Recently, I’ve watched an organization of passionate and caring people disintegrate. The limited perspective of leaders and team members has frustrated communication and problem-solving. They’ve devolved into camps of us vs. them. It can happen to any team if you don’t pay attention to how you see the world.
When the World Changes
I grew up in southwest Denver.
Late in the day, as the sun settled toward the mountains west of the city, I loved to see downtown Denver highlighted in the evening light. My favorite version of this view happened after a summer thunderstorm. The crenelated gray, black, and white skyline glowed with hope against the dark purple clouds that had taken their wrath out to the plains.
When I was twelve years old, my friend’s mother invited us to volunteer with her at a shelter for mothers who had escaped abusive relationships. We had to make solemn promises not to reveal the shelter’s location. It was easy for me to promise, because I had no idea where it was.
We drove to the shelter on a cold December morning. We rode in the back of a pickup truck, laying down as flat as we could to stay out of the bitter wind.
When we arrived, I sat up. And the world shifted.
My skyline, the familiar arrangement of glass and steel, had been put into a cloth bag, shaken, and poured out. This was not my downtown.
We were northeast of the city center, directly opposite of where I’d grown up.
The world swayed, but then I was struck by another thought: there were children who grew up in this neighborhood. These alien buildings that disturbed me were their familiar anchor.
I’ve relived that moment hundreds of times as my known world expands. There is always another point of view beyond my limited perspective. And as strange, unsettling, and foreign as it may seem—it is all the normal another person has ever known.
Leading Through Limited Perspective
Have you ever had your perspective shift like that? Has new information, a new experience, or a new person made you look at the world differently?
I hope so. Being able to see the world differently is a vital leadership skill.
Whether it’s the empathy to see how a new system feels to your customers or employees or the ability to ask “What if?” and view your opportunities in a different way, moving beyond your limited perspective will help you have more influence and think more strategically.
The leaders in the organization I mentioned have struggled with a changing world. Both groups deeply believe in the organization’s purpose and values. The challenge is that over time, people have started to interpret those values through a narrowing set of experiences.
As concerned team members raised issues, they were told “There is no problem”—because, seen through leaders’ limited perspective, there truly wasn’t a problem. The organization’s environment changed, but their leaders didn’t change with it – and now they’re bleeding talent.
None of us are immune to this trap. Staying connected to the people you lead and maintaining a flexible and curious worldview takes work. Here are a few ways to keep yourself from getting stuck.
Listen for their truth—when a team member shares a concern, search for their truth. Not the Truth, but their truth. How are they feeling? What are they seeing? They’re not making it up. What is there for you to learn or keep in mind?
Get curious—when something doesn’t make sense, resist the urge to discount it. Instead, create some space to ask questions. If nothing else, you can say, “Tell me more …” and see what insights emerge.
Focus on what’s right, not who’s right—my friend Bob Tipton wrote a great book on this topic. When you change your perspective from defining who is right or wrong to figuring out what will be healthy and helpful for everyone, you’re on your way to a bigger perspective and greater influence.
Practice being uncomfortable—new perspectives are unsettling. It is strange and troubling to discover that the way you’ve seen things wasn’t entirely accurate. But since that’s where the breakthroughs happen, it’s worth getting used to it. You can practice in small and fun ways. Try something new every week. Ask someone to explain a hobby or passion you don’t understand. Travel – even if it’s just to the next city. Go as far as your resources allow and let it change your perspective.
Ask “What’s next?”—Strategic leaders don’t just focus on the change that happened yesterday. They’re looking ahead at the change that’s coming and intentionally shifting their approach. What has changed and will change in your environment? For your people? For your customers or clients?
Share information – This one helps you and your team. When your team’s perspective is limited, share more information. Give them the data they need to make more informed decisions. When you do, they are better able to craft solutions that weren’t available to you.
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