June 1, 2018

Lead With Perspective

Col. Patrick G. Miller
MacDill AFB, Fla.

“If you were in charge for a day, what would you change?”

This is a popular question leaders ask. The intent of the question is to gain perspective. Often times, one’s view is based on where they sit. So to compensate for personal biases and capitalize on the diverse skills, talent, and experience of the team, leaders turn to perspective-taking to identify issues and solve problems.

Perspective-taking involves looking at a situation from multiple angles. A good leader will seek input from a variety of sources to ensure they have the full sight picture. Too many times, individuals allow their emotions, biases, or personal experience to cloud their judgment, causing them to anchor on a position or solution without all of the facts.

For example, let’s look at a simple math problem:

I + XI = X (i.e., 1 + 11 = 10)

No doubt, many of you are convinced this equation is wrong. And if you anchor on the traditional view of reading left to right and standard mathematical conventions, then you are correct. However, if you view the problem from a different perspective, let’s say by turning it 180 degrees so that the problem now reads X = IX + I (or now 10 = 9 + 1), you realize the way you look at a problem matters. The basic components of the problem are the same; however, a different view provides a different understanding. Something many of us viewed as incorrect due to looking at the problem from one angle can, in fact, have a very different solution.

So why does this matter? In today’s challenging environment of limited resources, no-fail missions, and competing requirements, we need to take advantage of our collective wisdom. By getting multiple perspectives on a problem, we are able to see complex challenges with more clarity, strengthen relationships, garner buy-in from the team, and ultimately make better decisions.

The next time you are faced with a problem, whether it be mission-related or dealing with personnel issues, take a look at it from as many perspectives as possible. Look at it through the lens of your boss, your peers, your customers, the impacted individual, function or office, and your team. Once you view the problem from multiple angles, transition from perspective-taking to perspective-seeking. Ask questions from people within each one of these groups. You’ll quickly learn that perspective matters and together we can overcome any challenge.

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