Fix Your Leadership Blind Spots, The Secret to Magnetic Leadership

Lessons from a Behavioral Researcher and consultant to the Fortune 500, neurosurgeons, special forces, FBI counterterrorism agents (and everything in between).

By Blake Eastman| April 2, 2024

What You'll Learn...

The way you think you are vs. the way your team sees you

Before we get into the behavioral blindspots for founders, I want to go over some important context. 

My name is Blake Eastman, and I own a behavioral research and education company called The Nonverbal Group. We focus on teaching high-level and nuanced people skills to leaders, organizations, and individuals. 

I have a unique way of coaching clients: I heavily leverage video—using it to quantify the behavioral patterns of a culture. I run through it kind of like coaches run athletes through their game film, it allows me to show, without any confusion, where the issues are. 

I have analyzed and watched thousands of meetings, 1:1s, presentations, and sales calls across multiple industries and diverse cultures and sizes. After a few thousand hours of this, you start picking up on a few things. 

Number one:  I’ve learned a company can have its core values listed everywhere, which is great, but you truly understand an organization by observing its behaviors. 

Number two: One of the biggest dangers for a leader is their blindspots. Because of the power dynamic, your team is much less likely to make you aware of your faults than others. This can cause leaders to gain a false sense of confidence in their abilities, moving forward without being aware of the issues they’re causing.

But here’s the truth: Most of the meetings and interactions I watch shouldn’t have happened in the first place.

Five leadership blindspots and how to fix them

The good news is, you’re not alone. Most founders and leaders tend to have at least one of these five common blindspots, let me walk you through how to find and fix them.

Step 1: Check that your meeting cadence, intention, and structure make sense

Before we get into nonverbal behavior, let’s discuss structure. 

I often find myself in the middle of observing footage and say to myself:

  • “Why is this meeting even taking place? What’s the point?”
  • “This could have easily been a Loom video.”
  • “They have a 5-minute stand-up, but everyone comes late, it becomes 11 minutes.” 

These are just not my observations. This is the feedback I receive when interviewing team members. People get distracted and frustrated during the meeting because they have another meeting to attend, so both meetings suffer. 

Every organization and culture is a complex collection of personalities, processes, and more. When starting a company, it makes sense to adopt a standard playbook. However, your team and culture will develop into a beautiful and equally chaotic entity over time. 

I don’t think organizations critically think through how we meet. It’s just part of our business narratives, we run things a certain way because we’ve always run things that way. 

But here’s the truth: Most of the meetings and interactions I watch shouldn’t have happened in the first place. 

Here are some quick changes I usually recommend that have worked well:

Question the length of your meeting

Our society has fallen into a standard of 15/30/60/90 minute meetings. Most calendars function in 15-minute intervals. Adjust the meeting length as needed. If you are taking 30 minutes, change it to 20. If you are doing 15 minutes and going over, change it to 30. Make your meetings as concise as possible while not underestimating how long they’ll take.

Focus on hybrid meetings

There are moments in every meeting where someone presents information 70% of the time, and the other 30% is discussion. When communicating one way, you don’t require direct feedback. So, make a Loom video and then have a shorter meeting to discuss the video details. It’s much easier to watch a Loom video at 2x speed. Write down your questions, and then have a collaborative discussion afterward.

Make an argument for why it needs to be a meeting

For one organization, we implemented a rule that required providing a structured argument to justify the necessity of a meeting. This was put inside the notes of the calendar invite. It forced managers to think about why a meeting was needed and lay out a concise agenda.

Drop-off meetings

Have you ever been in an hour-long meeting and thought, why am I still here? A drop-off meeting is simple. You go through an agenda; if you are no longer needed or can’t add value, you leave. This is often perceived as rude, but it works if you encourage and create the culture that allows for it.

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Step 2: Make sure your ‘perceptual defaults’ aren’t influencing how you see your team

We don’t objectively observe our team’s behavior. Our perception is influenced by our perspective, past experiences, the framing of language, and so much more. Leaders often have a series of what I call perceptual defaults. They see default patterns and themes in their team’s behavior. 

For example, I worked with a CEO who believed “hard work pays off.” She went to the top and expected the same from those who worked for her. 

Here’s the problem: She was hypersensitive to any sign of not “working hard.”  

  • If someone didn’t answer an email on a weekendThey weren’t working hard enough. 
  • If a meeting had some chatter in the beginningThe team wasn’t focused on priorities. 
  • People gathered around the water cooler to socialize – Didn’t they have something more important to do? 

She spent so much time questioning the people around her and struggled to find the “right people” because of this ‘perceptual default’. 

There is a big difference between working with CEOs and founder/CEOs. Founders often take things personally; they interject aspects of their personality and preferences into a culture, and they can care to a fault. 

If you have a behavior default, shine a light on the times when someone is exhibiting that behavior! For example, celebrate people for their hard work instead of focusing on instances when it does not occur. It brings a more positive environment to your company and shows the rest of the company what you’re looking for.

Note: This is why measurement systems (metrics, KPIs, scorecards) are so important. While they can also be manipulated, they establish a ground truth to operate and make decisions.

The most well-respected/liked leaders have one thing in common: alignment of values and behaviors.

Step 3: Check that your values are aligned with your behavior

I never tell anyone how to lead. 

While there are hundreds of leadership books, training, and workshops, there are so many different leadership styles. 

I have watched leaders violate every “leadership principle” while running the most effective teams I’ve ever seen. 

The truth is, the most effective leaders align their values with their behavior. 

Close your eyes, sit back, and imagine your funeral. Everyone you have ever worked with is telling stories and commenting on you. 

What do YOU want them to say?

This doesn’t have to be all positive fluffy statements about what a great person you are. 

Here’s a good example you can use: “He was the toughest person I have ever worked with. Because he pushed me so much, I grew to a level that I thought was impossible.”

Here is the trick, though. Whatever you want that perception to bestate it during onboarding. 

It’s much easier to tell someone and frame your behavior than to let them guess why you’re acting a certain way. 

Remember: You can create any type of dynamic you want, but make sure you are a shining example of that principle. 

I have seen leaders complaining and ripping people apart because they are late to meetings. But, when leaders are late, they don’t address it. I can’t tell you how much people notice this. 

The most well-respected/liked leaders have one thing in common: alignment of values and behaviors. 

They simply do what they say they do consistently.  

Step 4: Pay closer attention to the behavioral patterns of your team

Many entrepreneurs/founders have epic people stories to share: 

  • The co-founder was like a family member but turned out to be “crazy” and ruined the company. 
  • One client who started amazingly turned into a total narcissistic lunatic and owes you $500k.
  • The vendor was someone everyone liked but ended their contract with the company suddenly.

When people tell these stories, they often act like this came out of the blue. Sorry, but this is complete bullshit. 

First, you are 100% complicit in the dynamic that you create. 

I have been involved in many employee disputes, founder breakups, and criminal cases where both sides refuse to take any responsibility. Relationships involve two people. It’s never one person, it’s an exchange. You have to take responsibility for your part of that creation. 

There are signs everywhere, but you often ignore them. 

Signs like: 

  • Facial reactions
  • Adjustments in the length of messages in Slack channels
  • Passive-aggressive behaviors
  • Team chatter
  • Gossip 
  • Turning down meetings or leaving early

Whenever you conduct a meeting or talk to your team or a client, pay attention. Every interaction is a chance to check the temperature, people display a lot of information in their behavior. Once you notice something’s wrong, talk to them about it. 

A simple principle: “If you avoid the small conversations, you will need to have the big ones.” 

As a born and raised New Yorker, I’ll also borrow the MTA tagline “If you see something, say something.”

Identifying and addressing relationship issues is a muscle that is developed over time and one of the quickest ways to solve people’s problems in an organization.

Step 5: Leverage the power of video

A cornerstone habit of every professional athlete is reviewing their performance video. 

An athlete systematically studies their ‘tape’ to find the flaws and areas of improvement in their own and opponents’ behavior. 

If you run a business right now, you likely have your own ‘tape’, the most powerful source of truth for your performance. The leadership blindspot here is that they never watch the tape!

Here are a few examples of how these could help you:

  • If you sell via video meetings, you have a treasure trove of customer trends, hesitations, and pain points. Watch them and learn from them in aggregate, then write down what you learned. Share that with your team and watch your sales climb.
  • If you have multiple 1:1s weekly, go back and determine if you actively listened to your team and provided the necessary support. See what you missed or where you talked over them. Do better for the next meeting.
  • If you run meetings, check how engaged the people in the meetings are, where time was well-spent, and where time was wasted. Write down what you learned and apply it to your next meeting.

Inside each of these videos are future playbooks, training, and optimization examples. You are likely sitting on a gold mine and underutilizing it. 

So starting today, build a culture around reviewing videos and making small changes after each session. Responding quickly to feedback helps you build expertise and authority.

Become the leader you want to be

This might not have been fun for you. I intended to point out what you could be doing wrong. More than that, I wanted to give you a way to work closer with your team and become the leader you want to be.

Remember that leadership, at its core, is about connection. It’s about understanding the unspoken as much as the spoken. It’s about seeing the potential in every interaction to be a moment of growth for ourselves and for those we lead.

If you actively pay attention to your behavior and others, you will become a better leader.

  • Blake Eastman

    My name is Blake Eastman and I am the founder of The Nonverbal Group. My entire life has been dedicated to Psychology and Nonverbal Behavior and I have started several companies fueld by my passion to better understand human behavior. Here are some highlights.

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