This condition has many names: leadership blinders, delusion, and narcissism, just to name a few. Although each ailment can lead to unique consequences, they are all rooted in the same cognitive bias known as "The Halo Effect". The Halo Effect is a perception that influences a person's impression of another--a figurative halo that changes the lens through which we view others and ourselves.
In other words, due to your success, title, and accomplishments people are unable to view you objectively--rather they see you as "angelic". They discredit contradictory information and only see what supports their convictions.
Unfortunately, this can be to your detriment as people will withhold vital feedback essential to your success. Also, it can create a false sense of security leaving you or your leaders exposed.
On an organizational level, if leaders don't catch this condition in its early stages, they can unintentionally run their companies, teams, and careers into the ground.
On an individual basis, "The Halo Effect" is called the self-fulfilling prophecy. If left to our own devices, we will selectively seek out information to confirm our bias and even ignore those who are trying to help.
There's no X-ray or blood test that can confirm this diagnosis, but here are some symptoms that will determine whether you or someone that you know is affected, via "Ego vs. EQ" by emotional intelligence expert Jen Shirkani:
- You equate the lack of feedback (negative or constructive) as a sign that you are performing well and don't need to focus on further development.
- You assume that if your team is honest regarding operational issues that they will also provide candid feedback about your leadership.
- You do not elicit regular feedback from your team. If given, you blow it off or get defensive.
- You regularly think to yourself: "If they don't like what I'm doing, they can go get a job elsewhere."
The irony, Goleman and his coauthors describe in Primal Leadership, is that the higher someone is on the org chart, the more valuable leadership feedback becomes.
Don't worry! There's a cure. Shirkani prescribed the following therapy:
- Remember that it's not bad leaders who don't get feedback. Sometimes the most beloved leaders have loyalists that protect them. So, don't be afraid to ask for information about "trivial" issues others may be aware of but not telling you.
- When sending emails or memos to employees, communicate in blog-speak, not corporate-speak. It helps you be more relatable and approachable.
- Don't believe your own press. Remember you are there to serve others who control your destiny. Work hard every day to earn their respect.
- Instead of focusing on what you can't control, focus on what you can--your actions, your words, your choices--and the impact they have on others. Everything else will take care of itself.
- Comfort zone is the enemy of emotional intelligence. In every interaction ask yourself, "Am I doing this (or not doing this) because it's easier for me? Or them?"
We never get too old or too successful for constructive criticism. Although it may come in different forms as we progress throughout our careers, the most successful leaders find ways to gather and learn from feedback.