Leadership Biases and Blind Spots

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Soon Steve Ballmer will cease to be the CEO of Microsoft.

Under his decade of leadership Microsoft went nowhere and even lost a significant amount of its market value. Meanwhile, its competitors Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon experienced rapid growth. Microsoft failed to anticipate and capitalize on consumer trends such as mobile computing, portable music, tablets, and search engines.

Most of the blame for Microsoft’s lethargy has rightly been laid at the feet of Steve Ballmer. While he did grow the revenue of the corporate behemoth significantly, he did so by selling more of its existing products and services to the same old types of customers (think “lack of vision”). While this strategy looked good in the short-term, it ultimately condemned Microsoft to the fate of PC’s, which—as we are already beginning to see—is not promising.

So, how did a company that used to be in the vanguard of technology fall so far?

When asked this question, Steve Jobs stated:

When the sales guys run the company, the product guys don’t matter so much, and a lot of them just turn off. It happened…when Ballmer took over at Microsoft. I don’t think anything will change at Microsoft as long as Ballmer is running it.

Apparently many investors agreed with Job’s prescient assessment: Microsoft’s stock price jumped by 7% as soon as he announced his plans for departure.

Nevertheless, I don’t totally agree with Jobs’s statement. I think that the sales guys (or the operations guys, or finance guys, etc.) can run a company phenomenally well. But, in order to do so they will have to understand:


1.     Bias:

 We humans are predisposed to think that our ideas, decisions, and perspectives are the best. We like people who think and act like us. We are even drawn to people for as arbitrary a reason as they went to the same school as us. Our bias is demonstrated by what we choose to fund, who we go to for advice, and who we blame when things go wrong. Our biases are often obvious to those around us. Employees can easily determine by looking at the decisions of leadership who in the organization is valued and who isn’t.

When people sense that they aren’t valued they “turn off.”

2.     Blind Spots:


We all have blind spots produced by our personalities, life experiences, and education. What are in those blind spots? Threats and opportunities, weaknesses and strengths—all the things that we can only detect with the aid of someone else’s eyes.

In order to eliminate blind spots, you must:

  1. Include those who are very different from you in your leadership team (in terms of personality, background and education)

  2. Show that you value them by listening to and empowering them

In theory this is simple, but in practice it is quite difficult. Empowering someone means that you truly have to trust and value them. It also means that someone else has to relinquish some power—and that someone will probably be you. You’ll have to admit that you might not always have all the right answers, which is very difficult for many leaders to concede. However, only by building diversity into your leadership team and consciously empowering those who are different from you will you be able to lead without blind spots.

Image courtesy of cooldesign at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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