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Leadership Development is a Matter of Perspective

Aug 17, 2007
My friend John has cancer. Has for a couple years now.

I hadn't talked to him in several weeks. So I called him at home and his wife picked up the phone.

I heard her say; 'John and his two sons and his dad are in South Dakota hunting. It will be his last pheasant hunting trip.'

Ugh. My heart sank. I feared the worst. John's condition must have taken a bad turn and he's doing something he loves while he still can.

'I see,' I choked out, 'how's he feeling?'

'Good. He went to his specialist in Houston and the cancer is not getting bigger. It's not getting smaller, either.'

OK, I thought, that sounds pretty good. But I was ready for the hammer to drop with her next sentence.

'And his new medication is working well and has no real side effects,' she continued.

'Great,' I said, feeling still heavy but getting lighter.

Then I took the courageous step that was needed: 'Then why is it his last hunting trip?'

'Oh,' she said, 'it's not HIS last trip, it's his dad's. John's dad is really sick.'

It was one of the few times I've been happy to hear about someone being sick. John's dad is about 90 and has lived a phenomenal life. At some point we all run out of time.

John still has time (at least with his cancer -- he of course could be dead as I write this from some other cause).

I had been so locked in on John's health that I didn't really hear what his wife said. When I played it back in my mind sure enough she'd said it was his dad's last trip, but I didn't hear it that way.

I was locked in a paradigm; a particular perspective. So focused on John, worried that he might be doing worse, I mis-heard what his wife actually said.

This is not uncommon for me.

This is not uncommon for you.

The problem is we don't know it's happening. If we knew we were missing something because we were stuck in a certain perspective we wouldn't be stuck in that perspective!

In our book, Who Will Do What by When?, (a leadership development fable in the style of "5 Dysfunctions of a Team") a new leader, Jake, is stuck in a perspective on his staff that is dis-empowering. He thinks they are no good -- and guess what? They are!

Through leadership training and coaching, Jake sets out to change his mind.

One of the most common errors we make as humans is to think our opinions and judgments are the Truth.

They aren't.

Information comes into our brains and we process it and form our judgments and opinions.

Major breakthroughs in performances don't come from incrementally gaining new skills, but in breaking through our limiting perspectives.

More poetically (Marcel Proust):

'The true journey of discovery does not consist of searching for new territories but in having new eyes.'
There are many ways to develop "new eyes."

For this article, I'll simply remind you that you, like me, are stuck in a perspective. And as a leader, that's dangerous.

Your takeaway homework -- write down a list of each of your direct reports. Then write down what you think of each person. What's your bottom line assessment of "how they are" as people and performers. Then challenge your perspectives -- are they really the Truth?
About the Author
Tom Hanson, Ph.D. is author of "Who Will Do What by When? How to Improve Performance, Accountability and Trust with Integrity." Tom gives away more information than he should on how to get the best results from business teams at http://www.HeadsUpPerformance.com
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