Perspective Doesn’t Come Easy

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Leadership demands perspective.

That ability to see above the fray in order to navigate the present in light of the future. Perspective differentiates leaders from followers and leaders from better leaders. But, here’s the deal. You have to fight for perspective. It doesn’t present itself gift-wrapped. It’s fragile. Elusive. In fact, the relentless gravity of the urgent and the immediate cannibalizes perspective.

For twenty years, I have been training leaders on ways to find, sustain, and lead with perspective. Lately, I have been thinking more about what it takes to win that fight.

By lately, I specifically mean the past two months–the beginning of a long-awaited sabbatical. One of my early “projects” has been to reflect on the things that tend to eat my leadership lunch. Among my observations, a big one is that I have taken my ability to maintain perspective for granted. I allowed the demands of a growing organization to seduce me into thinking that perspective from the past will carry me into the future. New habits overtook former ones and as a result, these past couple years I have been repeatedly sucked into the swamp of operational weeds where perspective is almost impossible.

One of my sabbatical goals is to reinstate and refine the game-changing disciplines that help me live and lead at a higher altitude (my favorite analogy for perspective.)

These disciplines are not rocket science, in fact, it might be best to call them simple practices. The key is in the practice of them, not talking about them. They are much too obvious for extended rhetoric.

You might need things I don’t, but for the sake of a concrete starting point, here is what I have found I need and what seems to be a good framework for most leaders.

1. READ: Read constantly in the area of your normal disciplines AND read broadly on subjects outside of your normal orbit. To say it another way, read things that have no urgent need or useful value. (Consider: Warren Buffet and other uber-successful people talk about spending 80% of their time reading and thinking. For more: click this link.)

2. REFLECT: Use some kind of journal to record what you did and what you learned in the midst of it. Most significant learning happens while we do stuff. Severe your technological tentacles for a while to think, dream, and process what lies behind and ahead of you. (Example: I not only journal regularly, but every week I review the week that just transpired and use what I see to inform the way I will approach the upcoming week or two. I do the same in a more robust way when I do monthly goal setting and calendar work.)

3. RE-CREATE: All of us have things that are life-giving in a re-creative way. For me, it’s a simple two-pronged focus for me: I have to give attention to my soul and to my body. That means time in prayer /communion with God and time in some sweat-producing exercise. (In addition to these core two, I also need time with highly stimulating people and time spent in artistic endeavors.) The thing is, most re-creative endeavors have a non-productive feel to them. Don’t be fooled.

As for me, I know that I need to spend some time in all three areas every day and a lot of time in them every week.

What have you found works for you? Add to the conversation by adding your comments below.

For more thought about sabbaticals, click here.

 

Leadership Radar

It’s a simple concept really: Wise leaders consciously pay attention to and sharpen their radar.

Everyone knows what radar does. It creates a picture of what is out there on the horizon that a pilot should be paying attention too. In my pathetically non-technical version, radar systems pick up signals from a wide variety of stuff out there and then through sophisticated programming software sorts through all the signals to determine which are truly important.

Some radar signals are welcome and some function as a warning.

Wise leaders rely on their radar as well. On the positive side, leaders utilize their radar to watch for the “blips” of potential new leaders, for new opportunities, for trends to be seized upon, chances to position their ministry or organization for expanded influence, and more. On the negative side, they are always alert for troubling trends, for financial challenges, for approaching conflicts, etc. etc. You get the idea.

The question is: how does a leader sharpen the programming and sensitivity of her or his radar?

The answer is found in the habits of life-long learners. Life-long learners are intentional about their own growth through mentoring, reading, training, and by putting themselves into stretching experiences. These kinds of activities literally program the software of your radar. They enable you to sort through all the incoming signals of a demanding life to spot the ‘radar blips’ that you need to respond to.

The question is not simple are you a life-long learner, but what are you doing as a learner to increase the capacity of your leadership radar?