The Pyramid of Perspective

How many times have you gotten sucked into the stress of someone else’s timeline or making sure the details of the steps were exactly right? This occurs on teams and in leadership daily, and perspective gets lost. One of the most effective ways to channel the brilliance of your team while grounding it to something solid is to continually give them perspective on their process.  Think of it like a Pyramid of Perspective

So, where’s your vantage point?  Each of the levels on this pyramid represent different viewpoints of perspective.  In the way that you lead and communicate, you can come from any of the levels of the pyramid, each one coloring your message and influence differently.  The deeper you go on the pyramid, the more foundation of grounded perspective you bring to the team.  As a leader, you’ve got some choices…

WHEN- Coming from this place, you’re concerned with time (usually never enough), the schedule and the deliverable deadlines.  For a competitive team, When is an important and effective driver for them to get to their results and come together before another team beats them to it.  High achievers often do their best work under pressure, so time and an impending constraint of When can bring out their best. As a leader, it’s important that you leverage that as a motivator without becoming the watch-checker. If you cross that line to become overly concerned with time, your team can dismiss you as valuing time over content or process quality.

• Build and show timelines to give your team a sense of how their process will play out in concrete terms, and give them a sense of “we are here” on the map.

• Adjust the timeline as you go, making space for their emergent process as they collaborate.

• Strategically, use time and deliverables to create urgency when needed. Deadlines spur action.

HOW- Here, the focus is on the process, the steps and the way we get there. If you’ve got a team of individuals coming from successful yet diverse disciplines and experiences, the How will be important to them. They can get stuck on How your team is approaching the work, attached to a particular process to achieve results from their previous world. I’ve seen potentially brilliant teams crumble because they couldn’t get aligned on process.  How your team goes about its impressive disruption is ultimately your call as the leader. It’s critical, because How your team does its magic may be the very thing that sets you apart from your competitors and defines your brand. Yet if you’re overly skewed on form and checking off every box just so, they’ll feel micromanaged and stifled, without enough creativity.

• Direct the approach, honoring and incorporating their expertise, then getting their buy-in on why X is the best way for the team. As the leader, be the keeper of the process.

• Get alignment on it early, check in and adjust course often, looking to make sure the How is tapping their talent consistently and providing a way for it to manifest in great work.

WHAT- This is the outcome or result you’re going for. Achievers and concrete thinkers on your team will always need this to be as clear as possible. If it’s not, they’ll each come to the team’s work with their own interpretation of What you’re trying to accomplish, which can be problematic when they clash with one another. While they each may hold their own important piece in the puzzle, they all need to be working toward the same picture on the box lid to guide them together. Clear focus on the What elevates the team’s dynamic and conversation to a common goal and a reason to rally in collaboration. The more vividly they’re able to envision the outcome they’re going for, the more they’ll be pulled to it, causing the How and When to fall into place to make it happen.

• Get What your team is going for- the change you’re trying to impact- clear and concrete.

• Have the team articulate the goal, get it visually up on the wall of your workspaces, and keep reiterating it for them.

• If the result you’re going for is ambiguous, then set shorter term What milestones along the course for them to focus on and hit.

WHY- All the layers of the pyramid are key in keeping your team and the work focused on the right things at the right times. And Why is is the one that makes the difference between managing and really leading people. The Why both trumps and grounds everything above it on that pyramid, because it gets to the heart of motivation.  This could be what brought them all onboard with you in the first place- a mission to ________ (fill in accordingly). It’s their cause, their call, their drive to do the work and push through to the other side. It brings it all back to purpose which is energizing, clarifying and even calming.  For you as the leader, getting the Team Why clear and articulated is the most important thing of all, after which everything else (What, How and When) is about execution.  This is the conviction that makes the game matter, and the impact of their efforts bigger in the world. It’s what engages these individual brilliant people on your team, bringing their separate Whys and visions of what’s possible in the world to this work together.

• As a leader of disruption, you see the layers of Why to the work. Sort and prioritize them, then keep bringing it back to focus for your team.

Lead your team with the Why. Tell the Why. Ask the Why. Every time, every conversation, every day.

• Open with the Why, then layer the What, How and When on top.

 

THE BIG WHY- The deepest level of individual personal drive we all have is our Big Why… why we’re doing this in the great scheme of life. This is our biggest game, truest purpose, greatest good and what gets us out of bed in the morning.

Steve Jobs: “To make a dent in the universe.”

As a leader, get clear about yours. Once you do, it will come through as the passion that fuels everything else you do, and will serve as inspiration for every person you lead.

You also need to get  … their individual Big Whys. Once you know their WHY, it can be very powerful, giving you a way to frame communication with them- an entrance into their world at any moment.  When they’re in need of motivation, acknowledgment or perspective, you can frame it in the most meaningful way for what matters most to them.  Their why is their buy-in, and your why can be their inspiration.

Once you’re grounded in this deepest, most stable part of the pyramid, the others- WHAT, HOW, and WHEN are easy to reference and command as needed, because they’re truly held in perspective of the biggest Why.

• If you don’t already know them, find the Big Whys for each on your core team… by asking them!  While this is getting to what’s most essential to people’s core, many don’t talk much about it or even think of it consciously to the level of easy articulation. Getting them to unearth it will help them get more passionate about what their doing, and help you to lead them more accurately.

• As you ask, know that these questions are the kind that may require people to search a little internally for if they haven’t already clarified it for themselves. Give them space to think about it and then ask in layers…

You may ask them, “So why do you do this?”

They may say, “because I’m intrigued by X kinds of challenges,” or some other such practical but not meaningful answer.

You then follow up simply with, “Why are these kinds of challenges intriguing to you?”

They might answer, “Because I really care about X…”

You probe, “Why do you care so much about X?”

…until you’ve asked five levels into their Why. Think of it as helping them peel the layers back on the onion of their Big Why, getting down to their most fundamental Big Why beneath.

As you lead and manage every day, the art of it is to keep perspective for yourself and your team. When, How, What, Why are each important in different ways,  can demand its own hyper focus, and can become consuming if you’re not careful.   Picture yourself as standing at any level on the pyramid, grounded at that level,  easily able to reach every level above it. If you’re standing all the way up in When, you can’t even see, let alone reach the others below you. The deeper you go on the pyramid, the better your perspective is, allowing each of the other levels to fall into place. Standing and starting with Why, you can layer, reference, tap and pull from What, How and When easily, without getting sucked in to them and losing your vantage point.

Your perspective colors how you choose, lead and relate… so keep yourself grounded.

©SarahSinger&Co. 2013

Up and Out...

Eyes up and out…

I thrive on horizons.  It’s all over most of my writing, speaking and coaching.  That’s my strength- always seeing or creating the horizon, no matter the situation- for others, for myself, for challenges. The path to get from here to there comes easily, too- my brain automatically conjures several ways at once.  The challenge for me actually occurs when I have to look down. I got that today.

As I set out for a run, most of my normal path was covered with snow and ice- not treacherous, but enough that I had to slow down and really pay attention to every step to avoid falling.  I HATED it. Crazy how much I hated it.  Breathing harder, working to get traction and tensed up as I navigated the right places to land and push off, I found myself completely irritated that I was spending so much energy to go slower when I really wanted to just look up and out at the horizon and run full out toward it.

Gee- a little metaphor, there?  So much about leadership, what it takes to make progress, and of course how I’m wired.

Understanding the focal point that gives you strength is key. 

Part of what it takes to lead and make change happen is being able to see and hold a focal point of what’s possible and where we’re going. Call it vision, horizon, the long view- a future state of what’s possible that’s different from where we are right now. This is critical. Organizations, teams and relationships without this can get mired in what is or what’s always been, which can lead to stagnation, circular issues and overall fatigue. Someone’s got to be able to look up and out of it, see possibility, help everyone else see and focus it vividly, and hold it as the focal point to progress toward.  It’s not that we ignore the present, don’t honor the past or are never looking down, but the pull has to be more forward to the horizon than down at each step on the path.

That ratio of focus is important- notice it. 

Looking primarily down at where to place each step at a time is a different kind of focus.  It’s deliberate, slower and careful. It’s necessary too- so we don’t actually get taken down by landing on some little slippery patch of detail along the way because we’re not paying attention to what we’re doing tactically, step by step.  Having people who are wired to focus this way is critical to balance any good leadership team.  While I can do this, I know it’s not where my patience or strength lie at all… so I really value the people on my team who bring this present, careful step-at-a-time thinking first.  They offer ballast to my horizon.

The key is finding some balance in focal points.  

The first half of the run was miserable, because I was spending more time looking down than up, muscling my way through it to think tactically about each step without losing too much momentum. I kept going because I knew it was only necessary for so long before I could get traction again to accelerate. This is sometimes how I lead, too. I’ll muscle my way through the deliberate slowness (often impatiently) until I can get the necessary traction (right team, right support, right game) to accelerate toward what’s possible again. Then my strength as a leader comes out, and my energy can carry us all forward quickly.

By the second half of the run, I was able to balance a bit more- looking down at my steps, then up at my horizon more equally. Probably more down than I prefer, but doable. Just that little ratio increase of up and out vs. down and narrow helped tremendously.  It actually made me tactically more deft in the moment, able to navigate nimbly and quickly. Toggling between horizon and steps, long view and details, strategy and tactics in running or leading- connects the whole picture enough for my energy to increase, thinking to clear a bit and stride to relax.

Just that added bit of what energizes can be enough to carry and fuel the rest. 

When I finally got back to dry path for the last few legs of my run, I couldn’t help but notice how everything shifted. My gait, my speed, my breath all smoothed, and I accelerated. My thinking opened up, my ideas started flowing again, and I found my stride. Of course I had my direct steps in peripheral sight and looked down to maneuver smartly as needed, but most of my focus was up, out and forward. I was reminded of how instantly fulfilled and impactful I can be when my focal point is where I’m strongest… on the horizon, where possibility is.

This explains why I love the last stretch of every run, including today’s. It’s where I run down the middle of my street, focusing on a precise horizon- the very top of a 4-story tree at the end of the road.  As I do, I quit pushing and become pulled by that treetop, sprinting full out, 100%. Everything peripherally falls away, all the best ideas in my head come together, and I hit my personal best… as I always do with a horizon that’s clear, magnetic and vivid.  Those moments of going full-out with everything I’ve got are exhilarating, symbolic of what’s possible and what we can pull out of ourselves, and definitely what I love the most.  On all of my paths, slogging through the rest to get to that as a person and as a leader is worth it every time.

Find those moments of personal best- both fulfilled and impactful- to make all the rest worth it along your path.

©SarahSinger&Co. 2013

Talent vs. Strength

Strengths and Talent are two different things.  Strengths are what you do easily and regularly, without thinking about it.  These usually come from talent.  Yet we all have talent that isn’t necessarily manifesting as strength.  It may come out in moments or episodes of brilliance, but isn’t reliably consistent yet. While a lot of my work is in the former, what I’m most interested in is the latter.

Strengths.

In some ways, strengths are the low-hanging fruit of my coaching work.  Most people don’t truly realize what their strengths are, or why they’re so amazing.  We’re all too close to have any perspective on it.  Someone with a strength like being able to establish instant rapport and agreement with others doesn’t really acknowledge it as a strength, because it’s as instinctive as breathing for him or her, yet enviable, difficult and a mystery to another person watching. The groundbreaking work of Clifton and Buckingham in this realm has been a gamechanger for millions- so much so that I require groups and teams to take StrengthFinder as a prerequisite for any work I do with them.  We have to at least surface, understand and leverage what we all do well without effort before we start working on how we can grow in new ways.  Simply getting people to be more conscious of what they already do well as their unique and important contribution, and to confidently leverage it as such is groundbreaking for most people.  That’s also telling about our society-  that this initial work (which seems like it would be quick and easy) is huge all by itself for people.  For adults, some of this is from becoming desensitized to our own strengths. Our instinct, common sense and lens through which we see the world becomes as invisible to us as the air we breathe, and we accept it as “normal” (and therefore not anything worthy of leveraging). Meanwhile, our personal set of strengths is unique from everyone around us (and could be genius to them).  It also has a lot to do with our pre-occupation with what we’re not, and what we should be (“Yeah, but if only I were more X…”), rather than an ownership and confidence in what we are, and how we’re uniquely brilliant- and the value of either. The a-ha that people and teams have when they suddenly see their own talent-strength that’s been there all along under those layers is awesome and empowering.

I do love coaching strengths, yet secretly love and crave more, as all coaches do.

Talent.

Great movies love to depict the classic inspirational story of the semi-retired coach or trainer who comes back into the game to develop a wild, raw undeveloped talent into something solid, something strong.  Million Dollar Baby, The Karate Kid, Rocky, Any Given Sunday, Tin Cup, A League of Their Own, The Replacements, even Star Wars

There’s something different there- much more intriguing, exciting and possible.  This is why my favorite work is with youth vs. adults- it’s much more about working with the talent itself and honing while exploding it vs. working to clear away the layers of stuff on top of it.

Raw talent all by itself is a different thing- it’s trickier.  It’s less predictable and a little rougher around the edges than a bona-fide strength.  Talents can absolutely develop into strengths through deliberate or naturally occurring practice and investment- think Tiger Woods spending more practice time than those with half his talent, because he gets the deliberate path.  How that talent gets developed is one of my favorite topics to think about, coach and experiment with.  Different personalities need to approach it different ways. An awesome article today powerfully shows how even at the top- among the best of the best of the best in a particular field of talent, this happens differently.

But it starts with one thing, which is the most important part… realizing that you have the talent, then deciding that you want more and are ready to explode it into a strength. Maybe it’s just manifesting as an unsettledness now- pay attention to that feeling, and dig into it a little further. Then find the coach, the environment, the team, the training to shape it.  You can do this, and you should, only because you know deep-down that you can, and if you don’t you’ll be forever haunted by “what if I had…”

There’s one more piece in the getting-your-own-talent puzzle, even though it deserves its own day and post.  Personally, I always come back to the most basic piece in developing talent and reaching mastery in any arena- surround yourself with those who ask more of you than you do of yourself.  That means people who challenge you to not just be happy with what you’ve always done, but pushing you to get better, go farther, dig deeper- all from a true commitment to what’s possible in you because they get your talent.  Of course having a good coach or mentor is important, but it’s just as important to look at who else you’re surrounding yourself with.

Pay attention to your unsettledness, consider your own level of talent and mastery, check out who you’re surrounding yourself with, and start building your strength. It’s time.

©SarahSinger&Co. 2012