Perspective and Leadership
“…if we change the way we see the world this in fact changes the way we feel and act, which in turn changes the world itself.” Douglas Abrams
My wife is an artist…a very good one! Despite her claims that she is not, the evidence shows otherwise. I have often watched her paint, but I can only do it for short periods of time. Art regardless of the medium takes a great deal of patience, not one of my strengths. Karen will take great care in choosing colours, texture and tone. She will think and work for hours just to get it right.
We were discussing her painting a few weeks ago and she gave me an insight to her approach that is fascinating. In her words,
“When I feel that I am truly happy with my decisions and approach. I always check myself by trying to visualize how this same project would look if I turned things around and did the complete opposite. Re-assessing colour, tone and texture makes me re-evaluate things in a completely different light and confirms that I am either on the right track or whether improvements could be made.”
That skill, that ability to be able to suspend your current reality and step outside and look from another perspective, although different in context, is at the very heart of great leadership.
Perspective and Leadership
I have written many times before that if I were to choose a starting point for the development of leaders, a platform on which everything else is built, it would be awareness. Developing a deep understanding of yourself, your environment and the people you interact with. Being able to put things in perspective.
As a leader, your ability to put things in perspective has some big pay offs. You begin to realize that there is more than one way to view a problem, which means there is probably more than one solution. Complex problems can often become clear and what you think are simple solutions reveal a complexity you hadn’t thought of. But perhaps the biggest pay off is that developing your perspective brings with it an understanding of people that was not possible before.
Putting YOU on hold
By its very nature perspective means suspending your current reality. In other words, putting YOU on hold.
We all have a surprisingly fixed view on things. It is hard to imagine that any adult matures without biases coming into play. Built up over time, our view of the world is a product of our life experience, our values and belief system. When we view the world through OUR prism, it is easy to accept things as they are without a second thought. It’s comfortable and for the most part we accept it as true, correct and right.
Perspective requires you to suspend your current thinking and look at things from a neutral position, without personal bias or pressure to form an opinion. Just to simply observe and understand.
Look around the problem.
Something that I have found useful is to look around the problem. In other words, if you are trying to solve a particular problem, it might be someone you are having difficulty working with or managing. Don’t look directly at the person or the problem. Look at what is going on around the person. Look at the conditions that are perhaps contributing to the issue and why they might influence how a person behaves. Ask why.
Part of the skill of perspective is to look at things from as many different angles as possible. Firstly, perhaps obviously, try to put yourself in their position. You might also look at it from the position of their colleagues. Then try looking through the eyes of someone you respect, a mentor perhaps. How would they see this problem?
Whether it is a problem, an opportunity or a change in circumstance, be prepared to look at things, from the top, the bottom, the sides, up close and far away. The more angles the greater your chance of understanding. But the key is to be impartial. Do this simply to understand. Then when you are ready, make your decision.
Perspective and Time
Perspective in my experience, also has an element of time attached to it. There are two elements here.
In the first, viewing problems in the context of your experience and over the passage of time tends to lessen the burden and pressure of the decision. Something, that in the hard light of NOW seems like a major issue, tends to dissipate once you consider it as part of everything else you have experienced. Time has an unbelievable ability to put things in their place.
The second is purely about just taking time to stop, think and look at things. This maybe the biggest pay off for leaders who have a strong sense of perspective. By its very nature perspective demands you respond and not react.
People are more likely to trust a leader who responds rather than reacts. You know they are listening, understanding, considering and respecting the problem and people involved.
They are thinking through all the options before they respond. More than anything, this is a person who is centred and in control. It is not someone being controlled by the situation.
Note: For more on this you might want to read a previous article. Step Back – Long Arms.
A Change in You
Finally and most importantly, consciously developing your perspective is a personal development experience. Your ability to step away from yourself and look at things from different viewpoints brings with it thoughts, feelings and actions.
In the book “The Book of Joy”, an account of the meeting between the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Douglas Abrams makes the point that while changing our emotions and behaviour can be quite hard, changing our perspective is relatively easy. It is part of our mind over which we have influence. The payoff is that when we change our perspective we actually change the way we feel and act. In effect, we improve and develop in a very personal way.
Looking from other perspectives does not compromise your own values or what you stand for. Over time it actually enhances them, making the painting of you deeper, sharper, stronger and more centred.
A better leader.