Leadership Bifocals

EyeglassesIn my interactions with participants in the Chaddock Leadership Academy, I often talk about the need for leaders to wear bifocals. And, just as you have to be careful not to trip when you first start wearing actual bifocals (yes, this is the voice of experience!) you also have to get used to the changes in perspective as a leader when you move from looking through the up close to the distance portions of your leadership lens.

Most seasoned leaders will spend the majority of their day looking through the distance (or strategic) portion of their lens, scanning the horizon and staying attuned to new variables that may come into their peripheral view. They can take note of changing scenery, how others around them are responding to the surroundings, and whether they need to change course to avoid a collision. It is no accident that the distance portion of the lens is the largest part of the viewing area, both in actual and in leadership bifocals.

The smaller portion of the lens is for up close work, for the details that need a different type of magnification. It is important that this component is there — you really do have to be able to read the fine print — but as a leader if you spend all your time looking down at the details, sooner or later you (and your organization) are likely to walk face-first into a tree.

One challenge for leaders, especially new leaders, is that it is often easier to feel like you are accomplishing things when your focus is on the smaller “reader” portion of your lens. When you use this focus, you get to check things off a list, there are more concrete tasks and black and white responsibilities, and frankly you may feel more productive. There are many days where leaders, taking the broader perspective, don’t really “finish” much. It may take months, and in some cases years, to see the results of an effort. And sometimes, the biggest accomplishment of all is the crisis averted, where something not happening is actually the indicator of success.

I find that when there are big picture challenges with no easy answers, when you feel like you are simply spinning your wheels with no clear path forward, it is natural to want to look down, to switch to a different part of the lens where answers come more easily. In most cases, this is exactly the wrong thing to do. To find answers to the hardest and most critical dilemmas, it is important to stick with the long view, to push through the gray to the clarity on the other side of complexity.

No one said it would be easy, but even the haziest view can become clearer with a good set of bifocals.

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