In this article, Mergon’s Ian Conolly speaks to us about the power of perspective, and how developing our focus can lead to greater clarity of purpose, unity and effective leadership. He unpacks three practical ways that we can nurture our perspective intelligence and cut through the complexities of leading an organisation to keep the mission front and centre. Here are Ian’s insights on the wisdom of perspective.
I entered the thick forest, snug along the mountain side, the many years of growth and cycles of seasons evident in its founded place. The aged trees pressed longingly towards the sky, letting the cool dampness of the air linger beneath, sheltered from the hot sun under their canopy of branches. Meandering along the winding autumnal leaf strewn trail I enjoyed the coolness of the air and the closeness of the impenetrable growth that crowded into the side of the route.
Emerging from the wood into more open ground, I was momentarily blinded by the bright sun. As my eyes adjusted, I could at last see the trail winding its willful way up the side of the mountain and, in the distance, finally ascending to a glorious summit. I pressed forward towards the heights with a renewed sense of energy for my now visible destination.
In the thick of the woods there is so much growth. The air is denser, the soil richer and water retention greater. This is where life and the constant rhythm of work happens. The trees and plant life bring much richness; however, they also limit visibility and so the destination seems remote, intangible, perhaps even unattainable. When following the route, progress can be difficult to measure. There is no easy view of how far you’ve come or where you will end.
As leaders we spend significant chunks of time in the forest. It’s where we must plant ourselves and invest our energy, leading others through on paths that may be unfamiliar to them. When we spend time in the thicket of leading and growing organisations it can be very difficult to see the journey we have walked, the progress we’ve made, and to plot the route to our destination.
One of the traits of great leaders is that they clearly hold perspective: where have we come from, where are we now, what is our goal, and, vitally, what is our next step?
Perspective intelligence – an essential leadership capability.
If we can’t see the bigger journey and our next step, we become disoriented. It becomes difficult to know where to focus our time and energy now, and to be sure of which of the many demanding tasks I should give my attention.
Back on my hike through the forest, if my orientation was poor, I would have no idea where I was in the forest and, when meeting different route options, I might well have chosen poorly, resulting in the pursuit of a wrong route, lost time and possibly not meeting my goal at all. Limited perspective in leadership can quickly take an organisation off track.
So how do we keep perspective in the thick of the day to day? Here are 3 ideas that are worth considering applying:
1. Lift your eyes up
At the end of each week pause and remind you and your team of the destination, some key next steps to get there and why the world will be a better place when you arrive. Tell the stories of how what you are doing is making a difference. Learn to articulate the value of the destination well and most of all, make sure you remain passionate about getting there. If you don’t carry a fire for the goal, your team won’t either. Build a rhythm of meeting simply to lift your eyes, especially when launching a big project and you are under pressure.
2. Have a clear destination
Of course, we can’t talk about the destination if we don’t clearly know what or where the destination is. This is somewhat obvious. It is hard though, particularly as we are often learning and building clarity on the destination as we go. When I emerged from the forest I could see the summit of the mountain, but I couldn’t see what it looked like on the top. It’s not possible to see all the detail of the destination, so be wary of going into too much detail. Paint the picture with broad brush strokes but be clear about where you are going and why the world will be better as a result.
3. Define the next step
Looking ahead to the top of the mountain I could not clearly see the route to the top, but the path for the next few hundred meters was very clear. It is helpful to have 5-year strategic plans and longer term documents…without too much detail. We can’t map out each step to a 5-year goal so don’t spend too much time putting a very long term strategic vision document together. Do take time to map out a detailed route for the next 7 days and some specific goals for the next 90 days. Short term focus and clarity gives much more of a sense of agency.
There is power in focus! Looking up at a destination that is far away can be overwhelming but seeing something close by gives us a sense of its achievability. Before we know it, we have completed many short-term goals and suddenly the final destination begins to feel within reach.
If you are leading an organisation, take time to step back, gain perspective and remind yourself of the importance of the work you are all doing together. Without perspective intelligence it is difficult to break the journey into manageable bite size chunks and keep your team focused and happily on track.
Ian is currently involved in developing the FiftyFour Collective, an online learning platform aimed at supporting non-profit and ministry leaders in growing the health of their organisations. This initiative is a collaboration between the Mergon, 3W, and Maclellan Foundations, with plans for a launch in late 2023. Stay updated on its launch and discover what it has to offer by following our social media channels.