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Think more strategically by sitting in the right place

April 21, 2016

In my role as a consultant at Linkage, I have the opportunity to work with high-potential leaders at different stages of their personal and professional development journey. I truly enjoy helping people discover where they can have their biggest impact—and gain new perspective to become more strategic business partners to the business.

I witnessed an example of this firsthand when I was in Georgia just last week for a meeting with one of my clients at a large automobile manufacturing company. Upon arrival, my contact greeted me in the lobby and said: “Before we kick off today’s meeting, let me first give you a tour of our company.” She showed me around the main part of the building before we hopped on an elevator to the top floor. We stepped out and walked into an expansive corner office overlooking the river valley behind the building. When she opened the door to her office, I was surprised to see that it was empty, save for a chair and an abandoned bookshelf.

Before I could ask what was going on, she looked at me and said: “This is my office, but this is not where I work. This office doesn’t provide the perspective that I need to effectively lead my team.” We walked back to the elevator and went down to the lower floor of the building, where she led me to a small cube in the back of the engineering department.

“The amazing views from the executive suite don’t do me any good without input from the team that is behind our product innovations. This is where my real work takes place. The conversations happening here are what impact our future success as a business. This is what I care about.”

By changing her physical location in the building, she adjusted her “level” and effectively expanded her perspective from a “bird’s-eye view” to a “ground view.” She demonstrated the perfect example of what it means to explore new perspectives—and to think differently about how we approach our work. We can add value in new and different ways by questioning the norms around us and asking simple questions like: “What is going on?” By doing so, we can add other realities and other points of view that will ultimately help us grow as leaders.

Consider these three thought starters, each of which can help us multiply our perspectives:

  1. Level: We can observe any situation from different levels. We can pull back so that we can take in more, or get up close, so that we see only a little part—but in great detail. We call the different levels: ground view, treetop view, and bird’s-eye view. The meanings of these terms are relative to the situation, but the idea is essentially stepping back or homing in.
  2. Position: We can also look from different positions. We can look from behind, for example, rather than from in front. From this angle, we will see something entirely different. We might say that “what we see depends on where we sit.” For a manager, this means that the customer, the boss, or a colleague in the next department, each “sits” in a different place. Each comes to any situation with his or her own view of what’s important, how things work, and what has been seen before. Endless variations and combinations of mindsets can and do exist. This is the meaning behind the phrase “point of view.”  The challenge is to try to look at a situation from not one, but many points of view—many locations that are both diverse and relevant.
  3. Time: We can consider present circumstances in light of the past—an important aid to recognizing patterns and improving our judgment. We can also project scenarios based on present conditions. Think about how far out to go in either direction and the degree to which we let the past inform our view of the present without blocking our ability to envision alternative ways of doing things in the future.

Consider where you “sit” within your organization, both literally and figuratively. What changes might you make to gain additional and new perspective on your organization and its strategic direction?

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