Our perspective is usually formed over our lifetime and is influenced by many factors, including, but not limited to, parenting styles, culture, religion, family, gender, race, education, government, friends and mentors. Perspective exists for all of us and, by its very nature, influences how we view the world. Our every communication and interaction is influenced by the perspective or filter we look through. Being willing to acknowledge that we may have a narrow or fixed perspective is the starting point of gaining awareness around how that may impact our point of view and, as a result, the choices we make and our decisions, actions and behaviours. In this article, I share a tangible example of what can happen when only one perspective is considered. I also reveal a simple exercise called the Perspective Quadrant that supports you to reevaluate a situation to open up new possibilities.
My coachee had been part of a well established team operating in a highly competitive industry. In the past, their team had been mentored by various industry leaders who had made it clear to them that the customer really doesn’t care how long it takes for something to be produced and delivered. According to those mentors, all the customer cared about was the end result. Their market was renowned for being cut throat. A company’s reputation and brand could be destroyed in a heartbeat for missing the mark, even by a fraction.
The advice received from past mentors encouraged the team to keep an iron fist on the execution of all of their projects and prevented them from trying other ways. The fear of losing their brand's reputation stopped them from seeing or even considering the situation from any other perspective. Their focus on ‘getting it perfect’ resulted in deadlines rarely being met and frequent budget blowouts. Consequently, the team was becoming tired, overworked and increasingly frustrated. They were fast coming to the realisation that this approach was completely unworkable and unmanageable.
One day, I received a text message from my coachee that clearly highlighted their struggle. It simply read, ‘I can’t keep working this way. It’s got to stop.’ While I don’t like to see anyone struggle like this, the message gave me a level of hope as it was evidence that my coachee was becoming present to the unworkability of the team’s current situation.
Beyond a single perspective
‘Perspective is your attitude towards something. It’s where you stand on a particular matter, your point of view or how you regard something.’
‘If you continually look at something from the same angle, you risk only ever seeing part of it.’
‘The word ‘perspective’ has a Latin root, Perscipere, which means ‘to look through’. So, it is a way of seeing or looking at something or someone. Perspective is how you see things, your evaluation of a particular situation or fact in terms of your point of view, which can be changed at will.’
My coachee was clearly stuck because they had only been considering matters from a single perspective. This narrow viewpoint prevented them from seeing that there were other options available to them.
At our next meeting, I walked my coachee through an exercise I use called the Perspective Quadrant, which considers an issue from four distinct viewpoints.
I (the first person) – refers to your perspective as an individual on a given issue or matter.
Them (the second person) – refers to the other individual directly engaged or involved in the matter and their perspective on it.
Others – refers to anyone else affected, directly or indirectly, by the issue or matter.
Global – represents an unattached and remote overview of the situation. It is akin to viewing an event as a casual spectator or a ‘helicopter’ view.
We then zoomed out further to review the situation from the Leader Perspective, which considers all perspectives in the quadrant, providing a 360-degree view. The Leader Perspective could be regarded as a ‘truth seekers’ perspective in that it allows you to get to the heart of the matter. In this way, it enables you to make effective decisions that ultimately lead to optimal outcomes.
Is there an area of your life where you feel stuck or can’t see any other options? If so, I encourage you to take the time to use the Perspective Quadrant as an exercise to reevaluate your situation. Accessing the Leader Perspective requires you to be willing to authentically see things from all four quadrants, seeking out the reality or truth of a situation from every conceivable angle. It may mean seeking the contribution of others, key team members, stakeholders, consultants, mentors and advisors to help you shape the most comprehensive view possible.
Completing the Perspective Quadrant exercise enabled my coachee to see the cost of having maintained the status quo for so many years. Although hesitant at first, they started to explore some of the new possible ways forward that we had uncovered in the exercise. They also acknowledged that whatever path they chose would likely take them out of their comfort zone and take courage to push through despite the presence of fear.
Picking up on their hesitancy and discomfort, I suggested trying on each option as you would when trying on a garment in a store. ‘Just try them on. Like a new jacket. You can always take it off if you don’t like it,’ I assured them. I often say this to my coachees when they resist looking at something new as it gives them the freedom to try new things, and peace of mind knowing they are under no obligation. The discomfort that surfaces when someone resists usually points to a deeper issue. The initial step is being willing to consider looking at something from another point of view, which is often the most challenging part.
My coachee was now at a point where they could openly acknowledge that whatever new path they chose would be uncomfortable and would likely take time and careful execution to ensure a successful outcome. Notably, they were clear that seeing the matter from other perspectives had given them choices and a possible way forward. That gave them something we all need – hope.
The team is now collectively exploring new strategies. Despite knowing they have a long way to go, all members are excited and feel free to take on the next challenge. They identified some key areas that will immediately impact the quality of the project's outcome and made some tough calls about sharing their workload. They have even committed to mentoring the next generation of leaders to future proof the business.
The beauty of perspective is that it gives you options and the freedom to choose. Once you become aware that you have a fixed perspective on something, you can choose to keep it or change it and try something new after considering the matter from other angles. If you do try on a new perspective, remember it's like trying on a new jacket – it might not feel like a perfect fit and could be a bit uncomfortable at first. But I invite you to try it on again, because we all know that the more we wear something, the more comfortable it becomes.