Leadership Starts with Seeing Clearly
Leadership starts with understanding your starting point and your ending point. By having a proper perspective, you can chart your course. Otherwise, you will end up like Alice taking directions from the Cheshire Cat in Lewis Carroll’s classic Alice in Wonderland.
Too many business leaders set their course like the way Alice asked for guidance from the Cheshire Cat.
“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
“I don’t much care where—” said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.
In effect, the Cheshire Cat says that if you don’t know where you’re going, then any road will get you there. And too many businesses function in that environment.
If you don’t have a good perspective of where you are and you are going, then you won’t be able to get there. While that sounds obvious, too many businesses don’t have a process for getting to where they want to go.
Here’s a three-step process to determine the perspective needed for seeing clearly enough to chart the course for your business.
1. Being self-aware individually and organizationally
To determine your starting point, it is important for you as a leader to have both individual and organizational self-awareness. Without both pieces intact, you will not have what’s needed for seeing clearly.
You as a leader must be willing to acknowledge where you are weak and where you are strong. If you are not willing or able to publicly admit the company’s organizational weaknesses—along with your personal weaknesses—then you are not yet the kind of leader your organization needs to take them where they should go. Your team knows your personal weaknesses, whether you want to admit them or not. But if you cannot assess personal or organizational weaknesses on your own, you will be wise—yes, wise—to ask others what they are. Only with that intelligence can you chart your course.
In his book Good to Great, Jim Collins explains how a strong leader exhibits “Level 5 leadership,” and a strong organization exhibits the “Hedgehog Concept.” A Level 5 leader is a paradoxical mix of personal humility and professional will, and the Hedgehog Concept involves understanding what you can be the best in the world at. If you cannot honestly and accurately assess your personal strengths, then you will be fooling yourself. Without seeing clearly your organization’s capabilities, you will not be able to chart your course.
2. Understanding that you aren’t always seeing clearly
Without an outside perspective, you can start, as the saying goes, believing your own press releases. If you don’t have a willingness to receive an outside perspective, then you are limiting your ability to chart your course.
Not seeing clearly can have dangerous consequences. If you don’t see clearly, you will focus on the wrong things. You will end up having a skewed view of reality because you will allow things to get in the way to prevent you from seeing things as they really are.
If everyone is thinking the same thing, then usually someone is not thinking. It is important to allow for healthy discourse about charting the course so that you don’t wake up one day and realize that the emperor has no clothes.
Do yourself a favor and make sure you are allowing yourself to be challenged by someone, whether that is your board, your leadership team, or a coach. Make sure you can receive counsel from those who can help you in seeing clearly what is going on around you.
3. Being willing to wear new glasses
It is important to realize that you may need to look at things in a different way. It’s hard to do that if you are not in the habit of looking through different paradigms.
Sean Covey says, “Paradigms are like glasses. When you have incomplete paradigms about yourself or life in general, it’s like wearing glasses with the wrong prescription. That lens affects how you see everything else.”
It is important to challenge your sources of information. It is essential to be willing to open yourself up to seeing things in a different way. The way you have seen the world up to this point may not be how you need to see the world going forward. The way you see yourself and your organization may well be preventing you from moving forward. The thinking that brought you to where you are is often not the thinking that will bring you to the next level.
It is important to get outside of yourself—both personally and organizationally. If you are not allowing someone to speak into your life and the life of your organization, then you are missing an opportunity to become more of what you can be.
The process of seeing clearly involves being self-aware, understanding that you may not be seeing clearly, and being willing to employ new paradigms. Only through going through this process continuously—usually with the aid of outside counsel—will you be able to chart the course you want with your business.
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