3 Leadership Blind Spots & How To See Them

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I recently read Henri Nouwen's book, In The Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership. It challenged me, as his writing often does, to think differently.

As I read through his book I became increasingly aware of potential blind spots in my life. I believe each of us has blind spots that we are simply unaware of. I thought I would take a risk and share three of my blind spots that have recently come into view.

Blind Spot Number 1:  "I Want To Be Right"

I don't think anyone wants to be intentionally wrong however, it's when I want to be intentionally right that I get in trouble. This blind spot permeates every area of my life. My parenting, my marriage, my leadership, and the list could go on.

Sometimes I really do think I am right and I even use scripture to support my position. Nouwen's title got to me. "In the name of Jesus." What do I do, "In the name of Jesus," that I think is right but isn’t?

For example. And this is a purely fictional example. A friend of mine is asked to come be part of a church staff as Pastor of Missions. He is promised a few things, one of which is traveling to foreign countries 7-8 times a year leading mission trips. At the end of the first year, he has only taken one trip. When he asks about the 7-8 times the response is, "Well, God has called us in another direction.” Although this is a fictional example I have heard numerous stories that are similar in nature.

So, was God wrong on the first promise or was the leader wrong? Blaming God for my stupidity isn't healthy yet I do it often. I have done my share of blaming others, leveraging God, using scripture or whatever other words you want to use to describe my desire to be right or, at least, not be wrong.

Often times a spirit of curiosity, openness, and awareness is what is needed for discovery. Once we lose the capacity for curiosity we are stuck in our own head telling our own stories that validate our own behavior.

Blind Spot Number 2:  "I Want To Be In Control”

Being in control is really about power, isn't it? I don't want to give up control because I don't want to give up my power. I don't want to feel controlled, I don't want to feel powerless. This is true in both organizations and in people.

I like what Nouwen wrote in his book when he says, "One thing is clear to me: The temptation of power is greatest when intimacy is a threat. Much Christian leadership is exercised by people who do not know how to develop healthy, intimate relationships and have opted for power and control instead." (Kindle Location 458)

Wow! "The temptation of power is greatest when intimacy is a threat." When I am courageous enough to share my hurts and hang-ups with others I give up control, I give up power. Not only do I give up my power I give it over to the person or people to whom I was vulnerable. The very definition of being vulnerable is, "open to attack."

You would think that I would have had this control thing "under control" by now. However, I still find myself in situations where my leadership is challenged and I have the desire to control the situation, circumstances or even the behavior of others.

Nouwen, as he reflected on leadership later in his life, said, "I am getting in touch with the mystery that leadership, for a large part, means to be led." (Kindle Location 436)

Control is an illusion of power and in a very real sense consumes your power. Protecting yourself and your interests take a lot of energy. Living absent from wanting to be in control is really about living in freedom.

Blind Spot Number 3: "I Want To Be Amazing"

I don't know if you feel or have felt this way but I want people to perceive me in a certain way. I want people to perceive me as a good communicator, relevant, a good author, a good parent, creative, upbeat, positive and a whole host of other nice words.

I find myself walking, talking, acting, breathing, moving through life trying to be amazing. It's not intentional, it's a blind spot. It's like I am acting on autopilot powered by a selfish ego-driven engine.

Nouwen talks about his move from Harvard to L’Arche. L’Arche is a location for people with intellectual disabilities. He says, ”The first thing that struck me when I came to live in a house with people with intellectual disabilities was that their liking or disliking me had absolutely nothing to do with any of the many useful things I had done until then." (Kindle Location 176)

Did you know that Jesus’ first temptation was to be amazing? “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become loaves of bread.” Matthew 4:3. Jesus was amazing but He didn't need to prove it, He rested in it. Jesus didn't come to prove Himself, He came to reveal blind spots and offer freedom.

While speaking at a conference this past year I had an unusual experience. I had several people, many of them friends, come up to me and chat. I also pursued a connection with friends that were speaking at the conference because it's really the only time we get a chance for a few minutes of real face time.

The standard questions that get tossed around at these kinds of things are, "So, how are you doing?" "How's life?" "How's ministry going?" Here's the thing. Most everyone was AMAZING! They were signing book deals, being asked to speak overseas, keynoting at this event or that one, appearing on radio and TV shows.

Wait, I want to be amazing! "God, why am I not amazing?" It's not that I was entirely jealous of what God was doing in the lives of others, I was jealous that I was not amazing, not doing amazing.

I want to get to a place in my life where I can rest in my identity in Christ regardless of my situation or circumstances. That's the answer to the blind spot of wanting to be amazing, isn't it?

As Nouwen reflected on his new life at L’Arche he said, "This experience was and, in many ways, is still the most important experience of my new life, because it forced me to rediscover my true identity." (Kindle Location 184)

Yes. My true identity according to Ephesians 2:10a NLT is simply this, “For we are God’s masterpiece.”

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*(Henri Nouwen: In The Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership)