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Does your leadership style suffer from a BLIND spot? Part 2

May 16, 2023

Dr. Chris Heunis


“…most bosses are not mentally ill, but a surprising number of senior executives do have a personality disorder of some kind.” De Vries (2014:102).

We live in a world of diverse thinking that results in diverse behaviour. In some cases, opposite thinking styles attract people to one another and, in other cases, drive a wedge between people. Part 1 of this article introduced the HBDI model, researched and developed by Ned Herrmann (1996) and suggests that behavioural pathology sometimes displayed by business leaders can be understood in accordance with the HBDI thinking style.

When my business partner and I started the Team Building Institute in 1996, we were looking for an assessment instrument with the following qualities: scientifically researched and validated, accurate, practical (metaphoric), as well as the capacity to identify and manage blind spots. Our aim at TBI has always been to teach our clients to initiate and sustain metacognition: “The ability to think about and regulate one’s own thinking preferences situationally”. Therefore, our training model is known as the Team Growth Strategy.

I believe that a person that displays a very strong preference in a specific quadrant or experiences a big shift from one quadrant to another under stressful situations may suffer from a blind spot. That would lead to them being perceived as obsessive, irrational or compulsive. Herrmann describes this “shift in thinking” as the Stress Profile (see Part 3 in the series).

Four people hauled the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) to court in a bid to get them to take stringent action against a surgeon (Dr. G) that had a long list of botched cosmetic operations behind him. During an interview on Carte Blanche (MNet), it became clear that the number of complications was far more than the norm. During the interview, when confronted with the above facts, his response was: “sh$t happens”. The response created a public outcry. If he perhaps reacted remorsefully, his patients may not have taken the HPCSA to court, or responded differently.

Is it possible that his thinking style indicates a strong preference for the Blue quadrant (Analytical and Logical thinking, refer to Figure 1 below), and his response is interpreted as unsympathetic and emotionally disconnected?

A surgeon requires in-depth detailed knowledge of the exact surgical procedure, deep analysis of the problem and clinical accuracy (Blue quadrant A: Figure 2). However, his client approaches him from an emotional perspective and wants to feel emotionally safe and understood (Red quadrant C). The term “alexithymia” from Greek means “no words for emotions”, according to De Vries (2014). In the case mentioned above, Dr. G clearly presents a blind spot in lacking awareness towards Red quadrant thinking (see Fig 2 below), thus perceived as emotionally impaired. His inability to interpret complex emotional signals clearly compounded his dilemma. Although people with this condition are aware of the emotional signals others display, they may be baffled and confused, or they “just don’t care”, when somebody reacts emotionally. This would lead to a complete disconnect by “shutting the door” literally and figuratively.

What could Dr. G have done differently? A person with a very strong preference in the Blue quadrant (A) will find comfort in the tangible and feel uncertain when having to deal with the intangible, like emotions. The above does not imply that these individuals do not experience emotions, or they do not know how to deal with it or don’t care when it manifests. De Vries (2014) suggests that identifying these situations and reflecting on the dynamics will increase understanding and trust in his/her ability to address the problem instead of ignoring it. We all are familiar with: “He is a great doctor but has no bedside manners”. Understanding one’s thinking style will enhance being present, also known as attunement, the interactive dimension of being present in how my thinking and subsequent behaviours affect others.

You may ask, “If I am aware of my strong preference for a specific quadrant and associated behavioural patterns, is this a blind spot?”. Certainly not. Figure 1 clearly indicates that Subject 1 favours the Blue quadrant, and the associated communication preferences for the Blue (A) quadrant are documented in Figure 2. Now that Subject 1 sees his preferred thinking style, he is made aware that his lower preferences for the other quadrants may be blind spots – not being on time (Green), insensitive to others’ feelings (Red), lacking imagination (Yellow).

Although Dr. G’s response was unacceptable, he may be oblivious to the emotional (Red quadrant) gravity of his actions.

We can learn to loosen the grip of habit and become more mindful to cultivate a presence that accommodates a whole-brain society.

You will notice a dotted line close to the solid line on the graph (Figure 1). This dotted line represents the Stress Profile. Could this hold the key to another blind spot…? Part 3 aims to explore this phenomenon.

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