Respecting Alternate Perspective Powers Effective Leadership
My personal effectiveness as a leader grew rapidly as I started practicing the subject line.
I would like to narrate an example from my personal leadership journey. This happened quite some years ago. I was the leader of a large global team. One day, as I stepped out of my office in Chennai, a young employee of foreign origin came running to me. She was on the mobile phone with someone. She looked desperate. From her quick plea for my intervention, I gathered that the person on the other side was apparently refusing to help her. She needed him to provide critical paperwork required for her timely return home. She wanted me to talk to the person at the other end and make him understand. What followed was a big learning for me!
I promptly took the handset and started talking to the other person. I had assumed that this person was part of the employee support function in my own company. In my view I was talking to a colleague. I was a senior officer with many years of standing in my company and automatically assumed authority.
Interestingly, the person at the other end did not care much about my authority. While this had started irritating me, he patiently explained that the lady had not complied with the requirements for the paperwork needed and she had work to do. My own perception about the internal support team was a little low at that time. I promptly assumed that this employee was making excuses for evading work and trying to be insubordinate. I wanted to know his name and his managers name. Here is where the alternate perspective struck like a thunderbolt. He said he worked for the customer service call center at the Regional Passport Office. All the while I had been talking to a helpdesk employee from the Regional Passport Office (a federal government function) in Chennai. This realization completely and instantly changed my approach to solve the problem for my staff.
Many a times, we are so immersed in the current context and start to think in silos. On top of it we make assumptions that either seem relevant to the context or are convenient for us to solve the problem. Our perspective blinds us until someone or something throws us into the right cognitive frame of mind.
In the above example, I had conveniently assumed that an employee would escalate only internal matters. I had not thought about the fact that a foreigner would seek help from an Indian citizen to convince another Indian citizen. She was not escalating at all and I had possibly made matters worse for her.
Steven Covey explains this extremely well as part of his “Seek first to understand, then be understood” habit. As a coach conducting 360 surveys, I have seen women colleagues perceiving their male leaders as extremely insensitive because they are unable to appreciate some real workplace challenges faced by women.
As the cartoon in this article depicts, you need someone as non-threatening as a child to effectively bring an alternate perspective to your frame of thinking. You don’t want to up your guard and shoot the messenger. You want to drop your guard and listen. A child usually lacks the experience to appreciate many business and life situations. A trained and experienced coach can play that role with ease.
Would you like to listen to some alternate perspectives that could further sharpen your effectiveness as a leader?
– Udayakumar Nalinasekaren