The way we look at our world, or our leadership perspective, shapes and defines our thoughts, the way we make decisions, and the quality of our actions. Our perspective comprises all the knowledge, experiences, and choices we’ve made up till now. The reason leadership perspective is important is because it represents the way we view ourselves and situations, how we evaluate the relative importance of things, and how we develop a meaningful relationship with others and everything around us.
There are smart leaders and there are wise leaders. Smart leaders tend to view their world through lenses that distort their perspective, which has an impact on the quality of their decisions and actions. They may have lenses that are narrowly focused on short-term goals, but that allow them to deepen their knowledge in their main area of interest of concentration. Or they may be able to see far into the distance, focus on long-term visions, and see patterns in trends that may help them succeed. For smart leaders, both type of visions, or perspectives, are limiting.
However, smart leaders can gain a broader perspective by changing the way they “see.” By changing their “smart” perspective and cultivating practical wisdom instead, they can lay the foundation for a wise leadership style that’s more effective.
Wise leaders view their world from a very different perspective than that of their smart counterparts. Wise leaders continually reframe and reinterpret events through integration and find new meanings within a rapidly changing context. Guided by a noble purpose, they develop a flexible and resilient mindset that makes them act and lead with wisdom–and become more influential leaders.
To become wise leaders, we can start by seeing the world from a different perspective. Here are six ways to do it.
Keep an eye out for odd juxtapositions.
Ophthalmologist Dr. Venkataswamy created a revolutionary approach to curing blindness in India by studying McDonald’s. He was able to develop a high-efficiency, standardized, repeatable business model that organized patients in operating rooms and broke the procedure down into a series of discrete processes so that nurses and doctors could quickly move from one patient to the next. His company, Aravind, is now the largest eye care provider in the world. What unlikely metaphors and connections can help you come up with an innovative mental model and a business model for your work?
See your limitations, and move beyond them.
Senior managers at Allianz Global Investors, a global asset management company, attended a workshop called Dialogue in the Dark, led by visually impaired trainers who conducted the entire workshop in total darkness. The goal of this experiential learning program was to shift leaders’ perspectives by making them aware of their limitations, while increasing empathy for others. What is your biggest limitation of today? How did you get to have it and how do you plan to transcend it?
Take off your old lenses, and see anew.
Sometimes, shifting one’s perspective is as simple as really seeing what’s in front of you. When Alan Mulally took over as CEO of Ford, the company was losing market share and facing deep losses because of increased competition and globalization. One day, when walking through the Ford parking lot at Detroit headquarters, Mulally suddenly noticed the hodgepodge of Ford brands that had no common attributes in shape or style. This moment of clear-sightedness led to Ford’s trimming its bloated portfolio of 97 models to just 20, selling off Jaguar, Land Rover, and Aston Martin in the process, and focusing on smaller, more fuel-efficient cars. What do you need to “unlearn and let go of” so that increased focus on what you have could make you very effective and successful?
Let desperation elevate your vision.
High desperation can spark epiphanies, so pay attention to what your next crisis has to teach you about perspective. While in a WWII German concentration camp for three years, Victor Frankl realized one day that although the Nazis could torture his body, they had zero control over his mind or spirit. This empowering shift in perspective helped him survive and then to inspire his fellow prisoners to take control of their own mindset. What is the fear, high desperation, that you are attempting to run away from? How do you pay attention to it so that you can walk through the other side of desperation and discover something very new?
Change your accustomed view.
Getting outside your comfort zone is a quick way to experience leadership from a new perspective. In early 2000, while awaiting the court decision in the antitrust lawsuit against Microsoft, Bill Gates decided to step down as chief executive and focus on his passion for software. This jolted his perspective, and that same year, Gates and his wife established the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, taking his leadership in an important new direction. Where is it that you are holding on to an old and unworkable mindset? What extreme step you can take to experience and lead yourself differently?
Seek out books and talks that inspire.
The CEO of a well-known tech firm attended a talk on service-oriented organizations, including the generosity-driven Karma Kitchen, where anyone can eat for free in exchange for committing to volunteer in the restaurant in the future. He was so inspired by the talk that he acted completely out of character and drove straight to the hospital to spend four hours at the bedside of his 80-year-old neighbor. When did you last get inspired by a talk or a book? What actions did you take?
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Prasad Kaipa is coauthor, with Navi Radjou, of From Smart to Wise: Acting and Leading with Wisdom (Jossey-Bass, April 2013). Kaipa is a CEO advisor and coach and a senior fellow at the Indian School of Business. Based in Silicon Valley, he writes a popular blog for HBR.com, speaks and consults internationally, has been featured prominently in the national business media, and is an esteemed thought leaders in the field of leadership development and innovation. Learn more at www.fromsmarttowise.com.