The ability to gain perspective in difficult situations is one of the key skills to develop when building your resilience levels. It provides a strong foundation that enables all other aspects of resilience to work.
For example, how often in your leadership role do things ‘just go your way’? I bet you are thinking ‘not that often’, which is the probable answer for most leaders. It is much more likely that you experience setbacks, obstacles, challenges and difficulties most days in at least one of your key tasks.
It is important to note, from the outset, that gaining perspective on the less visible, apparently minor but persistent stressors and challenges in our workplaces is just as important as dealing with the major ones. We often overlook these, tending to focus our attention on the big challenges. These small, daily, persistent stressors can chip away at our resilience.
It is not the size or nature of the stressor that is important here. Rather, it is how we deal with the stressor that is more important.
This is where perspective comes in.
What does ‘gaining perspective’ mean?
When you are being resilient, perspective is what lets you what you are being resilient about. A developed perspective allows you to recognise how different aspects of your workplace interconnect and to prioritise where to focus your energy. By enabling you to focus your energy in this way, it is perspective that helps you get through the tough stuff. Your ability to gain perspective is vital to your ability to be a resilient leader.
A developed perspective allows you to see the bigger picture.
Why is perspective so important to resilience?
Without perspective, resilience will be very difficult to achieve. To put this into context, think about someone you thought of as tough but who crumbled when under pressure. It is possible to appear resilient and tough, but if some aspects of your resilience are underdeveloped (or not maintained effectively), then you will have some weaknesses that can be exploited.
For example, I personally lost my sense of perspective recently in relation to my daughter’s sport team regarding sustained perceived unfairness in relation to a specific opponent. I allowed myself to focus on the unfairness of it all resulting in losing my cool at a recent game. I had allowed my loss of perspective to erode my resilience. I wasn’t using the information available to me effectively.
My perspective was regained with one simple question ‘who does this unfairness help?’ The answer is that it helps our team, even if the result goes against us, as long as the adults in the situation retain their perspective. My daughter and her colleagues have just had an opportunity to learn from a difficult situation, to play in adverse conditions, to make decisions on the field and form strategies that will stand by them in years to come.
Perspective is how you arrange the information available to you and create your own reality. Obviously, this isn’t reality but it is your way of arranging the information and looking at the challenge in front of you. It is how you prioritise the important information needed for a successful outcome and separate it from the ‘noise’ that only serves to distract you.
Learn to gain perspective and you can continuously and habitually focus your mind and energy on things directly linked to your work objectives. You will even be able to draw upon experiences, learnings and information from other, even unrelated, sources enhancing your chances of success. Meanwhile, the person without perspective will be easily overwhelmed by their inability to separate the noise from the key information.
Fortunately, like all the other resilience skills, you can develop your ability to gain perspective. It is a learnable skill. It is a skill that also needs maintained as you can fall foul of noise and distraction at times. Here are some steps you can take to develop your perspective.
- Maintain a balanced mind
When we are uncertain, anxious or fearful, we focus too heavily on either the future or the past, rather than thinking about the here and now. Practice some breathing techniques to help you calm your thoughts and focus on the present.
- See the big picture
Sometimes it is just difficult to know what the big picture is, even when colleagues are telling us to keep sight of it. The ‘big picture’ is best defined as the greatest sum of all that affects what you are doing, including the projects you are working on and how they fit into everything else.
Your perspective must take account of many details and layers, relevant to your current project so you can plan accurately and be able to predict potential outcomes. Be careful not to allow the ‘big picture’, or parts of it, to become distracting noise. It provides the information to prioritise, arrange and use to create your reality.
This is important for resilience as it allows you to fully appreciate the challenge you face and everything that goes with it. You can then create your plans and strategies.
- Make sense of adversity
Feeling stress (even distress) and challenge are normal experiences for many of us as we will experience them often, for example through setbacks and upsets in our plans. To gain perspective, you need to be able to make sense of the stress and challenge that you feel during setbacks, contextualise it and reframe the setback as a manageable situation.
- Maintain a positive outlook
Linked to point 3 above, it is important to keep focused on the potential and opportunity presented, especially in adversity. Make a habit of looking for the good in difficult situations such as what you can learn from it or how you could handle it better next time.
- Work on clarity
Clarity is vital. If you are seeing the big picture and arranging the information to create your reality, you definitely need clarity to enable you to see the details distinctly. Clarity enables you to look past the noise and distractions and focus on what you need to do to bring the project to a successful conclusion. It allows you to understand yourself and your core role better, focusing on what brings higher performance rather than what might at first glance look good.
- Consider everything an experience
In these types of articles you will have read so many times that you should reframe obstacles and problems so you can view them differently and positively. This is similar. Learn to consider everything as an experience to be learned from, whether that experience is positive or negative. Our negative experiences, where something has went wrong, can be our best teachers. Reflect on your experiences each day and consider what went well, what didn’t go well and what would you do differently next time to handle the situation better.
- Perception and intuition
To fully gain perspective, you need to develop your ability to understand what is really happening rather than what is apparent. This is perception. Learn to look past what is immediately apparent, such as conversations, reports, meetings etc., and see what is really happening. Recognise your intuition so you can take note of how you feel about something and explore why you feel that way. The perceptive leader can see the potential and capacity of the team and the individuals within it, recognises the potential impact of an event on the team, and understands there is always more than one way to successful completion of a project.
Perspective is a learnable skill and is crucial to any leader wishing to become more resilient. What are you doing each day to develop your perspective?