When we look at depictions of C-level executives in the media, we generally see one caricature that dominates the space: the alpha male boss, with a “take no prisoners" attitude, throwing directives at fearful employees under the penalty of losing their jobs.

This is what pop culture tells us that it takes to be successful and, as we all know, there’s no room for emotions when it comes to the highest level of business, right? Wrong!

As researchers are finding out, research and reality suggest that the opposite is true. Executives with fewer blind spots and higher self-awareness have been found to show a correlation with better performance resulting in a higher rate of return (ROR).

First, What Are Blind Spots?

Blind spots are the gaps between reality and our interpretation of reality that impact the quality of our decisions and behaviors. Generally, the more self-aware we are, the less blind spots we have. According to organizational psychologist Tasha Eurich, “95% of people think they’re self-aware, but only 10-15% actually are.” To understand blind spots, we first have to understand why it’s important to be more fully self-aware.

Self-awareness belongs to a larger grouping of traits called Emotional Intelligence (EI). According to Daniel Goleman, a social scientist whose research detailed the tenets of EI, “In leadership positions, 85% of the competencies for success lie in the EI domain, rather than in technical or intellectual abilities."

These competencies are communicated via a concept called an emotional quotient (EQ), which is a practical measurement of a person’s level of emotional intelligence.

Looking at the Data

So what is it that suggests that the more self-aware tend to be high performing leaders and are better equipped to develop other high performing leaders and teams?

The Korn Ferry Institute reviewed self-assessments from nearly 7,000 professionals at 486 publicly-traded companies and discovered that “poor-performing companies’ employees were 79 percent more likely to have low overall self-awareness than those at firms with robust ROR."

Empirical data can also be used to support the value of a higher EQ in business: the IHHP points at cases in which leaders at manufacturing plants received training to boost their emotional intelligence, after which the plants’ productivity increased and saw a decrease in workplace accidents. This suggests that when leaders are more self-aware, they can address their blind spots and be better equipped to manage their human capital effectively.

Soft Skills Are Greater Than Hard Skills?

So what’s the right mix of soft skills — i.e., communications, conflict management, self-awareness, and leadership — and hard skills like accounting, auditing, and data management?

You’ll notice a trend in the distinction between hard and soft skills. While hard skills are needed to perform a specific job, soft skills are needed to be successful in business, no matter the role. For example, if you’re a programmer, you need to be a master of coding, a hard skill. Leading a team of programmers, however, demands soft skills like communication and conflict management.

Research conducted by Harvard University, Stanford University, and the Carnegie Foundation has concluded, like Goleman, that 85 percent of job success comes from having well-developed soft and people skills, and only 15% of job success comes from technical skills and knowledge (hard skills).

Assessing the EQ Deficit

It’s clear at this point that self-awareness and reducing blind spots is key to running a high performing organization. So why, then, do C-level executives tend to be less self-aware than their lower-level colleagues?

Researchers from Inc. looked at the EQ assessments of workers at every level and found that from the frontlines to middle management, EQ scores increased, which is what you’d expect to see given what the above research shows. The disconnect, however, occurs from the middle management up to the C-level, where EQ scores started to decrease rapidly. The results showed that CEOs had the lowest EQ scores in the company, on average.

Given what we know about the correlation between blind spots and performance, this seems like an opportunity for organizations to commit time and resources toward providing leadership with the opportunity to receive self-awareness training.

Reduce Blind Spots to Increase ROR

You might be reading this and asking yourself, do I have blind spots that may be limiting my ability to perform at the highest levels? Or, that are hindering my leaders from performing at their highest levels? The answer is statistically, yes.

So where do you go from here? How do you address blind spots that you’re not able to perceive with the knowledge that they are limiting your ability to lead successfully?

Do you recognize and resonate with any of these telltale signs of an underperforming organization? If you do, you would benefit from investing in raising the self-awareness of your leadership team.

Do you witness blame-shifting, unresolved conflicts and low morale in your workforce?
Do you feel a lack of trust and are your people gossiping and complaining?
Are your employees disengaged? Do you have high turnover?
Do you have top performers who are struggling?
Is there a lack of communication or frequent miscommunications?
Are you stressed out, fatigued and feeling misunderstood as a leader?

These are symptoms of blind spots. Take the first step to being a high performing leader by completing our complimentary Leadership Blind Spot Assessment. You will receive a personalized report detailing  some of your strengths, driving assumptions and, more importantly, your potential blind spots.

Kevin McCarthy is the bestselling author of BlindSpots – Why Good People Make Bad Choices. He is a professional member of the National Speakers Association and immediate past President of the Oregon chapter, where he recently won Member of the Year. He is also the Marketing Chair for NSA’s National Chapter Leadership Committee. Kevin is a full time keynote speaker, bestselling author, consultant and coach helping high performing leaders make better choices . Global organizations hire Kevin for transformational leadership and ethics keynotes, seminars and strategic training programs.