In today’s culture differing perspectives is a hot topic. ‘Inclusion’ is a buzzword. Why? What does it mean to us as leaders to be inclusive, or to embrace another’s perspective? Is it helpful, or hurtful? How do we know if we are successful?
It’s actually impossible to know someone else’s perspective. We have not lived their lives. We don’t have their experience. The best we can do is suspend our own assumptions for a moment to allow the space to listen and be present and try to get close to an understanding. This is a powerful practice and gives us a glimpse into another’s world. As the old adage says, if we make the effort to “walk a mile in another’s shoes”, we will expand our own understanding, which makes life infinitely more joyful.
Where we get into trouble, as leaders AND as human beings, is when we don’t make that effort. I’ve done that more than I care to think about.
Oftentimes, as leaders the very skills that got us to the top and landed us in a leadership position are now the hurdles that keep us stuck, keep us from evolving to the next level of both life and leadership.
What Got You Here Won’t get You There
You are a go getter, a make things happen kind of person. You succeeded and suddenly you have a team, people looking to you for guidance and leadership. You do what you know to do, push through, make things happen. Sometimes it works with the team, sometimes it backfires. You know it works for you, why won’t it work for them?
It’s not because they’re less intelligent, don’t work hard enough or have ADD. It’s because of differing perspectives. They think differently than you do and have different experiences, so they see things differently from you. This may seem like a problem – it’s actually a gift.
Imagine you’re in San Diego checking into a hotel, your colleague who is also in town, staying at the same hotel, tells you there’s a great pool. Your room is not quite ready so you walk the entire first floor (a pool would be on the ground floor, right?) and see no evidence of a pool: no towels, no guests in swim cover ups, and no chlorine smell. Was your colleague mistaken? Your coworker’s flight arrived hours earlier and she’s already checked in. From the window of her room on the 20th, she can easily see that on the 10th floor is an outdoor lounge area and a pool.
You can’t see that as you wander and wait for your room to be ready. You have different perspectives, and both of you are right.
In this simple example it’s easy to see both perspectives because we’ve experienced (and can relate to) a bigger perspective: the whole of the hotel property consists of more than the small section we see at any given moment.
It’s harder to have that expanded view when we don’t have the experience behind it.
There’s a parable about six blind men who have never seen an elephant before. One day, while begging for alms by the roadside, an elephant herder passes by. Each blind man touches a different part of the elephant’s body.
The first blind man approached the animal and touched its back. He said: “Look, the elephant is huge. It feels like a wall! This beast is a wall!”
The second blind man touched the elephant’s tusk and said: “Brother, you are wrong. No way is it a wall. I’m pretty sure it’s sharp like a spear! I can feel it! It’s round and sharp!”
The third blind man was amused and decided to have a go at the animal himself. He touched its trunk and said: “You two are definitely wrong! It’s not round, sharp, or tall like a wall! It’s like a slithering snake!”
The fourth blind man went towards its legs and reached out. He said after using his hands: “All three of you are wrong! It’s neither a spear, wall, or snake! The elephant is as tall as a tree!”
The fifth blind man decided to try his luck and felt bewildered after hearing his friends’ responses. He was very tall and happened to touch the elephant’s ear. “I think the elephant looks like a fan. The shape is unique.”
The sixth blind man found it crazy and didn’t say a word. He approached the elephant’s tail and touched it. He exclaimed: “You’ve all lost your senses as blind men. It’s neither a wall, spear, snake, tree, or fan! This animal is completely different! It’s a rope!”
The six of them each held a different opinion based on their experience. This is where we get stuck, as leaders. Our winning formula, what we’ve done that’s been successful over and over for us, doesn’t work for everyone. It’s actually a losing formula for some people. Yet we can’t see it, so we push our ‘winning’ ideas and experience on those around us and then don’t understand why it backfires. We keep arguing for our perspective of the elephant.
Getting to the next level of leadership requires both curiosity and willingness. We need to be willing to suspend our beliefs (my way works so it’s the best way) AND we need to get curious about another’s perspective. Imagine if the 6 blind men got curious about what each of the others was experiencing instead of arguing for their own view.
When you suspend your beliefs and open yourself to another’s view, the result is a shift in consciousness. Go back to the hotel example, the higher you go, the more you are able to see. When you have a broader view you understand more, which expands your ability to see from another’s point of view. This is what uplevels leadership. It has other benefits as well:
- You exponentially increase your rate of success
- You enjoy and appreciate a wider range of people
- You empower your teams, family members, etc. to find their own winning formula
- You let go of the exhausting need to be right
- You find more peace and argue less
- Those you’ve empowered become successful in their way increasing the success of the whole team
- Retention goes up
- Your stress goes down and compassion goes up
So next time you encounter a situation at work, or in your personal life, where someone has a differing perspective, stop before you argue for “your way” and try this practice:
- Imagine yourself stepping into their shoes – become one of the blind men that chooses to get curious. Listen with an open mind and expand your perception.
- What would the situation look like from the 20th floor, from a higher/broader perspective?
- How could considering this different or broader viewpoint contribute to your understanding and have a positive impact on you, your team and your business?
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In case this is the first time we’re meeting, I’m Maren, an executive life coach, speaker, dancer, and serial entrepreneur empowering you to step into your purpose and live your most fulfilled life. To learn more about how we can work together one-on-one to uncover your unique gifts and get you dancing with life, click here. For corporate trainings or inquiries regarding speaking engagements, please complete this form.