As A Leader, How Do You Think ‘Big Picture’?

Feb 01, 2018 5 Min Read
big picture

Are you a 'big picture' thinker?

Compassion is a powerful anchor for successful leadership. Compassion is simply caring in action. In the workplace context, compassion is the ability to perceive when you or your colleagues are going through challenges, and respond with an intent to make things better.

Receiving compassion is a basic human need. When you provide compassion to your colleagues, they feel secure, valued and connected. When this happens, people are inspired to show up as their best selves in the workplace. It is a win-win situation for people and their organisations – creating happier work cultures and better business outcomes.

Cultivating workplace compassion

Big picture thinking is one of the nine pillars of workplace compassion. Given that leadership roles place enormous demands on time, attention and resources, it is easy to feel overwhelmed and fatigued.

Big picture thinking is the ability to keep the bigger vision of successful leadership without getting caught up in negative dialogues and excuses that rise with challenges at work. It is the skill to see the forest for the trees and the ability to take the 10,000-feet view when challenges arise.
Big picture thinking allows leaders to act proactively rather than reactively. This helps avoid unnecessary conflict at work and creates emotional resilience. Cultivated as a habit, big picture thinking can help manage people and time with grace, and help turn challenges into opportunities.

It has two essential facets. One is having a clearly defined strategy and the other is the ability to think in perspective. Let’s explore both.

1. Perspective thinking

This facet allows us to see challenges in context. To think in perspective is to be able to contrast and reframe your current challenge against a bigger universal reality. We value experiences by contrasting them to expectations created by our environment and past experiences.

Perspective thinking may seem like a philosophical exercise at first, but the value of understanding the scale against which we ultimately measure our personal realities cannot be underestimated.

Perspective thinking allows us to see challenges in context.

We have a very finite presence in space and time. Yet, inside us, we are infinite nested layers of complexities.

Here’s how I work with perspective thinking. When I face challenging situations, I dig into my secret treasure box of questions. This box contains questions that help reset my perspectives and reframe my thinking. These questions include:

  • “How big is my problem, really?”
  • “How big will this challenge seem to be three years from now?”
  • “If this is an opportunity disguised as a problem, how should I be looking at it differently?”
  • “How much of my challenge is reality, and how much is made up by fear?”
  • “What really are my actionable choices, and what is blocking me from making them?”

I find that taking time to reflect and compare my problems against my bigger vision of life and leadership helps me make meaningful choices.

Perspective thinking not only can help reframe our personal challenges; it also helps reframe the challenges of those we lead. It helps provide latitude for the mistakes of others, extend understanding to those who are struggling and make meaningful decisions in dealing with them.

When our employees fail, for example, instead of reacting with disappointment or anger, what if we consciously step back to ask:

  • “What does this failure mean in the bigger picture of the organisation?”
  • “What does it mean in the context of this employee’s life cycle with the company?”
  • “What can I do that can enable this person’s growth, while still meeting work objectives?”
  • “In the 10,000-feet view of things, how devastating is this mistake?”

I find my clients always come out of this line of perspective thinking with more compassion, grace and clarity.

For you to do

Here are two exercises you can do to help build the perspective thinking habit.

  1. Create your personal ‘treasure-box’ of perspective questions. This is your personal collection of all the questions that can help you look at challenges you encounter in a different light.
  2. Think of a challenge from your past that seemed insurmountable at that time, but which you have now overcome. Reflect on how the biggest challenges in your life have found closure with time. What does that mean for your current challenge?

2. Strategy

Strategy goes hand in glove with perspective thinking. It is being able to visualise outcome and knowing how to get there.

In the context of leadership, this means knowing what you want to achieve with your leadership role, and having a roadmap to get there.

Remember that your leadership goal is not a job function or title. Rather, it is defining what impact you will leave on the world because of your leadership, and how you would have influenced others positively as a result.

I personally find many leaders who don’t have a clearly defined personal leadership strategy. Defining your leadership legacy is the first step. Creating a broad vision of how you will make that happen is your second step.
This video might interest you on living a leadership legacy:

For you to do

Let me challenge you to come up with your personal leadership strategy statement. But limit your strategy statement to less than 50 words.

A sample could read something like this:

“I will be a high impact leader, helping all the people I lead achieve career and personal excellence, by continually applying myself to personal growth, education and persistent action.”

There are no perfect strategy statements. Go with whatever is authentic and meaningful for you at this time in your life. Keep your strategy statement in a place where you can see it often. Use it as a yardstick when you think in perspective.

Bringing it together

Big picture thinking can be a power tool to navigating life and leadership challenges. Thinking in perspective and having a clearly defined strategy will help in big picture thinking.

Making a habit of big picture thinking can help you be a compassionate leader and create more engaged employees and stronger business outcomes.

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Tags: Consultant Corner

Dr Immanual is the chief compassion officer of which helps organisations become more mindful, compassionate and successful. He is a speaker, consultant, author, entrepreneur and certified coach.

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