Years ago, I worked for a company called Micrognosis. I shared a little about the company in this post. As I recall, I worked there from the late 1980’s to 1996 or for about 10 years. Over my entire 35+ year career, it was my longest tenured job. And I did a lot of growing there, both in my role and in my self-learning.
When I left Micrognosis, I moved to North Carolina for a software leadership role at Bell & Howell Mail Processing. So not only did I change jobs, but I relocated my family as well. To say the change was a bit scary for me and my family is a bit of an understatement. But we moved and never really looked back.
I realized after about three months at Bell & Howell that I’d stayed in my Micrognosis job for a bit too long. That I’d developed some “blind spots” that I didn’t even know I had.
Let me explain.
I have a very reflection oriented personality, so I’m constantly looking back on my experiences trying to learn things. Some of the reflection is professionally based, meaning, what I can I learn from my on-the-job decision-making and performance. My journey if you will.
But quite a bit of the reflection is self-reflection. In that, I ‘m examining my interactions, my feelings, my reactions, etc. in my roles. How did I behave? Was I congruent in my leadership? And importantly, what changes would I make in my journey?
It took a few months for me to abstract myself (stepping back) from my ten years at Micrognosis. But when I did, I realized a few things.
I realized that I’d somehow lost myself at Micrognosis. And by that, I mean that my leadership patterns became somewhat mechanized based on the culture and my tenure.
I realized that in ten years, I’d somehow conformed to the culture and to a set of leadership patterns.
I remember a friend of mine at Micrognosis, Jimmy Ryan. He and “grew up” at Micrognosis. I was the “development leader” and Jimmy was the “operations leader”. We interacted quite a lot over the years as our roles developed and as our teams interacted.
I realized that Jimmy and I had started to react the same way to many situations. We lost our individualism and started to dance the same dance when it came to customer situations, challenges, and product decision-making. It wasn’t that we weren’t thinking. It was that our historical patterns were getting in the way of us evolving as leaders. We repeated ourselves and often reacted as we had always done.
And the most frightening factor was that we were totally unaware of it. Only after I had left and reflected back did I see the dangerous pattern that I’d fallen into.
As I looked back, I realized that I had made many “pattern-based” mistakes, while I was immersed in my role.
I made a promise to myself that day.
I decided to spend significant time on personal reflection in each of my subsequent roles. Not only would I look at the role I was in. But I would look for emerging patterns of complacency or assimilation by the overall culture or with specific leaders.
Of course, we all conform to our current organizational culture. But I didn’t want to lose the essence of my leadership:
- My risk-taking;
- My problem-solving;
- My innovation and creativity;
- My customer engagement;
- My passion;
- My sense of humor;
- My self-deprecation;
- My drive towards continuous improvement;
- My willingness to experiment;
- And my servant leadership style.
Were all things that were important for me to be grounded in. They were the essence of my leadership focus, my personal lens if you will. And I needed to continuously pull myself back to my center.
In My Coaching Journey
I see so many leaders who have fallen into this same trap. They allow the context they are in overwhelm them. They start getting stuck in their organization’s:
- History, Business domain, and Customer contexts
- Complexity, Culture, and Constraints;
- Politics, Personalities, and Pleasing;
- Product Structure, Organizational structure, and Team Capabilities.
It’s not that these factors don’t matter. It’s that they overwhelm the context for the leader and become a jail cell that doesn’t allow them to think outside of the box. To not get caught up in – we’ve always done it this way…
They don’t look to their basic strengths or approaches, but instead, succumb to the status quo. What’s really sad is that often the organization has brought them in as a change agent, but instead they resist changing too.
It’s one of the reasons that my coaching model is the way it is. I don’t want to become an embedded, long-term agile coach in a firm. One of the primary reasons behind this is that I want to always be the consummate outside consultant. I don’t want to get dragged into the customer context.
Instead, I want to embrace their context BUT still contrast it against my own experiences and lens. So that I can see the picture from both sides. Reacting to what they see, what I see, and the fuzziness between the two.
One way to break out of this trap is to gain external perspectives. That’s why asking someone to do an agile health assessment, depending on its scope, can be so valuable. That external person will be looking at everything with eyes that are not “clouded” the way yours are.
Or getting an external coach, either personal, business, or agile-focused, can also be helpful. Again, they’re viewing things through an unbiased lens. And then can expose your blind spots to you.
But I’ve also found another impediment to your gaining insight. It’s you. You can get all of the coachings you want, but you need to:
- Listen to;
- Deeply consider;
- And reflect on…
What you’re hearing. If you don’t, then nothing will change. And don’t argue with or rationalize the feedback. Embrace it instead and truly reflect on the truth you find inside of it.
You might just become a more self-aware leader who better understands their blind spots.
Stay agile my friends,