Blind Spot # 1 – Bias for Action

Reflexive Leaders have been wired to react with automatic reflexes, responses and decisions when faced with seemingly familiar information or stimuli. These leaders are usually “in judgment” very quickly. They often operate from a pre-conceived and self-limiting, fixed mindset that quickly categorizes incoming information and associates it with the closest experience in their careers or lives. Their decisions are often based on an erroneous foundation which results in dysfunctional leadership behaviors and enormous risks and costs to the organization. For example, it is now a well-documented fact that one of the cultural traits of the leaders at Enron was the tendency to be “the smartest person in the room.”  These leaders relied on their power of intellect to formulate self-serving logic based on past experiences. The devastating consequences are self-explanatory.

Reflective leaders, on the other hand, exhibit a lifelong thirst for learning or a “learning mindset.” These leaders have developed the practice of balancing “telling” with “asking” and using the collective intelligence of their internal and external support teams. They regularly take the time to reflect on questions such as, what experience did I have? What were my thoughts and feelings while it was happening? How did I react and behave? What do I think about the way I felt and acted? What did I learn? And, how do I incorporate the learning into my future leadership style… Consequently, these leaders “use judgment” in making important decisions. Examples of reflective leaders in the world of politics include Nelson Mandela whose principles of leadership included “nothing is black and white” and “Lead from the back—Let others think they are leading from the front.”  In the world of business, Richard Branson, the CEO of the Virgin Group, comes to mind as a vivid example of a reflective leader, who said “Look for leaders who listen both to employees and customers.”  Branson regularly steps out of routine and habitual settings in order to reflect, explore and learn. For example, one of his closest relationships is with Bishop Tutu of South Africa, and he often retreats to his island to create space for thoughtful interactions and reflection. He has a renaissance mind and personality that encourages him to constantly experiment with a broad range of fields such as business, music/entertainment, aviation/hot air ballooning, world affairs and charity. These experiences broaden his world view, allow him to detach and elevate from his habitual paradigms to achieve insights that can be applied to his organization.

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7 Responses to Blind Spot # 1 – Bias for Action

  1. steve schack says:

    Nice post!

  2. Adam Schorr says:

    I really like this concept of reflexive versus reflective. Very powerful.

  3. Richard Easton says:

    Very insightful evaluation of leadership blindspots. It helps to have a blend of reflective and reflexive styles to deal with strategic and tactical situations.

    • Kelly says:

      I agree with the comments above and think it is prlefrabee for the group to frame their learning in developing aspects of personal behaviour that are meaningful to them in a team context, and would not become tied to specific terminology unless specified by the organisation’s competency framework. At the same time, there should be opportunities for learning in terms of what behaviours were effective and what energised the team during their process, and ideally how may they transfer these to their own teams (as typically these will be effective leadership behaviours in any event).

  4. Kaveh Naficy says:

    thanks Rich. The interesting phenomenon is that both can reside in the same leader. However, situationally they may or may not leverage it in timely and effective fashion. that is where building the discipline and process comes in

  5. Pingback: Leadership Lessons From The U.S. Political Process « The Leadership Crescendo

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