Why Perspective Matters and How to Shift Yours

Why Perspective Matters and How to Shift Yours

(This article originally appeared in Ambition, the thought leadership publication by the Association of MBAs (AMBA) – in print and online – and has been republished on this website with the permission of AMBA.)

We see things from where we are. Have you ever heard the example of different people all giving their description of an elephant? One person might describe an animal with a trunk, another may describe a large foot and a third may talk of a small curly tail. They are all describing the same animal, but from different viewpoints they can see very different things.

The dictionary definition of the word ‘perspective’ says: ‘A particular attitude towards or way of regarding something; a point of view’.

If we continue with our example of our elephant, we could suggest that if you zoomed out you would have the whole picture and could clearly see it is an elephant, but what would you miss from that distance? The texture of the skin? Small movements?

There is no right or wrong perspective, it is simply important to know that changing perspective and viewing situations through different lenses provides a level of clarity and understanding one perspective alone cannot achieve.

Why is perspective important for leadership?

  • Making decisions based upon one perspective only can mean that vital information is missed. More effective decision making looks at the implications of decisions from various stand points.
  • Perspective matters when you lead humans. Not taking into account how others in the team may be viewing a problem or a communication for example, can lead to people feeling less of a sense of belonging or their viewpoint being represented effectively. Essentially people need to feel seen and heard. Perspective builds empathy which is the foundation for reciprocal and trustful relationships.
  • Innovation is generally achieved through putting pieces together and ‘joining the dots’. We rarely experience innovation by staying where we are, the creative opportunities exist outside of our immediate comfort zone.

So as a leader how can you go about building a habitual practice of growing your perspective?

Cultivating your vantage points

A vantage point is defined as ‘a place from which you can see a lot of things’ and we might consider that from a leadership perspective we can ensure that we are spending our time and energy experiencing our team and operations from the following five vantage points:

1. In amongst

This is the opportunity to ‘go back to the floor’ and be working with those who are performing front line tasks and activities. The leader is experiencing, doing, asking questions, and performing alongside colleagues. We understand the operation in terms of efficiency, resources, challenges, and opportunities.

2. To the side and around

From this vantage point we can see the leader still at that working level of the organisation, but this time not doing or performing any tasks, but rather at the edge, observing, looking in towards the team and noticing what is happening, the interactions. Also, from this vantage point the leader can see adjacencies, so different teams working alongside and any hand offs between teams at the working level. This could even mean seeing at the operational level competitors or observing customer feedback.

3. From high above

Here the leader is not at the working level but raised above looking from above into the team working. So, from here the leader can see all activity from a perspective of distance, and adjacencies, but with less granularity and more of a ‘wide angled lens’. Sometimes this can take the form of data, information, and relationships (e.g., meetings) that a leader has access to and can build a high-level picture.

4. From high out and beyond

Similarly, the leader here is raised above the working level of the team, but instead of using this vantage point to look down and into the team, the leader is looking above and beyond. This is an opportunity to learn and to grow by understanding something from a wider industry perspective for example. This could be understanding technological changes and trends, or future potential customer behaviour and needs.

5. Inside

The fifth vantage point that we have as a leader is often less considered as a perspective, but in actual fact such an important one when building and growing a leadership practice. This is the opportunity all leaders have to stop; press pause and create reflection time to make sense of all other inputs. Our personal perspective made up of our own emotions, experiences and instincts is hugely important when balancing the externally driven perspectives of our other vantage points.

Over time, a leader successfully considering different perspectives and widening their lenses, would ensure that they are directing their energy, attention, and time towards moving between all five of these vantage points.

Perspective: the multiplier effect

As a leader, you are the coordination point to inspire others towards collective agency. This collective agency (a team working collaboratively together) can be harnessed in order to achieve a desired shared outcome (e.g., what you are aiming to achieve together).

This could be expressed as a very simple equation:

Leadership outcome = (inspiring collective agency) + (shared outcome

In other words, you have two fundamental jobs or priorities as a leader, and these are:

  1. to create clarity so everyone knows where they are going, what they are doing and why, and
  2. to create space to everyone can bring their best creativity, skills, experience, and enthusiasm to the work.

What perspective offers can be a significant enhancer to this basic premise of the leader’s role. It is a multiplier effect. By ensuring that you are actively participating and observing your team or organisation from all five vantage points, you can multiply the effectiveness of your clear communications, messaging and listening and you can multiply the inspiration for your team because you are not only achieving the leadership outcome from a singular perspective, but from the widest possible viewpoint. The equation therefore may be modified as follows:

Leadership outcome = {(inspiring collective agency) + (shared outcome)} x vantage points

Important factors to consider when building perspective

Important factors to consider when building perspective

So is widening our perspective as simple as re-arranging our calendar and schedule to spend more time in the vantage points, we may not have prioritised before? Well, that is a start, but there are some factors to consider in order to really optimise this opportunity:

1. Be aware that you take your perspective with you to other vantage points

Every time that you might spend time observing at the working level, or seeking learning, you do so with your own prejudices and preferences which could limit the effectiveness. This is why it is important to share your experiences and viewpoints with others such as asking others what they can see or what they experience. If you are ‘From high above’ and this for example may be attending a high-level meeting where you can see lots of data from across your teams to get that high level view, invite two or three different people to join you and observe. Ask them what they can see and what they think. It might broaden your perspective!

2. Beware of confirmatory bias

Notice if you are learning or feeling challenged. If you are experiencing different vantage points but you are confirming what you already know or believe, then there is a signal that you may be finding what you seek rather than approaching these different viewpoints with a fully open mind. In order to widen our perspectives such that they have the multiplier effect, we must be prepared to let go of our assumptions or pre-held views.

3. Separate your leadership purpose from your personal sense of self

Leadership is a deeply personal endeavour. We have to feel personally connected to what we are doing and why and we have to feel personally connected to the people we work with in order to have productive relationships. However, in order to be available to make the most of perspective building, if we can view our leadership outcomes as a) shared with others and b) as a service to others then we immediately open the doors to the ‘other’ view point such that when we access this we are able to let it in and help develop our outcome and service rather than feeling that outcome is somehow ‘ours’ which requires modification. When it is separated from us personally in this way, we can accept adaptation and change more readily, which is ultimately the point of gathering perspective.

So, when you are considering the importance of cultivating vantage points to create a wider perspective, just imagine… you may not find you have one single elephant, but in fact the power of a whole herd.

This is an adapted version of an article that was published on AMBA’s website, written by Paula Leach; owner of Vantage Points Consulting and author of ‘Vantage Points: how to create a culture where employees thrive’.

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