I’m always surprised at how nearsighted most executives and business leaders are. Political leaders too. With all that power and authority comes awesome responsibility. Is it too much to expect a little perspective — a little clear thinking — from those in charge? I don’t think so. I’m sure their stakeholders would agree.
The problem is only compounded when the pressure is on and everything is on the line. When push comes to shove, stressed leaders will oftentimes react exactly the opposite of the way they should. Instead of seeking objective advice and inner intuition they tend to close ranks and retreat further into their myopia.
That, in my experience, is when they make their biggest mistakes. You know, the kind of mistakes that destroy shareholder value and jobs. Sometimes careers and companies too. I’ve seen it countless times, both up close and personal and at a distance.
Nearsightedness was clearly at play in every dysfunctional CEO story we’ve seen of late, from Theranos and Tesla to Wells Fargo and GE. It may very well be the single most common and preventable cause of leadership failure.
So what’s the fix? Simple. All it takes is a little humility.
If you’re aware of your limitations and know what you don’t know, you’ll find it surprisingly easy to simply step back, gain a little perspective and see things clearly.
If, on the other hand, you’re full of yourself – if you’re surrounded by yes-men and your ego is pumped up with false bravado – you’ll find it difficult to do that. That’s when the truth becomes harder to see.
To make matters worse, shortsightedness is a degenerative problem. That’s because leaders who suffer from myopia are least likely to be aware of it or listen to those who tell them the truth straight up. They tend to hear what they want to hear, not what they need to hear. That goes for their own inner voice as well.
Of course everyone falls victim to nearsightedness from time to time. The key is to not let that happen when you can least afford to. When everything is on the line.
The great irony is that our increasingly narcissistic culture is becoming more and more adept at taking selfies and less and less capable of seeing ourselves for who we really are. I guess we’re heading in the wrong direction. Sad but true.
Image credit Nico Cavallotto via Flickr