What makes leaders distinct from other organizational members or employees?
This question may be answered several ways, but one key answer centers on ownership and perspective. First, leaders bring ownership to their work—they own challenges and problems rather than pass them off to others. Second, leaders bring perspective to their work—they focus on the big picture and see how the various parts work together.
When thinking of lenses for leadership, I imagine the diverse lenses available to a professional photographer as a helpful leadership metaphor.
For instance, there are macro lenses that allow for a magnified perspective of the micro level as a photographer captures images extremely close to the subject. Through macro lenses, we can gain great perspective on small and particular objects at a granular level.
There are also wide-angle lenses that allow photographers to capture a broader perspective on the subject. Through macro lenses, we gain great perspective on broad and sweeping views of the whole of a scene.
I would argue that leaders need to draw on both of these metaphors in their leadership practice. They need to be able to zoom in on the details of an issue, but they must bring to this detailed analysis the broad perspective that comes from seeing the big picture. While organizational members or employees have their specific area of work, leaders not only look at the specifics, but also the specifics within the context of the whole.
Wide-Angle Lenses and Organizational Perspective
If you desire to move into leadership within your organization, one of the first steps is to begin thinking like a leader from your particular vantage point. This means that you need to begin using not only the macro lens of seeing details, but also the wide-angle lens of looking at the big picture.
Wide-angle leadership is about looking at the organization as a whole. In a traditional business setting, this means thinking through how various departments and units need to work together to bring success to a particular venture. From product development, to marketing, to sales, to customer service, and beyond, wide-angle leaders are not content to just pay attention to particular job responsibilities, but rather to think like owners and look at the whole of the venture in broad perspective.
“That’s Not My Job”
How many times have you either heard, or perhaps said, the phrase “That’s not my job.”
As opposed to those who think like leaders, organizational employees who are not thinking like leaders are often solely focused on what is in their job description alone. If a question, need, or demand arises that is outside of that job description, the response may simply be: “That’s not my job,” or “That’s not my problem.”
If one does not aspire to leadership responsibilities, “That’s not my job” may work as a response. But for those that want to progress into leadership responsibilities, such a response no longer cuts it.
Aspiring leaders must begin to think like leaders. Aspiring leaders push aside the “that’s not my job” logic and begin to take ownership of the problems as a whole and the solutions as a whole. They begin to think and act like owners.
Ownership over Excuses
Leadership comes down to taking ownership rather than making excuses. Leadership comes down to moving beyond just the narrow concerns of one’s job, and seeing how these narrow concerns connect to the big picture of the whole enterprise. Leadership is about ownership over excuses.
Not only is leadership about ownership, leadership is also about gaining perspective on the broader situation. Marketing leaders cannot simply be concerned with marking problems. Product development leaders cannot simply be concerned with product development concerns. Sales leaders cannot simply be concerned with sales problems. In contrast to just looking at problems at the micro level, leaders need to gain wide-angle perspective to inform area-specific problems.
In other words, wide-angle leadership is holistic leadership—seeing the unique demands of a particular business area in light of how the whole of the organization works. In contrast to a “just doing your job” mentality, leaders recognize that part of their job is about seeing the big picture, and this comes by engaging in wide-angle leadership as particular problems are addressed.
Next Steps—Starting to Think and Act Like a Leader
Leaders bring ownership to their work—they own challenges and problems rather than pass them off to others. What opportunities do you have to take ownership and responsibility in your work? Are you intuitively responding with a “That’s not my job” approach, or are you learning to take ownership for solutions?
Leaders bring perspective to their work—they focus on the big picture and see how the various parts work together. What opportunities do you have for taking a wide-angle approach to your work? Are you learning to see the big picture rather than just focusing on your specific area of work responsibilities? While you need to deliver on your particular job responsibilities, this will be best accomplished when done from a place of wide-angle leadership perspective.