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Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Blind Spot

Blind Spot

By Dr. Ryan Donlan
Assistant Professor of Educational Leadership
Bayh College of Education
Indiana State University

Now John at the bar is a friend of mine
He gets me my drinks for free
And he’s quick with a joke or to light up your smoke
But there’s some place that he’d rather be.

Billie Joel, Piano Man, 1973

I wonder if John knows that his patrons know he’s not really present with them.  There’s some place that he’d rather be … and they can tell.
Bartenders should be there for “the folks,” shouldn’t they?

… So should school leaders.

My point here is not one of customer service; it’s one of knowing how others perceive us, especially those we lead.  John probably didn’t know.

I briefly touched on self-awareness last week when I made mention of Johari’s Window, a conceptual framework created in the 1950’s by Joseph Luft and Harry Ingham (Luft, 1969) that helps people understand how they understand themselves and how others understand them as well (Unique name?  Jo is for Joseph … hari is for Harry).

            The Johari Window is divided into four quadrants, the OPEN quadrant, the HIDDEN quadrant, the UNKNOWN quadrant, and the BLIND quadrant, as follows:
Things about you that are known to you and known to others

Things about you that are unknown to you and known to others.

Things about you that are known to you and unknown to others.

Things that are either unknown to both you and others or things that may not even apply.



Basically the figure above (my adaptation of Johari’s Window) depicts the following:

Aspects of our personality, such as, traits, qualities, or preferences that we recognize about ourselves and share openly with others (OPEN Quadrant); 

Aspects that we do not share, but we know about ourselves.  We keep them private (HIDDEN Quadrant);

More important to our discussion today, aspects of our personality that are present in our leadership that others know about us, or at least they perceive to be the case, but unfortunately, (a) we do not realize we are exhibiting them or (b) we do not realize that others perceive them (BLIND Quadrant); 

Finally, aspects of personality of which no one is aware, or things that don’t apply (UNKNOWN Quadrant).

            Let’s focus on the Blind Spot.

Effective school leaders strive for healthy balance among the four quadrants of Johari’s window, working to minimize those aspects of personality to which we are blind.  Quite simply, anything in our blind spot is a risk, because out of our perception typically means out of our control.

I really like this half-century-old concept, the Johari’s Window.  It makes sense as I ask myself, “Do I know how I am coming across to others?” 

            I call this a 360-degree Awareness or With-it-ness.

All leaders should have it.  Do you have it? I would like to think that I do, to a certain degree. Did we have such when we were teachers?  As parents?  Spouses? Significant others?
One could derive from a study of Johari’s window that inherent in our personhood is the hardwired limitation NOT to know everything about ourselves, and as it follows naturally, NOT to know everything about the way we are being perceived in our leadership.   

Can this be partially overcome through active information seeking on our part?  I think so. 

The first step is through establishment of a trusted leadership team.  I like to keep in mind that “The best looking glass is the eye of a friend,” so sayeth the Irish Proverb.  Do we have others on staff who are willing to give us their eyes, taking us aside and talking to us in a way that a mirror is incapable?  Often we contort ourselves into our own best package, when looking into our mirrors, don’t we?
            Another is through a more formal evaluation process, where we take some time to ask others on staff to evaluate aspects of our leadership (or personalities), as they perceive them.  Ready-made instruments can help us here.  How often do we use them?
I found one last week that was both enjoyable and informative by simply typing into a search engine, “Johari Window Exercise.”  As with most similar instruments, it offered me a list of adjectives from which I picked the five or six that I felt best described me.  I was then able to send a link via e-mail to others who knew me and could do the same.  It took all involved less than five minutes, and I received my own Johari Window to review.

            I learned something about myself … something that has me thinking … about road trips, of all things ....

            Sometimes when we’re driving as a family, my wife, Wendy, is kind enough to do a head-check for me in my passengers' side blind spot before I change lanes.  Sure, I have my own mirrors, and I have been driving successfully for many years, but I want that extra pair of eyes on the situation.  I do this because I want someone I trust to extend my awareness before I make a move on behalf of those who are dependent upon my care. 

Who is traveling in our passengers’ seats as we lead, as our staff and students sit behind us enjoying the ride?
Are they providing their eyes as an extension of ours?


Luft, J. (1969). Of human interaction. Palo Alto, CA: National Press.


Dr. Ryan Donlan is hoping that you will put your eye, as well, on this week’s BLIND SPOT and let him know what you think by contacting him at, (812) 237-8624, or by making comment on the Ed. Leadershop.  Hope we continue to be informative!

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