February 26, 2011

The Lens of Leadership

I read an interesting article in Harvard Business Review (March 2011) called “Zoom In, Zoom Out” by Elizabeth Moss Kanter.

In the article, Kanter states that “the best leaders know when to focus in and when to pull back.”

The idea is that like a camera lens, we can choose to zoom in or out—and change perspectives in the way we see the world.

Perhaps, more importantly in my mind, it is the change in our perspective, that can change the way we, as leaders, behave across three dimensions—in handling ourselves as people, in decision making, and in problem solving.

I have summarized in the graphic (above) how the different perspectives of when we zoom IN and OUT manifest across those three critical leadership dimensions.

Overall, zooming IN and OUT with our leadership lens differs in terms of the impact of Ego versus Institution on how we view the situation; whether decisions are driven primarily by politics or principles; and whether problems get solved using quick fixes or long-terms solutions.

Zooming IN: helps us get into the weeds and deal with the dirty details. It involves dealing with people, process, and technology issues—up close and personal. Typically, to get a problem fixed—there are internal politics and some horse trading involved. Resolution of the problems on the ground are typically based on “who you are and who you know” and being structurally, situationally, and practically-oriented.

In contrast, Zooming OUT helps us see the big picture and focus on principles. It involves pulling back from the nuts and bolts to focus on the long-term strategy. Problems are treated as puzzle pieces that fit neatly into patterns. These are used to find “underlying causes, alternatives, and long-term solutions.” Sometimes appearing a little remote or aloof (reserved), at the extreme like an ivory-tower effort, the focus is clearly on the Institution and vision setting.

According to Kanter, “the point is not to choose one over the other, but to learn to move across a continuum of perspectives.

I would say that zooming IN is typically more like a manager and OUT generally more like a leader. But that a polished leader certainly knows when and how to zoom IN to take the management reins, when appropriate, and then zoom OUT again to lead in the broader sense.

One thing that I think needs to be clear is that those that can effectively build relationships and teamwork will show greater success whether zooming IN or OUT.

In the end, we can all learn to go along and get along as each situation dictates. As they say, “blessed be the flexible for they never get bent out of shape.”


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