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Is your lens distorted?

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in Leaders & Managers,Leadership Skills

Do you recognize and appreciate an employee who is good at a skill that isn’t your strength? Or do you minimize the importance of this skill?

“It’s human nature to value the attributes of others that are the most similar to our own and devalue the characteristics that we do not possess,” says Peter Friedes, co-founder of Managing People Better. But you can pay a price for shortsightedness.

The generalizations you make about an individual or a group can result in creating a culture of groupthink in your organization. In other words, if you recruit and hire people only like yourself, you miss out on the opportunity to bring in employees who might change your operation for the better.

“The most effective managers are keenly aware of both their strengths and their shortcomings, and thus know how to evaluate employees through both lenses,” says Friedes.

Case in point: Manager Tom Smith, a left-brained engineer, likes “the facts and nothing but the facts.” Along comes Jim Higgins, a creative employee who suggests some interesting and unconventional approaches for gaining new customers. If Tom is a manager with good vision, he will acknowledge Jim’s ideas and initiative and find ways to channel them. Tom will admit that Jim might be better than him at brainstorming and marketing. Tom will want to learn from him and will find opportunities for Jim to hone his skills.

Less-flexible managers undervalue traits they are not personally good at. Even if they notice that the employee’s ideas might work, they won’t think about ways to harness that talent for the good of the organization.

How to shake old viewpoints

Blind spots often prevent managers from consciously recognizing an employee’s strengths. The willingness to change and examine one’s own thinking can go a long way toward preventing unconscious biases.

Have you ever had a negative reaction before getting to know an individual? If the answer is “yes,” recognize this automatic response, and remind yourself that it is not an accurate indicator of an individual’s character, skills or personality.

For example, do you hold any of the following preconceptions:

  • Women tend to be absent more than men, so I can count more on men.
  • Older workers have peaked or run out of gas, so they are not promotion material.
  • Candidates who are shy during meetings don’t have much to contribute.

Learn to put these instantaneous impressions aside long enough to judge individuals for who they really are. Without a distorted lens blurring your view, you will be able to see individuals accurately, not as mere reflections of your preconception.

When we judge people from our own frame of reference or our own expectations about how people should look, behave or talk, we limit our ability to manage effectively.

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