Strengths, Weaknesses, and Blind Spots
As the saying goes, we all have our strengths. Some people's strength is running really fast. I run fairly slow. Some people's strength is jumping high. I'm pretty good at jumping low. Some people can sing multiple octaves with tremendous vibrato. I can’t quite carry a tune in a bucket. My music downloading skills are decent though.
In college there was a truly intelligent engineering student in my residence hall who lived a few doors down from me. He came from a family with a background steeped in architectural and civil engineering. They were the key people involved in building several well-known New York City skyscrapers. He excelled in all the calculus and physics and tough engineering classes, but he could not interpret or draw mechanical designs. He could not see what a building was when looking at a mechanical drawing. He could not draw a machine in the mechanical format. He had an absolute blind spot in his brain when it came to this important aspect of civil engineering and architectural engineering. One night I saw him almost break down emotionally over this blind spot.
One of the mythical fallacies of leadership and management seminars and consulting is that business owners do not have blind spots. They are supposed to be at least decently capable of dealing with all aspects of a business. This is what MBA programs teach and promote and charge a lot of money to students who believe they will be strongly conversant in all aspects of business when they graduate. I have an MBA so I should know.
However, this is not reality. One of the mistakes I have made when consulting with insurance company executives, agency owners, and many others in my 30 years as a consultant is that at times I failed to fully appreciate these key leaders' blind spots. I have tried a lot of solutions from badgering my clients to move forward, to studying how I could help them change their habits, to holding a couple of interventions. Blind spots are rarely fixable.
In the sales world, and therefore in the insurance agency/distribution world, those blind spots typically involve human resources (HR) and financial management. I have sat with owners who have literally lost millions in cash, not just in agency value but cash, who simply could not see how their financial statements and general ledgers showed where the money was lost. They were exactly like the engineering student in my dorm who could not interpret mechanical drawings to save his life.
I have had multiple agency owners tell me they have no idea what goes into their financials, what the financial statements mean, and that they are not going to learn either. Financials are simply not their strength and reading the statements has the same effect on a salesperson as kryptonite has on Superman.
For that matter, I have worked with insurance carrier CFO's and CEO's who did not understand their company’s financial statements, how the numbers got there or how their competitors' financial statements could be better than their statements. A common comment is, "How can they make so much more investment income than we can?" When I explain that the competitor has more money invested, the reality does not always resonate. Blind spots cannot be fixed.
The HR blind spot is especially painful in this current constrained employment market where employee turnover is so high. These people are being forced to interpret potential employees and they simply do not have the mind to do so, especially over and over and over. Salespeople are an interesting study in contrast because the good ones are so good at reading and dealing with prospective and current clients, humans in other words. That is their comfort zone. But, put them in front of humans who are potential employees, and the wheels fall off. At the least, they spend all their time "selling" the candidate on working there rather than determining whether the candidate is qualified to work there.
I have had clients put all their efforts into personally improving their blind spots because they know the weakness is hurting their organization but it just does not work. They feel like failures and in a sense, they are because they failed to improve. Nonetheless, they set themselves up for failure because fixing these blind spots is an impossible hurdle to jump.
After all this time, the only solution for blind spots (and this goes for any blind spot, not just HR or financials) that I have found is the following:
First, recognize the blind spot for what it is. I have a client who is brilliant with numbers, provided the numbers are not on their financial statements. Hand them a financial statement and their brain freezes over. By acknowledging the blind spot for what it is, they were finally able to move forward.
Second, determine how strong your emotional anathema is to that blind spot. For example, I have a client who would rather have their teeth pulled without Novocain than interview people to work in their agency. In other words, they are not going to interview people. For others, the emotions are not that strong, and maybe they can force their way through.
Third, determine whether hiring someone else to take over is the solution. Virtually everything to do with HR is a blind spot for most agency owners. (Did you become an agency owner so you could manage people?) I review some agencies' financials monthly simply so that the owners do not have to do so. It is not because they are not capable or they are lazy. It is just too painful because it is part of their blind spot. Professional interviewers exist, perhaps it is time to hire one. IT is always a favorite of agency owners (just kidding), so hire it out. Another example is a producer who just can't learn the technical coverages he/she needs to know. Partner them with someone possessing complementary skills.
I cannot think of too many situations where an agency or carrier will not benefit hugely by hiring someone else to fulfill a task that is a blind spot. Obviously, that person will do the job better, but more importantly, the energy suck of trying to deal with things that are in that blind spot, where no matter how hard you try the drawing just is not clear, takes away from all the energy you would like to apply to the leadership and management functions you do really well. The additional productivity pays for the extra help.
I am not sure what my fellow dorm student did. He left the university. I hope he pursued his passion and found a firm that could supply him with a partner who thoroughly enjoyed and was good at reading mechanical drawings. Those folks have a special talent for sure. Partnering strengths is such a fantastic way to create quality teams, increase productivity, achieve high morale, and live a more enjoyable life.
And now if I could just find a partner who would take care of my email!
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