35,000 Feet

When I fly, I like to watch the ground get farther away as the plane climbs into the air. Pretty quickly, the cars, buildings, and roads become small, and the things that are too big to see from the ground come into view. Things look very different from 35,000 feet.

Perspective. The ability to see things from a different point of view. Commercial aircraft fly between 33,000 and 42,000 feet. That’s between 6 and 8 miles up in the air. It’s kind of the opposite of looking through a magnifying lens. We see detail through the lens, but a more complete picture without it.

Finding ways to change my perspective can allow me to see situations (and people) in a completely different way. The situation doesn’t change; my viewpoint does. This is a critical skill for leadership. We all have a unique and particular way we see things. Sometimes, we call this bias. Bias isn’t bad. However, bias without any effort to expand my view can lead to poor decisions.

There is a simple process I can use to shift my perspective when I’m faced with difficult or uncomfortable situations. It starts with me acknowledging that the only things I have control over are my effort and my attitude. I can decide how I am going to respond to things and where I will spend my energy.

To change my view I can Notice, Accept, Inquire, and Shift.

I start by noticing how I am feeling about the situation or circumstance and what story I am telling myself. Simply admitting that my viewpoint is an interpretation of reality, not the objective reality itself, can be freeing. I am now more open to other stories and therefore other views.

I must accept my feelings as they are. Accepting is not acting on. I acknowledge how I am feeling and my story, but I do not give them power over my response. The way I see things is real—it just isn’t always true. I cannot ignore or deny my feelings; I just don’t have to give them power.

I can now inquire as to whether there might be alternative ways of looking at the situation. I am not threatened by other views because I have accepted mine as real but uniquely mine. I find myself curious as to how other people see this situation and what their perceptions are.

This leads to a shift in my own perspective. As I am able to see through different lenses, I begin to find a more complete picture. This can take time, but we become better as we practice it more and more. Additionally, we begin to see other people’s views not as wrong, or against ours, but as different versions of the same objective reality.

None of us can perceive objective reality by ourselves. We need the viewpoints of others and the stimulus of other ways of thinking about things to expand our image. When I am willing to seek other views and be open to changing mine, I have the opportunity to expand what I can see, kind of like being in a plane flying over the ground below.

If we want communities that are open to different perspectives, we must be leaders who are open to shifting our own viewpoints. I need to stow my baggage in the overhead bin and get a window seat so I can see the bigger picture through the eyes of those around me. From 35,000 feet, the little differences melt away, and we can lead the Bison Way.