Leadership requires understanding where you’re starting from and where you want to end up. By having a proper perspective of how far you need to go, 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.
"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.
If you don’t know where you’re going, then any road will get you there. And too many business leaders function with the Cheshire Cat’s directions.
If you don’t have a good perspective of where you are and where you are going, then you won’t be able to get to your destination. 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 gain the perspective you need 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 being both personally and organizationally self-aware, you will not be able to see clearly to get to your destination.
You as a leader must be willing to acknowledge where you are weak and where you are strong, both personally and organizationally. 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 team needs to take them where they should go. If you as a leader are unable to assess your personal or organizational weaknesses, you will be wise to ask others what they are. Only with that ability to see things clearly 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 understands the “Hedgehog Concept.” A Level-5 leader is a paradoxical mix of personal humility and professional will, and the Hedgehog Concept involves knowing what your organization can be the best in the world at. If you cannot honestly and accurately assess your personal strengths, then you will be fooling yourself as a leader. Without collectively recognizing your organization’s strengths, you will not be able to see where you could go as a team.
2. Understanding that you aren’t always seeing clearly
If you don’t have a willingness to receive an outside perspective, then you are limiting your ability to chart your course forward. You will end up having a skewed view of reality because you will prevent yourself from seeing things as they really are.
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 see clearly what is going on around you.
3. Being willing to see things differently
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 making progress. 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 see things differently. Only through going through this process continuously — usually with the aid of outside counsel — will you be able to make the progress you want with your business.
Robert McFarland is the author of the bestsellers, Dear Boss: What Your Employees Wish You Knew and Dear Employee: What Your Boss Wishes You Knew. Robert is also President of Transformational Impact LLC, a leadership development consultancy helping companies improve their employee cultures to make the companies healthier, more productive, and more profitable.