Oh my. Over the last few weeks we’ve seen some enormous errors of judgement on both the national and international stage. Including the apparent lack of perspective by senior leaders with huge consequences for them and those they lead.
This is worrying. And it’s not far away.
On a much smaller scale I’m aware of doing it all the time. Of making judgements on shaky platforms in a sea of uncertainty. And the stakes are getting higher.
The good news: if we recognise it we can do something about it.
How perspective is formed
How we see things is a combination of external and internal influences. Our background and life experience can clearly frame our perception of what is happening to us and around us. How much this determines our perspective in part depends on how aware we are. In naming it, the hold is loosened.
The working culture we are immersed in also colours the lenses we use to make judgements. In particular working constantly in the metaphorical ‘fast lane’, schools us in paying attention to what is right in front of us. There’s very little room for manoeuvre when we are doing 100 miles an hour. We are not looking into the distance or admiring the flowers on the verge!
Social culture can also form our values, if we let it just shape us unthinkingly. What, or who do we see as important? What does justice mean (especially for whom)? Where are our sensitivities and blindspots? Group-think is really powerful.
Recently I have watched open-mouthed at the actions of some of our civic leaders. How could they have so misjudged the situation – whether that is Brexit, the 2017 general election, or the Grenfell Tower disaster in London?
This puzzlement led me to reflecting on the inner shaping of perspective. Can we pursue wisdom by better understanding the influences on what and how we see things and make judgements?
I don’t think that people aspiring to lead set out to do harm. In general our basic intentions – to care and provide for those we love, and our aspirations to do something worthwhile with our lives – may be expressed in a variety of ways. We may, or may not, choose to recognise that basic humanity in others.
However, as people with finite capacity, we do make choices all the time about what kind of information we pay attention to and how we make decisions. These fundamentally form our frame of reference – our perspective. We may not be aware of these because they are intuitive, how our personality plays out in practice.
An example is whether we gravitate towards the big picture, with concepts and images that are future focussed. Or if we give more weight to concrete data – facts about the current or past – and practical, here and now issues. These two different orientations will lead to very different ways of looking at the same world, and conversations about what is really going on.
Some of us are logical and comfortable with being detached from the situation in order to make rational decisions. For example, what is the highest priority for action in an emergency. Conversely, some of us are much more naturally empathetic, intuitively knowing the importance of emotional support for the other person. Same situation, different response. It doesn’t mean that the logical thinker doesn’t care, it’s just the way they see things is different.
Of course ‘difference’ has consequences. Developing a wise perspective means recognising and valuing that difference and then intentionally building capability and capacity to overcome our blindspots.
Steps to cultivating a more healthy perspective
Everything starts with awareness that there is even an issue. Humility and wisdom go hand in hand.
From my recent reflections I offer three suggestions on how we can cultivate our perspective.
1. Create space
Deliberate and intentional reflection is key. Unless we step back from where we are and think about what we are seeing, then nothing shifts. Creating space is where change happens. This isn’t about becoming a hermit or stopping the day job. It is about doing the work of building time and space into our lives so we can see things better.
2. Know yourself
Choosing to embark on a voyage of self discovery isn’t opting out. It’s opting in to understanding why you do what you do and what frames how you see the world.
There are a number of routes to this awareness. I have found the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI personality preference) and the Enneagram to be useful tools. But tools don’t define us – they merely help to open up insight.
Being more self aware also isn’t about going on a mammoth self-improvement drive – which is pointless anyway since we can’t be ‘everything’. It is about knowing our preferences and strengths. Therefore being aware of what we personally need to practice and where we need the contributions of others to have a more complete picture. Knowing our blindspots stops them having the hold they might otherwise have.
3. Learn from others
Being open to the validity of other perspectives is a good start. Don’t just listen to people who agree with you.
Reading and engaging with a wider range of perspectives beyond our own is really healthy. It doesn’t mean accepting everything – just watering who we are and what we currently see from the wealth of others.
Poets and comedians are a good start. They both unsettle our current views. Disruption can be good for us.
This isn’t about being all things to all people. Arguably that is abdicating leadership and rejecting authenticity.
It is about cultivating a breadth of perspective that helps us to navigate a wise course in the face of uncertainty and unpredictability, especially where the lives of others are at stake.
Furthermore, it helps us to see opportunities and shifts occurring on the horizon so we are better prepared.
Be warned though – it’s a lifelong pursuit!