The Promise of Perspective

By September 4, 2021 September 6th, 2021 Food for thought

What you make of what you see is everything.

Everyone in New Zealand of a certain age, (and Tonia and I are of that certain age) had a pair of Bata Bullets growing up. And if you didn’t, you wished you did! They were awesome.

The Bata company is the source of the most famous sales story about perspective. Back in the early 1900’s two salesmen ventured to Africa to assess the market potential. One sent a telegram back to HQ “Situation dire. No one wears shoes. Returning home soonest.” His colleague told a different story, “Everyone barefoot, tremendous market potential.”

In times of uncertainty and times of crisis, leaders have to understand the importance of perspective and understand two critical perspective fields: focus and depth.

Focus is all about the internal lense through which you see the world. Glass half full or glass half empty? We used to think that eternal optimism was a necessary trait for leadership. ‘Look on the bright side’ we say to people who have suffered misfortune, ‘every cloud has a silver lining.’  But then Admiral James Stockdale shared his inspirational story of surviving appalling conditions in a POW camp and forced us to reconsider what type of lense will serve us best when our very survival is on the line. The men who were full of hope for a Christmas rescue didn’t make it past January when the rescue never came. The survivors were those who acknowledged that rescue was a long way off, and that controlling what they could on a day to day basis was a better strategy for making it through. They took comfort from the smallest of wins.

“You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end – which you can never afford to lose – with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”

Admiral James Stockdale

Tackling the tough stuff

Confronting the brutal truth about what’s going on in the world, in your world, is the first step to getting the leadership lense, the perspective, that you’ll need to survive. If the global pandemic has impacted your sales, you can’t just hope things get better. If your staff are tired and running out of energy and drive you mustn’t just hope that a few days off will sort them out. As one of my Harvard Business School Professors Lynda Applegate always says ‘Hope is not a strategy’. The Stockdale paradox teaches us that the hope we impart to our teams and to other stakeholders in the business must have a rational basis. As business leaders our challenge is to tackle the tough stuff, run towards the pressure, make the hard calls  – and then lay out a plan for the way forward that inspires hope. Go forward with not just a prayer, but also a plan!

 The dance of depth

Imagine you’re looking through the lense of a camera – you notice there’s dirt on the glass so you clean it up (that’s focus). So now when you look through you can see clearly but only what’s right in front you. Everything in the distance is hazy – that’s a problem of depth.

Now look at the photo of us smiley loonies. Tonia and I look pretty bloody pleased with ourselves. Why though? We’re at the base of Mt Ngauruhoe. There’s a lot of mountain still to climb. Zoom in to see the tiny people to the left  – we’re so far ahead of them. We’re actually nearly at the top of the Tongariro Crossing but whether we’re at the top of one mountain or the bottom of the other depends on your depth perspective.

We reckon that as leaders this is one of the ways we go wrong and frustrate our teams. We look at things with the wrong depth perspective. We either get way too bogged down in the details, or when disciplined oversight is needed we skim across the surface. So how can we get the balance right? How do we dance with depth so we can provide visionary big picture leadership and provide the necessary operational clarity?

1. Switch on self-awareness: recognise and catch yourself if you’re about to go wading into something without first checking that your lense is clean (focus) and without thinking about the level of depth you’re looking at.
2. Ask don’t accuse, or assume: before you go charging into a situation, give all the people directly involved the courtesy of a conversation. Ask a few questions before you go racing in with your criticisms or comments.
3. Look up: whenever you’re working with your teams on a problem, challenge yourself with this question. Are you spending too much time on ball skills and not enough time of showing them how to win a game of football? As the leader of your team, of yourself, of your family are you spending enough time on the bigger picture perspective that’s needed to win?

This show.

Watch it. Watch it again. Ted Lasso is all about the promise of perspective. Focus and depth.

Leave a Reply