Transitions Coaching Blog

Thoughts. Reflections. Intentions.

Perspective Taking: A (maybe-not-so) Simple Practice for Leading in Complex Times

By Karen Konrath, Leadership Coach  |  July 5, 2016

P e r s p e c t i v e

As leaders, it’s a word we are all familiar with. We ask for another’s, we offer up our own, we definitely use the word liberally throughout out working days, weeks, lives.

But what’s it really about?

I recently enrolled in an amazing 12-week course offered by researchers and thought leaders in the field of adult development and leadership. The content has my head spinning! There have been so many things to think about, concepts to process and perspectives to consider – not only the perspectives of the other students in the course, but also the perspectives of the various instructors.

It was during one of these sessions, led by teacher, writer, researcher and coach Jennifer Garvey Berger, that got me thinking even more about perspectives.

Berger’s recent book, Simple Habits for Complex Times: Powerful Practices for Leaders, encourages leaders to adopt what she calls “three simple practices” to better navigate our ever-changing, increasingly complex world:

  • Ask different questions
  • Take multiple perspectives
  • See the system

I was hooked! These sounded so do-able!  I thought to myself, “Let’s go!”

So I decided to play around with these a bit and chose the second practice – perspective taking. And as I thought about the times I recently considered (or failed to consider) the perspectives of others – and how that choice likely impacted the situation – I came to really see how the mere act of consciously considering another perspective can stretch our thinking about a problem to a whole new place.

Seems simple enough. Right…?


…maybe this particular practice, at least at first, may not be all that simple. After all, soliciting multiple perspectives could push someone into a pretty uncomfortable place.

For one, it forces us to face the fact that maybe our viewpoint isn’t the only right one – gasp! That it’s possible two very different perspectives can both be right.

And it definitely takes a certain kind of humility to consider where our own beliefs and mindsets (things we hold tightly, things we absolutely know to be true in our minds) might actually be getting in our way.

It might even require that we seek out those people who drive us crazy (you know, those folks we think don’t have a clue) and ask them – and, more important, genuinely listen to – what they think. Yikes!

So why go through all this effort, work and discomfort?

I believe there are LOTS of benefits – particularly to leaders.

After all, the practice of soliciting and really considering others perspectives is at the heart of building stronger relationships.

And any real problem solving requires that we ask how our own perspectives could be limiting instead of expanding our possibilities.

  • GATHER.  Pull together a group of people with diverse backgrounds, skills, experience. Intentionally select people that may be completely unrelated to the problem at hand.
  • SHARE.  Tell them of the problem/issue with which you are grappling. Let them know you are STUCK.
  • ASK.  Encourage them to share their perspectives and ideas on the problem. Just let them talk.
  • LISTEN.  With an open and curious mind. Be extremely aware of where/when your own opinions start to creep in and let them go for now.
  • LEARN.  Ask questions back to them that help you explore the problem from a very different vantage point.
  • INTEGRATE.  Now step back. Take your perspective (because it is an important one) and bump it up against everything you’ve just learned to possibly reframe the problem and reconsider your options. See what emerges.

In today’s ever-changing, complex (and sometimes even scary) world of work, why wouldn’t we choose to try this out?

To test it. Experiment with it. Practice it until it feels less threatening and more beneficial.

I personally think we’ve got way less to lose and much more to gain.  What do you think?

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Executive Coach Karen Konrath works and writes out of Milwaukee, WI. She founded Transitions Coaching to encourage, support and inspire leaders in their pursuit of personal fulfillment and professional success. Learn more about Transitions Coaching.