One of the keys to being mentally fit is the ability to discover multiple perspectives, perspectives beyond the ones we initially hold. But too often, we are locked into our own perceptual lens about ourselves.
Effective leadership requires you to engage multiple perspectives in two different ways: one is how you work with other people to achieve better organizational outcomes, and the other is in how you work with yourself—how you self-manage—when you are triggered.
Four Strategies To Cultivate Lenses
The lens you use impacts what you see, what you don’t see, and how you respond. Let’s look at four strategies on how to develop multiple perspectives that can be applied no matter what the situation may be. They are:
1. Choose curiosity over knowing.
Curiosity means having a strong desire to learn or know something. It is an expansive feeling, and for most people, this state feels really good. Francesca Gino, a behavioral scientist and a professor at the Harvard Business School, laid out the business case for curiosity in a Harvard Business Review article a few years ago. She cites some business benefits that come from curiosity:
- Fewer decision-making errors.
- More innovation and positive changes in both creative and non-creative jobs.
- Reduced group conflict.
- More open communication and better team performance.
In a survey Gino conducted of more than 3,000 workers, only about 24% reported feeling curious in their jobs on a regular basis, and about 70% said they face barriers to asking more questions at work.
Curiosity is often squashed by the state of “needing to be right.” Here are some of the differences in outcomes when there is curiosity versus the need to be right:
- Expand possibilities.
- Draws ideas forth.
- Uncovers, discovers data.
- Deepens relationships.
- Heightens others’ morale.
- Opens dialogue.
The Need To be Right
- Shuts down possibilities.
- Inhibits ideas.
- Misses data (unseen, unheard).
- Damages, hinders relationships.
- Lowers others’ morale.
- Shuts down communication.
We should strive to choose curiosity as often as we can, in both leadership and life. When you find yourself needing to be right (you know the feeling), practice shifting to curiosity.
2. Loosen your own lens.
There are always other ways to look at any given situation. It can be hard when you are facing a troubling situation, but using only one lens always limits your options. You limit the possibilities you can consider, the moves you can make, how you show up as a leader. And, ultimately, you limit the outcomes you can achieve.
In order to loosen up on your lens, acknowledge that your lens is only one of multiple possible lenses. Make the habit of assuming there are always more ways to perceive, interpret or understand a situation than your current way. For example, I often encounter coaching clients who think they already know the solution to a problem. But what if there is a better or another solution that has not yet been uncovered? The only way to find it is to loosen your lens.
3. Discover multiple lenses.
Once you can acknowledge that your perceptual lens is not the one, but rather a one, you can start cultivating these two habits:
- Ask open-ended questions rather than yes/no questions.
- Listen carefully, rather than planning your response while someone else is talking.
Open-ended questions typically begin with words like how, what, why and tell me about. They invite the other person to give a considered answer with some detail and context. Once you’ve asked an effective question, maintain your mood of curiosity while the other person answers. That puts you in the position to be listening carefully. Your direct reports and peers gain a chance to be heard, exercising their capacity to contribute and they feel appreciated. Taking this approach is a way to develop additional leaders.
Start training yourself to listen longer. As soon as you notice that you have slipped into “knowing,” let it go. Come back to listening, to curiosity, to discovery.
4. Widen your lens.
Leaders who put their own self-interest before those of their team or organization can be found everywhere. Most leaders start from this lens, and self-interest is the worst possible lens. Let’s say there has been a recent restructure at your company and you have been demoted. Your success in moving forward will be in direct proportion to your ability to adjust, be flexible and deliver. When these organizational upheavals occur, I coach the affected leaders to shift their lens. I have them engage with multiple lenses in the following way:
- First lens: What’s best for the organization?
- Second lens: What’s best for my team?
- Last lens: What’s best for me personally?
This is certainly not easy, but it’s part of being a leader. It’s a big leap to shift from the lens of self to the lens of organization and team—but it’s not impossible. Leaders who are successful can wrap their arms around the organizational changes, and whether or not they agree with them, they can get on board in order to realize the benefits to the company and/or their team. People above you on the org chart will see your clear commitment. They will see your mental fitness in action and your value to the organization because you are aligned with its interests.
I am advocating taking a very large, wide perspective and employing a growth mindset (as opposed to a fixed mindset) to always seek the bigger picture. This takes practice, but once you experience the possibilities that open up by using multiple perspectives, you’ll rarely (if ever) go back to that limited “self” lens again.
Think bigger than yourself and your self-interests. Doing so can amount to great leadership.
Learn more ways to become a better leader in my bestselling book, Leading Lightly.