Two nights ago I sat with the most beautiful Helen, one of our amazing and incredibly talented colleagues, discussing rules and putting together a perspectives leadership workshop for a client.
It gave me another perspective possibility. Cue the happy dance.
Perspectives is one of my personal favorite tools in leadership development. Perhaps because it’s helped me so much in my own life. Having lived on four different continents over the past ten years, I’ve learned a lot of new perspectives. And seen ones very different from those I was raised with. Wonderfully, I have also been challenged dramatically in my own “this is the only way” perspective.
And of course, this has allowed me a great chance for freedom.
Perspectives are sometimes also called narratives. Or storytelling. And, often, boxes. Even, occasionally, assumptions. Basically perspectives tools help us to move between being an active participant and an active observer in our own lives, showing us where we might be stuck, and getting us to another option.
I feel that perhaps a story here might help.
I have three kiddos and a fluffy dog at home (leadership, believe me, always begins in the home). They are entering the teenage stage of life, which means I am no longer just benevolent dictator. I now get to be in position of wise guide. It also means that I no longer have to insist on my perspective as the course of action. As in, “no, you cannot eat a cookie before dinner.”
Instead, I get to I invite them to join me in a perspectives dialogue:
“Well, ok, yes, you could have a cookie before dinner. And how would that make you feel? What would it be like if you lived your whole life here? And what are some other possibilities?”
Of course, as the guide, I must only stand without judgement as they choose the perspective they find the best. And then – ha! – help them feel deeply the ramifications.
It’s sometimes a longer process than the benevolent dictator role…unless it was a benevolent dictator to a toddler wanting a cookie. Then the tantrum and subsequent discipline could take all day and perhaps into the night as well…
And, of course, it is quite worth it to move here with my budding teenagers – as with any member of any of my different teams.
As I see my team members beginning to make wise decisions on their own, I get to kick back and relax. And I know that they will honor the values that live within our team (including the one we call family).
The same, of course, can be true for any of your teams.
At non-home work, we sometimes call that benevolent dictator phase “onboarding.” This is the time when we drive home the values of the workplace. We tell our new team members what we expect. And, pretty much, we demand compliance.
Fortunately, after a relatively short time, we can move to this wise guide role – what is available here? And here? Perhaps over there? As leaders, we give them the rules.
And then help them learn when it’s time to break them.
Japan – one of my favorite places – does an amazing job of onboarding, both within the family unit, in organizations and in the country as a whole. Everyone seems to just instinctively know the rules, and how they must be applied.
Italy – another one of my favorite places – does an amazing job of breaking those boxes. Why must we only stay in this perspective? It’s possible to go over here, and here, and here!
Of course, the final hurdle in perspectives work is to get ourselves to see that anything, ANYTHING is possible.
And that means that the number of possible perspectives, or rules, is infinite.
Which is why I take my daughter’s advice in any workshop and throw in “Bananas are Blue” as a perspective. Because, of course, all of the possible perspectives now were at one time impossible – which means blue bananas are actually possible (daughters, of course, are the wisest).
So we set a challenge for you today – go practice that perspective work in your family. It’s the best incubator for great leadership. However you define it, wherever it lives, go see what rules live there – and what are the ones just itching to be broken.
Carmen Westbrook is an author and the CEO of Aina Giving, a socially responsible servant leadership development company. Carmen spends much of her time with her children and fluffy dog, as well as developing content for workshops and occasionally writing books. You can find her latest book, "Becoming Superwoman 1.0: Searching for a Cape and Boots" on any Amazon worldwide.