what’s missing?

Absence Blindness: why leaders should be aware of it

Absence Blindness is a phenomenon where you don’t notice what is not there. A great example of this is how in business, managers who are the most effective, often make it look easy because they are planning for the future and are prepared. They are often low-key, and may not even look like they are doing much, but projects “get turned in on time and in budget.” Conversely, mediocre managers often get rewarded more because they are always “fighting an uphill battle”, or “putting out a fire”, and they make it look hard so they get more sympathy and they appear to be working harder. (from the Personal MBA by Josh Kaufman).

We have a really hard time realizing what isn’t there.

“The busy pastor is a lazy pastor.” — Eugene Peterson

This bias is everywhere, and it’s an important one to be aware of. Ever notice a person who is doing what they were meant to do, with discipline? They don’t make it look difficult. They do it with ease. Think of the parkour athlete, or the skilled rock climber, or the natural skier or snowboarder. Think of the skilled manager, or the mom who seems to have things under control when you know it cannot be as easy as she makes it look. They hone the skill through years of practice, but they have a natural flow that makes it appear easy. I always envied that in people, in athletes who just made the most difficult move look easy. We called it style. They didn’t tend to brag, or talk about how difficult a run or a trick was. They just did it with a smile on their face. So many people make life look so difficult. They are struggling at work, struggling at family, struggling at everything they do.

I’m not downplaying struggle, please don’t misunderstand. At this current moment the Lord knows I have plenty of my own struggle, and many times I’ve made something pretty easy look ridiculously hard. Guilty. However, the people I look to are the ones who seem to enjoy life, and you know it’s no easier for them but they make it look smooth, easy almost, even though they work harder than anyone else. They do it with a smile on their face.

Do you see a man skillful in his work?
 He will stand before kings;
 he will not stand before obscure men. — Prov. 22:29

If we’re making something look harder than it really should be, maybe we need to examine ourselves. Is it just a poor alignment (doing something we weren’t cut out to do)? Or perhaps we may not have the right tools. Or, maybe it’s that we’re looking for attention and a pat on the back, maybe it’s insecurity that keeps us flailing around, acting busy, needing approval. We’d do well to find out if it is one of these things, and adjust accordingly.

On the other hand, isn’t this a great leadership lesson? Be aware of Absence Blindness. Reward the ones who make it look easy, who aren’t always calling out for attention or drama. Be someone who “makes it look easy”. Put in the practice, the brain work, the meditation, the prayer, when no one is looking. Go into the wilderness and sweat blood, and then emerge with a kind of radiance.


This is part of 7 weeks of a daily writing experiment, while I’m less mobile recovering from surgery. This day #20 of 49. The last post was: