When you were a child, chances are someone (or several someones) told you to look both ways before you crossed the road. Unfortunately, as we age, many people forget that sage advice. Instead, we tend to look one direction, at one perspective, and think that is the full picture . . . and then we are surprised when something comes barreling at us from a direction we didn’t even consider.
Leaders always need to look both ways.
We will never get the full picture by only looking in one direction. Even when that direction seems like the “logical” perspective . . . when it feels absolutely “true” . . . when we have “proof” . . . when we can see it with our own eyes and therefore believe it has to be right. One sided solutions leave us vulnerable to unexpected risks that we didn’t even consider because, well, we “knew” we were right. Except, maybe “right” depends on which direction you are looking.
Always look both ways.
No matter how confident you are in the perspective that is driving your decisions, take a few moments to ask how someone might view the situation differently. If someone had a different life experience, if they were sitting in a different chair than you are, if they were looking in the exact opposite direction from where you are gazing . . . what might their perspective be? Could a good, smart, well-intended individual be just as convinced that they are right and your perspective is “wrong”?
The space between the black and white of looking in one direction or the other is the sea of gray where much of leadership takes place. Because more often than not, leadership is not about right or wrong. It is about considering a range of perspectives and priorities and taking the next best step given the numerous variables that are “true.” And that doesn’t necessarily make the person who sees things differently bad or wrong. In most cases, it means that your priorities are not the same as theirs. If you take the time to understand their perspective, you might even find a way to address multiple priorities with a single solution.
But first, you have to look both ways.
And that can frustrate people who only want to you to look in one direction. Such people can accuse you of not being committed to “what is right”, of somehow waffling because you are seeking to understand a different perspective. Seeking to understand is not waffling, and decisions don’t have to be either/or. Sometimes, the best decisions are both/and, and the best leaders recognize that their decision is one of a range of viable options.
All it takes is a willingness to look both ways.