Have you heard leaders refer to looking at everything through “lenses”? Why don’t they just say perspective? The idea behind this subtle analogy is that a “lens” is something you can acquire through conversation, relationships, or experience. Highly seasoned executives have decades of experience and as a result, are master photographers with a camera bag so heavy that it needs wheels! But to get started, there are 4 lenses everyone should have.
Leaders face the unique challenge of capturing their organization’s world in a multitude of ways. Like a photographer, they need to know what type of image to capture for insight as well as which lens to use for the occasion. With this analogy, lets take a look at four foundational leadership lenses: big picture, detailed, strategic, and interpersonal.
1 of 4 Lenses: Big Picture Lens
Have you ever stumbled upon such a beautiful landscape that you didn’t know which part to was the most worthy to capture? Or have you ever found yourself in a hectic situation, such as a protest, and there is simply too much calling for you to capture? If you have a wide-angle lens (or a fish eye for more dramatic results), you don’t have to choose a subset – you can capture the entire scene! Now you can look back at that point in time and reflect on each and every component and how they played together in concert.
“Big picture thinking” is a cliche written in many books and discussed in every office setting. Nonetheless, actually practicing it is incredibly challenging. It’s human nature to develop “tunnel vision” and focus in on key aspects that we think are important. Everything else gets abstracted, trivialized, or worse, becomes a dangerous assumption that we hinge decisions on. By default, we have a shallow aperture and limited view; great leaders not only have the wide-angle lens to see the entire landscape, but also diligently increase their aperture to uncover the layers across the entire landscape.
2 of 4 Lenses: Detailed Lens
Imagine a close up of a human thumb. Picture it in a museum as an entire wall. With such a large image of such a small subject, you can imagine the insane detail that comes into focus: the intricacies of the fingerprint, the texture of the nail, and the microscopic hairs on the skin’s surface.
The macro lens gives you that unprecedented level of detail to change your perspective dramatically. Strong leaders don’t just see the big picture, but also have the will and the means to study niches of the organization with intense detail. Intricacy awareness enables leaders to understand where finer details are trivialized as you zoom out, and determine if that trigger point is appropriate when it comes to decision making. This awareness also makes it much easier for leaders to connect with individual contributors such as analysts, engineers (here’s your guide to politics), and programmers. They won’t feel like a “blind-spot” in the organization and will be more willing to follow the company’s leadership figures.
3 of 4 Lenses: Strategic Lens
See a majestic beast on the horizon? It’s so far away that you can’t even tell what species it is; all you know is that you definitely need a closer look. Your heading towards the beast, but it will take ages for you to be close enough for the naked eye to fully identify. What do you do? Pull out a massive telescope lens, of course! That thing could capture a man on the moon! Zoomed all the way in, you can see now that it’s just the fake mammoth in the Inland Empire (SoCal joke).
Strategic thinking is a staple of leadership. In order to think strategically, you need to see years into the future and forecast what the industry will look like. Using your telescope lens, that forecast is clearer and your strategic roadmaps will be more precisely defined. It’s not all about the long term future though, just like how you wouldn’t want a telescope lens stuck on the maximum zoom setting. Great leaders have a large zoom range and have the instinct to know how far to zoom in for optimal forecasting and strategic decision making.
4 of 4 Lenses: Interpersonal Lens
The most rewarding part of leadership isn’t about capturing landscapes or finer details of an object – its about capturing people and illustrating their worldview through storytelling. We are very sensitive about how we are captured in photos – just look at how much effort we put into platforms such as Snapchat (how to use Snapchat to perfect your elevator pitch) and Instagram (5 ways to spice up your resume like its going on Instagram). Similarly, we are obsessively concerned about how we are perceived at work and the judgments people make about our contributions. Great leaders recognized this and allocate a New-York-sized-pizza slice of their time towards understanding and connecting with key people. To do this, they develop an appreciation for the fixed lens.
The fixed lens is a love-hate relationship. It takes away conveniences in exchange for precision. They’re perfect for capturing the perfect headshot, but require you to move physically all around the subject; you take the initiative to adjust yourself to capture the subject in the most attractive light. This is how relationship-building works: you dont tell people how to be a good model; You let them be themselves and work hard to capture them organically. Once the connection is made, they won’t go to anyone else for pictures, and taking more will be easier since you won’t have to fit them into a mold at every shoot.
Filling the Gaps
This is all fine and dandy, but the majority of us don’t have these 4 lenses. Where do we even begin? Well, the first step is to assess which lenses you have developed the most. More than likely, you already have a macro lens for a few niches in the organization. Next, identify the lens that would be the most useful to have in the near term, and what lateral career moves can you make to start developing that lens (AKA, which Pokémon do you need to catch to defeat the elite four?).
What if you’re in a pinch and need the new perspective now? Leaders find themselves in this situation a lot, actually. They continue down a successful path because they inventoried their support network. They know when the situation calls for a lens they don’t have, and act quickly to call upon a friend to borrow their perspective. This way they know they aren’t missing something when making key decisions that make or break their reputation.
Therefore, the last and most important thing you can do is to keep track of your peer’s camera bags. Know who can give you the insight you lack. In some cases, you may not ever need to acquire for yourself a certain lens, especially when it comes to detailed niches of the organization – as long as someone within reach can capture that perspective and share it with you.
What other lenses are in a leader’s camera bag?