Leadership in a Complex World: Overcoming Managerial Blindness
I’ve learned over the years that my most effective executive coaching leadership clients know the “why” of what they are passionate in achieving. They get excited in my office telling me inspiring stories of their hopes and struggles. They have a growth versus fixed mindset, and are optimistic and forward thinking. They live and work on the edge and flourish.

One of my CEO executive coaching clients confided in me this week that he was struggling to convince several of his senior executives to create a more simplified strategy. The data from a recent company engagement survey indicated that far too many employees weren’t engaged with the mission and vision of the company. The strategy had too many priorities and they couldn’t focus their energies.

The CEO wanted to execute a new cutting edge strategy for the company, but was encountering a lot of resistance from some executive team members fearful of change. We engaged in a pretty fierce coaching conversation about how to help his leaders develop a more growth-oriented mindset. They needed to learn how to embrace the new strategy and change.


“If everything is a priority nothing is a priority.” – Alan Weiss

The CEO and I discussed several questions focusing on complexity that the CEO would explore with his executive team.

1. What value do we want to provide about a year from now? What are we passionate about and great at, which will help people in a year's time?

2. Who are our ideal clients for that value?

3. What mechanisms do we choose to use to reach them and convey value.

At our next coaching meeting, the CEO reported that his senior executives found the strategy questions provided clarity and were on board. The members of the executive team thought that if he was so passionate about his belief in creating a new strategy for the company that they began to pay attention to their own habits and patterns of behavior that caused resistance and were counterproductive to creating and executing the new strategy.

So what’s right for your company? Theorists want to make universal statements that would be prescriptions for every business. But it would be more relevant to look at a company’s unique situation and then assess its position in the industry, its internal capabilities, and then the fit between them.

Managerial Blindness

Focusing on only one thing can prevent us from seeing other key areas—a concept known as inattentional blindness. Furthermore, an outlier or rare event may be ignored when it doesn’t appear often enough for us to learn how it will affect the system.

Collectively, these problems may cause confusion and hinder job performance. Unfortunately, many companies deal with increasing complexity by further complicating their systems, adding new coordination procedures and structures. Extra layers of management or measurements only serve to decrease effectiveness.

In the same issue of HBR, consultant Yves Morieux reports that managers in the most complicated companies spend 40% of their time writing reports and up to 60% in coordination meetings. Today’s companies, on average, set six times as many performance requirements as they did in 1955. Back then, CEOs committed to four to seven performance imperatives; today, they commit to 25–40.

Many of these requirements conflict:

  • They strive to satisfy customers with low prices and high quality.

  • They seek to customize offerings for specific markets and standardize them for the greatest operating return.

  • They want to innovate and be efficient.

  • If managers are challenged with these complexities, imagine the effect on workers. People at all levels crave clarity and simplicity. A manager must navigate murky waters and emerge with plans that inspire cooperative action. It’s not that simple.

    Real Cooperation

    More than ever, leaders need input from others to grasp complexities and determine how they affect other parts of the system. This requires them to ask a lot of questions. In Morieux’s words: “Real cooperation isn’t a matter of getting along well; it’s taking into account the constraints and goals of others.”

    Staying on track is much easier with a guide or checklist. Michael Useem, a professor at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and bestselling author of The Leadership Moment, has published The Leader’s Checklist to create a clear roadmap for navigating any situation. Key questions help customize the list to fit specific needs.

    A leader must be able to keep the big picture in clear view, while attending to all of the small executions that will lead to the right outcomes. Each principle should generate a set of questions that help leaders test, retest, refine and update their preparedness for any situation.

    You can develop the qualities of positive leadership by working with a professional coach. The investment is well worth the reward: your ability to influence the future, your career and your personal-development capabilities.

    Are you working in a company where executive coaches provide leadership development to help leaders put positive leadership into action? Does your organization provide executive coaching for leaders who need to be more conscious, and tap into the intrinsic motivation of followers? Positive leaders tap into their emotional intelligence and social intelligence skills to create a more fulfilling future.

    One of the most powerful questions you can ask yourself is “Am I a positive leader who inspires individuals and organizations to achieve their highest potential, flourish at work, experience elevating energy and achieve levels of effectiveness difficult to attain otherwise?” Emotionally intelligent and socially intelligent organizations provide executive coaching to help leaders develop more positive teams.

    Working with a seasoned executive coach and leadership consultant trained in emotional intelligence and incorporating assessments such as the Bar-On EQ-I, CPI 260 and Denison Culture Survey can help leaders nurture mindful conversations in the workplace. You can become an inspiring leader who models emotional intelligence and social intelligence, and who inspires people to become fully engaged with the vision, mission and strategy of your company or law firm.