Getting the Outside-In Perspective

Posted 01.30.2009

Traffic1 When you’re moving up in your leadership career, it’s a sad but true phenomenon that it’s easy to think that it’s all about you.  This really isn’t that surprising since most high potential leaders get a lot of responsibility and positive reinforcement at a relatively early age.  If you get rewarded for pushing your agenda through, it’s natural that you’d keep doing that.  The long term result, however, can be an inside-out view of the world that starts with the idea that it’s all about you and whatever it is you’re trying to accomplish.  (If it sounds like I’m speaking from personal experience, it’s because I am.)

As I discussed in The Next Level, leaders learn to take an outside-in perspective or they quit progressing.  This is probably even more true in the current economic environment.  You have to shift mindsets from what do “I” want to what are “we" trying to accomplish.  Then you need to shift again from what are “we” trying to accomplish to what are “they” doing.  The “they” is any external actor that has an impact on your organization (e.g. customers, competitors, governments, foreign countries, etc.)  So, the outside-in perspective is about a double shift – from I to We to They.

The Financial Times recently reported on a new way that organizations are encouraging the outside-in approach.  A non-profit group called Leaders Quest stages trips to developing parts of the world for high potential leaders in the West.  One man who went to China with the program said, “I got to see my own lack of knowledge as contrasted with their broader knowledge in a wealth of areas, so it demonstrated how backward I was in terms of my worldly understanding.  Being American, sometimes we think the world revolves around us.”  A woman who went to India for a month on a similar program in which she assisted a local business while on a sabbatical from her employer Ernst & Young said, “That feeling of being the one who is different made me think about the people we try to support in our own organization from different parts of the world.”

This article challenged me to look for ways to broaden my own outside-in perspective.  What have you done to broaden yours that you could share with this blog’s community?