General managers who come to me for coaching often say that they:
- Are being pulled down into the weeds, and they want to be up on the hills
- Don’t delegate because they don’t have the right people around them with the right skills and competencies
- Can do “it” better themselves
- Are tired or overloaded and overwhelmed
Do any of these feel familiar to you?
Being a leader requires the ability to work with both the big picture and only some of the detail immediately in front of you and ideally to move skillfully between the two.
Several inspirational leaders have given us metaphors reflecting this ability. Ronald Heifetz introduced the balcony and the dance floor. From the 1960s to the 1980s in management development programmes, the view from the helicopter was a frequent expression. In each of these metaphors, we have the concept of stepping back, or lifting ourselves up and out of the action. The idea here is of creating a distance from being right in the action. How can we do that? What does that really mean?
I help clients resolve this by helping clients to create distance between themselves and the day-to-day activity.
I approach this in two ways:
The first approach is to invite clients to reflect or think strategically with me and together we explore what is happening. I ask questions; “What is going on here? What are the patterns? What stands out? What is important? How does what is happening relate to the vision and outcomes you are seeking? What is working in all that is happening? How might you approach this situation with the outcome in mind?” These questions tend to generate thoughtfulness, perspective and a distance from the immediate happenings and stimulate ideas for progressive action.
The second approach is immediate and practical. This is a concept I rarely talk about. I use representational methods with clients. It goes like this – I invite my client to choose some things (a book, a glass, a post it pad, things from the office) and invite them to make a sculpture of the situation they are in. I may ask my client to place other influences impacting the situation, for example the outcome they are working towards or the key drivers and players in relation to what is happening. Then we both physically step back together from the “sculpture” and take a look at it from several angles. I might ask, “What are you aware of?” I might even ask this question several times. The response clients give provides insights and area of exploration. I am often surprised by what clients have spotted or what they come to appreciate in these situations. However, I am confident, what they come up with is going to work for them.
This representational method greatly assists leaders learning to see a situation from several perspectives, from different angles, or to see the situation through the eyes of different stakeholders.
Albert Einstein used the “observer” position when he imagined seeing himself riding on a beam of light. He also viewed himself riding that beam of light from two other positions. From this, he illustrated how the only constant was the speed of light and the rest was relative. Einstein used this to explain the Theory of Relativity.
These three perceptual positions encompass all possible perspectives:
1. Self perspective: The self perspective is our most common way of looking at the world. We see other people and the world around us through our own eyes. We hear with our own ears, we have our own thoughts and experience our own feelings. So here we see things from our own perspective.
2. Other perspective: Assuming the other position enables us to experience the world from some other person’s viewpoint; we see through their eyes, we stand in their shoes for a moment. By doing so, we hear things as they would hear them, we see things as they would see them, and we feel something of what they might feel. This experience enables us to empathise by taking on and accepting the values, beliefs and emotions of the other person.
3. Neutral perspective: From the observer position, we experience the world from the outside as an observer would. In this position, we literally see and hear “self” and “other” as an observer. By doing this we experience life with a neutral observer’s thoughts and feelings by learning to see “as if from above, or at a distance”.
Developing our abilities to both create distance from what is immediately in front of them, and to shift from one perceptual position to another are critical for leaders to develop empathy and create unity of direction amongst people who have diverse views.
I notice four mistakes that leaders make, causing them to take on too much:
- They think they are invincible
- They are self-sufficient and tend not to clarify expectations with those around them
- They forget or refuse to delegate
- They take care of others before taking care of themselves
The only question left is for you to ask yourself is – are you doing too much?
© Diana Jones