Sense of Perspective: A critical leadership skill

Here's why developing a sense of perspective enables individuals to think critically, adapt to change, and make informed decisions

Nick Vaidya
Updated: Jun 6, 2024 10:09:26 AM UTC
Image: Shutterstock

If your child is priceless, then, as a parent, aren't you richer than the richest? That, in a nutshell, is "Perspective"—an attitude-shifting framework.

The same facts can lead to different results. Where one sees no market for shoes, another sees an enormous opportunity because no one wears shoes there. That is the power of perspective. It comes from how someone sees the world. In that sense, if facts are bullets, then perspectives can be loaded guns.

One's sense of perspective refers to one's ability to attack situations, challenges, and opportunities from multiple angles by consciously experimenting with various viewpoints and potential outcomes. It requires being slow and not being judgmental. This skill enables individuals to think critically, adapt to change, and make informed decisions.

Imagine you are presented with a cake and asked to cut it into eight pieces using just three strokes of the knife. The only way to achieve this is by changing your perspective. Instead of looking at the cake from the top down, which reveals a circular shape, try looking at it from the side, where it appears more like a rectangle. Now, you can cut the cake into four slices with two knife strokes from the top. Add a final stroke from the side of the cake, and you have successfully divided the cake into eight pieces. This simple yet powerful example demonstrates the value of altering perspectives to overcome challenges and develop innovative solutions.

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Another compelling example illustrating the importance of perspective comes from astronomy.

Before the Copernican Revolution, the geocentric model was widely accepted, which stated that Earth was the centre of the universe and all celestial bodies revolved around it. However, our perspective on the universe changed dramatically when Nicolaus Copernicus introduced the heliocentric model in the 16th century. Copernicus proposed that the Sun, not the Earth, was the centre of the solar system, with planets, including Earth, orbiting around it. This change in perspective clarified many anomalies, leading to a better understanding of the solar system's structure and the motion of celestial bodies.

In leadership, embracing a similar shift in perspective can profoundly impact decision-making, problem-solving, and adaptability. Leaders can break free from conventional thinking and discover innovative solutions to complex challenges by being open to new ideas and viewpoints. Just as the Copernican Revolution transformed our understanding of the universe, adopting a flexible mindset and valuing diverse perspectives can unlock new possibilities, drive growth, and foster a more inclusive work environment. A leader with a strong sense of perspective can effectively navigate change and inspire their team to reach new heights of success.

Learning from the debacle of the Bay of Pigs decision in 1961, former US President John F Kennedy (JFK) adopted a new strategy that prioritised perspective-taking. Instead of relying solely on military force or aggressive actions, Kennedy assembled a group of trusted advisors known as the Executive Committee of the National Security Council (ExComm). This diverse group provided him with different perspectives and opinions, allowing for a more thorough examination of the crisis and potential solutions.

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During the Cuban Missile Crisis, JFK demonstrated patience, restraint, and a willingness to consider various viewpoints. He resisted pressure from some military advisors to launch a preemptive strike against the missile installations. Instead, he opted for a naval blockade of Cuba, known as a "quarantine," to prevent the arrival of more Soviet weapons while simultaneously pursuing diplomatic channels with the Soviet Union.

Ultimately, JFK's ability to adapt his decision-making process and value diverse perspectives helped diffuse the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. After tense negotiations, the United States and the Soviet Union reached an agreement that prevented a catastrophic nuclear war and demonstrated the importance of perspective-taking and measured decision-making in leadership.

Former Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee demonstrated another example of restraint. In 1999, initially, it was believed that the intruders who captured strategic positions in Kargil were militants, but it later turned out to be Pakistani soldiers. Despite pressure from his military advisors to take immediate action, Vajpayee chose to wait and gather more information before responding. His restraint and patience in the face of pressure from his advisors and the public ultimately led to a successful outcome and prevented the escalation of the conflict.

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In leadership, adopting a flexible mindset and embracing diverse perspectives can lead to better decision-making, improved problem-solving, and increased adaptability. A leader with a strong sense of perspective can navigate complex situations, understand the needs of their team members, and foster an inclusive work environment. In addition, by considering multiple viewpoints, leaders can make well-rounded decisions, resolve conflicts effectively, and drive innovation. This is why a sense of perspective is essential in leadership roles, promoting organisational growth and resilience.

A simple exercise to help you become slow to respond is to take a deep breath and count to five before reacting to a situation. Simulate it ten times daily until it becomes your natural response to all stimuli. Ask, what am I not seeing? A second necessary exercise is to resist the pressure to act by mindfully witnessing the existence of pressure and not becoming one with it. Lastly, for creative problem solving, always seek various perspectives, as Winston Churchill did habitually during World War II, including going AWOL and popping up somewhere in London to talk to people of all varieties. You never know who might give you a new insight.

The author is an Executive Search, Culture, & Strategy Advisor, Speaker, & CEO Coach.

The thoughts and opinions shared here are of the author.

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