Gain Perspective to Give Perspective

By: Josh

Having moved into a new role on a new team a few months ago, I have felt a bit overwhelmed with what seems to be a mountain of tasks requiring immediate attention. While my team and I have been working diligently to get into a sustainable rhythm, we have been in a sort of crisis mode working to establish systems to help us do routine things routinely. It’s been easy to put up blinders to solely focus on our immediate tasks. It’s been easy to get frustrated with our current situation and how long it’s taking to get things up and running. It’s been easy to feel like a victim of our circumstances with insurmountable obstacles and ominous consequences.

But I’ve been doing this in the military for 13 years now. And I recently took a flight to Washington, D.C., where my seat window gave me a fantastic direct view of the Pentagon, the headquarters of the U.S. Department of Defense, during our landing. Throughout the entire landing, looking at that impressive building that represents so much, all I could think was, “it really is a big Army out there, and an even bigger military.” In that moment, I felt peace. All my urgencies, frustrations, and feelings of overwhelm in my situation suddenly didn’t seem so big anymore.

I was able to put my current situation and challenges into perspective. It gave me new energy, a renewed peace, and the clarity to think through it more effectively.  

As leaders, we need to gain perspective so that we can give perspective to others. But how do we gain that perspective?

Perspective? What Are We Talking About and Why Does This Matter?

Simply put, perspective is our ability to look beyond our immediate circumstances, to reframe our thinking, and make sense of what is going on and why.

This is important for leaders because leaders communicate perspective. We provide others context so they better understand what is going on. We frame situations or challenges so our people become more willing to commit to a task or purpose, rather than simply comply. We make sense of things. We bring clarity, simplicity, and purpose.

But to offer others that perspective, we first must be able to achieve it ourselves. As leaders, we need perspective because:

  • It can give us peace. We are able to think through issues, challenges, or decisions more clearly. This gives us a long-view mindset, able to maintain resilience long-term.
  • Through it, we recognize significance…and even insignificance sometimes. Perspective helps us to realize what is important and how the actions of our team and our people contribute to that. However, like my story of the Pentagon and plane landing, through it we can also recognize insignificance. We can realize that we are but a single puzzle piece within a much larger puzzle and that maybe our current challenges are not so life-or-death or end-of-the-world.
  • In order to lead others, we must first be able to lead ourselves. To give others perspective, we must first discover it ourselves.
  • Through it, we can also serve as an anchor for people and the organization amidst future crisis, change, or turmoil.

How Leaders Seek and Gain Perspective

Unfortunately, there is no single document listing the “10 Steps to Gaining Perspective as a Leader.” There are ways, but really no right way. However, through a few years of experience, there are a few activities that help me gain and maintain perspective as a leader.

First, experience is always a primary producer of perspective. Yes, experience takes time and…well, experience. So, it is kind of a cheap answer. But there is an important note about experience that we must consider. We don’t gain experience as leaders so we can tell others how to do things in the future. We don’t say, “I did it this way and it worked for me, so do it the same way.” Instead, our experience produces stories. Through these stories, we ultimately share “so what” and “therefore” in the current situation.

Second, purposefully developmental relationships like mentorship or a “talking partner” provide us perspective. A talking partner can be a peer, colleague, partner or spouse, family member, or friend that cares about us and is willing to provide us feedback, their point of view, and thoughts to make us better. Both types of relationships offer us different ways of thinking from their experiences, helping us to frame situations in new ways.

Third, I find a ton of value in “unstructured thinking activities.” These activities require little cognitive engagement, allowing our minds to wonder and process various topics. This kind of dedicated time for free thinking enables us to chew on whatever is on our mind more intentionally, to think through what – so what – now what, to make sense of ideas, and walk away with a renewed sense of clarity for future action. Unstructured thinking activities can be anything we enjoy, can (and will) engage in routinely, and that allows us to think freely. For me, that activity is running. But for others, it can be walking, bike riding, commute drives, hunting, or fishing. I even find cleaning the dishes after dinner to be an opportunity for unstructured thinking as well. Find what works for you.  

Fourth, simply reading or listening to podcasts can deliver perspective. They expose us to new ideas, new ways of thinking, and give us insight into peoples’ experiences. These can lift us out of our current circumstances to think more broadly and clearly.

Fifth, writing or mind-mapping can help us clarify perspective. Whether we journal, capture thoughts in a sort of map, or draw it out graphically, there is power to putting our thoughts onto paper.

Finally, even traveling can deliver perspective. Not only is it the exposure to new cultures, ways of living, and lifestyles, but traveling also creates time and space to think. You never know, it might even just be a short view of the Pentagon out of your plane window while landing that inspires a refreshing and much-needed sense of perspective on life or work.

What is one routine activity we engage in each week that can become an unstructured activity to purposefully think through and seek perspective?

What are a few authentic ways you can turn your gained perspective into perspective for others?

How can you use your reading to obtain perspective from others?

Are there other activities not listed that help you get important perspective?

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