Sometimes a new perspective can hit you on the head a la “I could’ve had a V-8!” (a reference for those who are 40+). For me, it happened a few years ago when I had the good fortune of working with an intern from my children’s school. Her name is Jordan Denniston, and she was a high school junior at the time. Although still young in years, Jordan was (and still is) quite wise in spirit. As I reflected on the battling perspectives of the upcoming Presidential campaign and my own, more mundane challenges of perspective, Jordan’s thoughts below helped me relearn an important leadership lesson….
Maybe you’ve heard the parable of the elephant. There are six blind men who are placed around an elephant and given different parts to touch. The first man touches the tusk, and feeling the smooth, rounded edges, confidently says “This is a club.” The second man grabs the elephant’s leg, and noticing the shape and density, he perceives that what he is holding is a pillar. The third man takes hold of the tail, and thinks, “Surely, this is a rope!” Another man takes the ear of the elephant, and is confident that what he is holding is a fan. The fifth man leans against the side of the elephant, and states “This is a wall.” Yet another man feels the same elephant’s trunk, and thinks “This is a tree trunk!”
You could even add in the narrator of the story, who obviously must have been sighted. How different is his point of view than that of the blind men?
This parable has been used to explain different world views, but it also provides a powerful metaphor for how we look at everything, every day.
Our world is filled with differences. As the saying goes, differences are what make the world go round. Denying the differences is naïve and is seen as incredible by others. Imagine the blind men arguing. How would the man who believed he was against a wall look arguing against the man that was certain that he was holding a rope to the man who could see? All it would take would be for one of the two men to patiently guide the other to his perspective, and vice versa. The best leaders listen to understand others before making decisions. As leadership guru, Stephen Covey says, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”
If you don’t listen, you don’t learn. You also have to be willing to change their opinion even if it’s uncomfortable… and all learning generally occurs when we are uncomfortable.
Any of the men in the parable could have tried to defend why they thought they were right. They could have described the shape that they were holding, the texture, and maybe been able to convince each other that maybe they weren’t holding what they thought they were.
We’re faced on a daily basis with issues that require us to see someone else’s perspective. If you don’t see the other person’s perspective, then you aren’t being fair to others, and that will be noticed. Part of being a leader is stepping out of your comfort zone in order to show others your perspective, and also being willing to change your perspective. It gives you more options and more opportunities as a leader when you are able to look at things in more than one way. When you change the way you look at things, things change the way they look.
Being a leader in today’s world is a matter of perspective. You must be confident in our own perspective while listening to others’. Much understanding and success can be found in doing so. Otherwise, you could find yourself holding an elephant’s tail, convinced that it’s a rope in your hands.
Thank you, Jordan, for reminding us that the key to successful leadership and successful living is a matter of perspective. We can be convicted about our own beliefs while still being compassionate to others and open to their perspectives.
I challenge you to seek to understand others’ perspectives – look for common ground instead of differences. May you be rewarded with new insights, understanding and renewed relationships!