arrested for fixing the outcomes of a game. That is, until now.

Law officials have revealed that Tim Donaghy, a 13-year veteran NBA official placed bets on games he officiated over the past few seasons. Purportedly, Donaghy had a gambling problem and was approached by organized mobsters for his involvement in slanting the final results of games. By refereeing the game to favor one team, Donaghy may have affected the final score by a few points—enough to upset the point spread of the game and ensure he cashed in on the money he had wagered.

At the time of this article, federal investigators are probing for information related to Donaghy’s connections, and they are reviewing the way he officiated a selection of games. The National Basketball Association is offering full cooperation to the FBI as it gathers facts and evidence.


The whole sports empire, a $213 billion industry, rests on the assumption that athletes are competing against one another on an equal footing. Fans and players alike expect impartiality and fairness from sports officials to protect the purity of the competition.
When Tim Donaghy chose to profit personally by fixing games, he betrayed the league which employed him, the players he interacted with, and fans of the game of basketball. In the words of NBA commissioner, David Stern, Donaghy “Has betrayed the most sacred trust in professional sports.”

How does a leader deal with betrayal? What steps can be taken when trust is violated in a highly visible way? It will be interesting to watch the unfolding drama of the NBA’s reaction to the Donaghy scandal. Here are some principles David Stern and the league may rely upon when they take action.


1. Leaders eliminate suspicion.

When our trust is violated, we demand greater scrutiny into the affairs of the violator. That’s the reason transparency has become a buzzword in business. After being deceived, we are suspicious that what duped us once may dupe us again. When accounting scandal after accounting scandal came to light, public reaction called for more open financial recordkeeping and clearer business transactions. We were outraged by corporate duplicity and determined to prevent it from reoccurring.

Leaders do their utmost to clear away suspicion. You can be certain David Stern will offer up every shred of information within his power to aid the FBI’s investigation of Donahue—nothing can be perceived as hidden or swept under the rug. Videos of games Donaghy officiated, emails he sent to the league, and conversations he had with fellow officials will all be brought to light. In addition, the NBA may work with its referees’ union to put greater accountability measures on its referees. Every action will be taken with the intent of proving the NBA’s seriousness in preventing dishonest officials from besmirching the game’s honor again.

2. Leaders cut ties with corruption

Something in us isn’t quite comfortable when a formerly convicted embezzler returns to work at our bank—or when a recently released child molester moves to the neighborhood. Past behavior remains in our minds. We want to know that criminals will be locked up and deprived of the opportunity to harm us again.

The NBA will likely hand out a lifetime ban to Tim Donaghy so that he will never again be able to officiate in the league. When an individual’s deceitful actions bring shame and humiliation to an organization, his or her employment must be terminated immediately. Consequences must be swift and severe. Leaders cannot show tolerance for deception. While personal forgiveness may be extended, corporate reinstatement is not an option.

3. Leaders reassert values

In the aftermath of corruption, leaders take the opportunity to reeducate all personnel in the organization’s values. The referee’s union and the NBA will likely work hand-in-hand to reaffirm their expectations of officials. Ethics courses may be issued to incoming referees. Periodic reviews may be held to ensure the behavior of referees is in accordance with league values. Themes of impartiality, honest, and truthfulness will be trumpeted in meetings and training.

"This article is used by permission from Dr. John C. Maxwell's free monthly e-newsletter 'Leadership Wired' available at  www.injoy.com. "

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