The 360 degree perspective

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Effective leaders practice seeing from different perspectives. In the military, we conducted reconnaissance missions by employing a clover leaf pattern to observe the target from 360 degrees.

“Keep strong, if possible. In any case, keep cool. Have unlimited patience. Never corner an opponent, and always assist [them] to save face. Put yourself in [your opponent’s] shoes—so as to see things through [their] eyes. Avoid self-righteousness like the devil…” – Sir Basil Liddell Hart

Sir Basil Henry Liddell Hart was a British soldier, military historian, and theorist. He served in the British infantry in World War I and was severely wounded in the Battle of the Somme, where his battalion was nearly wiped out. With 60,000 casualties, it was the heaviest single-day loss in British military history.

Liddell Hart wrote a series of influential military histories and The Strategy of the Indirect Approach. He was one of the foremost military thinkers of the 20th century. He advocated that the best means of achieving victory was almost always the long way around. This counterintuitive idea, he argued, was also the most efficient. This is true on the battlefield, it is true in leadership, and it is true in life.

In the quote above, Liddell Hart encourages us to detach and think strategically about the best way to achieve the desired outcome. The statements are simple but extremely difficult to implement in real-life situations—to remain strong, keep cool, and have unlimited patience. This is detachment. The rest of the quote is even more difficult. It requires us to change our perspective.

A Key Component of Leadership 

Effective leaders practice seeing from different perspectives. In the military, we conducted reconnaissance missions by employing a clover leaf pattern to observe the target from 360 degrees. This 360-degree perspective was valuable because you often miss things when looking from only one direction. It’s the same thing in leadership. You have to be able to think about what other people are seeing.  

You have to be able to see the world through the eyes of your team and the eyes of your boss. What are their priorities, and what are they most concerned about? You have to be able to see through the eyes of your customers and even your competition.  

 Never corner an opponent, and always assist [them] to save face. 

 At the Somme, Liddell Hart witnessed what may be the worst slaughter in the shortest timeframe in human history. He believed the quickest means to achieve the goal—the surrender of your opponent and the cessation of conflict—was not by cornering them, but by allowing them to save face. If your opponent sees an outcome that preserves their dignity, they are far more likely to concede.  

Put yourself in [their] shoes—so as to see things through [their] eyes. 

The power of detachment is the power to see from other perspectives. The solutions are often unclear or even impossible when we only see our point of view. But when we see from the perspective of others, the answers can become clearer.  

Avoid Self-Righteousness Like the Devil… 

When others disagree or don’t see things our way, we are tempted to assign sinister intent. Liddell Hart warns us to “avoid self-righteousness like the devil.” We often accuse others of failure when we have committed the same or worse. Operating with humility and taking ownership will allow us to build effective relationships, move forward as a team, implement leadership solutions, and get problems solved.  

Real-World example:

“She probably thinks she knows better than me,” a leader told us. He disagreed with a peer, another leader, on the best strategy for the company. J.P. Dinnell and I were having a discussion with this leader about their misalignment. 

 “Why do you think she disagrees with you?” J.P. asked. “Let’s look at this from her perspective. Do you think she wants the company to fail?” 

 “No,” said the leader. “I think she wants us to win.”  

 J.P. dug deeper. “Do you think she wants to make you look bad?” 

 “I don’t think that’s the case,” the leader admitted. “But I’m having trouble seeing her perspective when my way is clearly the better way.” 

 “That doesn’t seem to be clear to her,” I said.  

 “If she wants the company to win, and she isn’t just trying to make you look bad,” I continued, “then why does she want to do things differently?” 

 “I really don’t know,” the leader answered.  

 “I think you need to ask her to help you see her perspective,” J.P. recommended.  

 “When you ask her and you truly listen, you might find that her way is actually the better way for the company to achieve its objectives,” J.P. said. “Or she might be much more willing to listen to you once you’ve listened to her.”  

 “When you see her perspective, you will be much better equipped to offer a face-saving solution that she will agree to, and then you can move forward together,” I added. “There is a leadership solution to this problem. But it requires you to examine the problem from her perspective.” 

For Action:

This week, think about what others are thinking about.  See the world from the perspective of your team, boss, peers, senior leadership, customers, subcontractors, spouse, and kids. Identify a problem you’ve been up against and try to reexamine that problem from a different perspective. Develop a solution to the problem and implement it. GO GET SOME. 

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