Build to Your Blind Spots

Do you surround yourself with suck-ups? C’mon, be honest.

It’s perfectly natural to want to be with people who agree, support, and praise you all the time. Let’s face it — it’s comforting to have people who are always in our corner, no matter what the issue or circumstance.

Suck-ups make us feel like we’re curled up with a warm blanket. Everything is okay, even cozy. We feel safe with them. We trust them.

These are the people we often consider to be our most loyal friends because they help us feel like we’re right. [Validated, Vindicated, and Smart.]

Well, we may be all these things at one time or another, but we are not all these things all the time. And if you find that your trusted advisors are indiscriminate in their praise, it may be time for a gut-check.

These people may make us feel good, but they’re not always good for us. In fact, we could be a pawn in their game; an unwitting accomplice in helping them achieve an unhealthy degree of power and influence over our decisions and actions.

Or, maybe they’re a pawn in ours.

Are you the kind of leader who punishes people – overtly or oh-so-subtly – for speaking up and telling you things you don’t want to hear? Do you seek out people who affirm your decisions and actions?

No one wants to admit that they do this, but a quick glance at organizational life indicates that it’s the norm, not the exception. We’ve all seen it: the leader is isolated from reality, surrounded by a small group of people who deliver the good news and hide the bad. His entire worldview is distorted, controlled by those who are feeding his perceptions. He thinks these people are protecting him. He is watching his back.

Or, he simply doesn’t want to hear the truth, so he rewards the peddlers of feel-good information and punishes the purveyors of truth.

In either case, it’s a dangerous position for any leader.

The scenario is so common that the binge-watched sitcom The Office created an episode called “The Inner Circle” where Deangelo creates a close cadre of suck-ups. Whenever someone challenges him, they’re ousted from the inner circle. At the end of the episode, Jim tries to tell Deangelo about how he’s being perceived by those outside the circle, and Deangelo kicks him out of the club.

Most of us get infuriated when we see leaders like Deangelo fall into the trap of surrounding themselves with suck-ups and yes-men, but we fail to recognize when we are falling into the very same trap ourselves.

Part of being an authentic, effective leader is recognizing that we have blind spots, and then seeking – and accepting – critical feedback from trusted advisors to ensure we maintain a balanced perspective.

Indeed, sometimes the most loyal colleagues are the ones who are courageous and caring enough to tell it to us straight; to tell us when we’ve stepped in it; to advise that a mid-course correction may be necessary. And, yes, to tell us when we’ve done a good job.

One thing is for certain: Our inner circle is a critical instrument in our leadership toolkit. We need to take a hard look and consider whether we are inviting only “safe” people into that circle at the detriment of our organizations and ourselves.

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View of the sunset from the side view mirror of a car while driving down the road.  Shallow depth of field. Great image for illustrating blind spots.

Mark Howie

Mark Howie founded ABT | Abacus Black Technologies in response to the need for small to medium-sized businesses in the Central and South-Eastern United States East to have access to a full-service IT department without the overhead expenses of in-house systems and personnel. Mark has authored publications including: "Fundamentals of IT Auditing" and "Securing your Networks." He is US Army veteran, married to his soulmate of 27 years, and father of two. He resides with his family and two dachshunds, just north of Ocean Springs, MS.