The Blind Spots of Front-Line Leaders

Recent research reveals front-line leaders aren’t nearly as effective as they think they are, and their blind spots may be causing problems. Such blind spots are one of five ways that organizations are failing to develop emerging leaders, according to the research paper by Development Dimensions International (DDI) and Taleo Research, Emerging Leaders: Build Versus Buy.

The problem of front-line leader blind spots is an important one, because it is all too easy for HR professionals to not realize it exists and then proceed with leadership development programs based on false assumptions. Scott Erker and Bradford Thomas of DDI recently wrote about this issue in “The Blind Leading the Company,” which appeared in the July 2011 issue of Talent Management Magazine. They began by noting the frequent disconnect between what the research says – that front-line leaders are often the least-prepared group in the business world – and how these same front-line leaders often perceive themselves. To support this, the authors note results from DDI’s “Finding the First Rung” study (which surveyed more than 1,100 front-line leaders) and a deeper investigation of the competency areas of nearly 200 front-line leaders. In comparing how front-line leaders rate themselves with their actual skill level, DDI found that 89% of front-line leaders had at least one blind spot. Erker and Thomas describe such blind spots as being “areas where people think they are more skilled than they actually are. For instance, they may think they are strong at coaching, but in reality are either proficient or in need of development.” The blind spot results for each particular competency were as follows:

  • 45% Influencing
  • 45% Guiding Interactions
  • 44% Problem Analysis
  • 41% Judgment
  • 38% Delegation
  • 36% Coaching for Success
  • 35% Planning and Organizing
  • 32% Coaching for Improvement
  • 24% Managing Relationships

They then noted that some 56% of front-line leaders possessed three or more of these nine competency blind spots. And the impact of these blind spots can be serious, as Erker and Thomas note: “Blind spots can have a negative impact on employees and the organization. A manager who mistakenly thinks he is effective at influencing may be turning off co-workers with strong-arm tactics. A manager with a blind spot in judgment could be making bad decisions that don’t come to light until it’s too late.”
So what can be done about this issue of blind spots? It is crucial that front-line leaders have strong managers, and yet data from DDI’s study suggests many do not:

  • 56 percent say their manager has the knowledge and tools to support their development.
  • 53 percent say their development assignments are good learning experiences.
  • 49 percent say they get sufficient performance feedback.
  • 46 percent say their manager is committed to their development.
  • 40 percent are satisfied with their organization’s development offerings.

The connections here are real. Amongst those who indicated their manager lacked the knowledge and tools to support their development, 63% were deficient in influencing, and 44% were deficient in managing relationships. Amongst those who indicated they lacked a manager who is committed to their development, 63% were deficient in managing relationships – compared with only 27% amongst those who indicated they did have a committed manager.

To learn more about this challenge, and the other four ways that organizations are failing to effectively develop front-line leaders, see the DDI and Taleo Research paper Emerging Leaders: Build Versus Buy.

See also these other recent blog posts on the topic of developing emerging leaders:


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