What differentiates a leader? There are so many characteristics and capabilities which are well researched and documented, but what about position? I don’t mean the hierarchical position in an organisation or status – I’m talking about the unique position any leader occupies in terms of what they can see: their vantage points.
The job of a leader
As a starting point, any leader has the primary role of moving an outcome from a to b. This can be in the context of day-to-day leadership such as ensuring that from the start of a day to the end of a day, customers are served, revenue obtained, and products or services delivered for example. Or in large scale strategic leadership this could be completing the delivery of a huge technology or infrastructure multi-year project which transforms an organisation.
In either of these examples, if we simplify what the leader actually does, they are both providing clarity, direction and decisions, as well as providing space and inspiring others to be creative and collaborate together. These two areas of focus enable the group to achieve their shared endeavour.
The multiplier effects
Leaders focusing on ensuring there is clarity and space will create effective shifts and impact. However, the leader has a position which effectively gives them the ‘keys to the castle’.
The leader has a position which effectively gives them the ‘keys to the castle’.
They have the opportunity to observe, learn, develop perspective and understanding, and adapt their leadership focus and approach by ensuring that they are making the most of their different vantage points.
The dictionary definition of a vantage point is a place from which you can see a lot of things.
In an organisational context, taking different perspectives enables the leader to be informed, aware, and to refine their approach. Every leader has five main vantage points to access:
1. In amongst
The leader is seeing things up close and is right alongside the people participating in the tasks that represent the work that needs to be done.
Often described as ‘back to the floor’ this is an opportunity for leaders not only to participate in the delivery work of the organisation or team, but also to build understanding and learn whether the direction they have set is being actioned on the ground.
This vantage point also offers a unique opportunity to discuss what they can see and whether others around them see things the same way, which enables them to refine their communication approach.
2. To the side and around
The leader is seeing things up close to the work that needs to be done but is slightly removed to the side and is fully observant rather than doing. In this position there is no specific interaction with those completing the tasks and activities.
Popularised many years ago, the concept of management by walking about is an example of this vantage point. With less direct interaction, the leader has the opportunity to observe the efficiency of activities, whether or not communication and hand-offs work effectively, and how new approaches may be being adopted.
3. From high above
The leader is away from the specific tasks and activities of the work that needs to be done and is taking a vantage point that looks from high above to see the team’s activity and dynamics holistically.
This is the typical vantage point of a leader, having information such as data or attending meetings where information is shared about how teams and activities are delivering together.
Taking a vantage point that looks from high above allows leaders to see the team’s activity and dynamics holistically.
Uniquely, here the leader has access to a perspective which at the working level cannot be seen; however, it is important that when leveraging this perspective, the leader can bring observations and experiences from the two previous vantage points in order to ensure decisions being made are practical and the reality of implementation is taken into account.
4. From high out and beyond
As in the previous vantage point – from high above – the leader is away from the specific tasks and activities of the work that needs to be done. In this instance they are taking a vantage point that ensures they are gathering observations, learning and information from wider teams, competitors, industry etc.
This vantage point is very much about gaining an external view and gathering new innovative thinking, testing the market and maintaining professional curiosity.
This learning can be shared with the team to provide context and to develop and justify changes and improvements. It is also a highly satisfying and strategic perspective to explore to leaders to ensure that they are building strategic influence.
Often, we may undervalue intuition and experience in favour of hard facts and data. However, there are two key aspects to a leader ensuring that they create space for inner reflection.
Firstly, intuition is a hugely valuable asset. Allowing ourselves permission to test the logical data against how we feel, ensures that we consider the human perspective which can include emotional responses and wider experiences that we may have had – helping us to develop more effective communication approaches.
Secondly, ensuring that we create sufficient space for reflective time ensures that we are thoughtful and calm about our decision-making, and enable ourselves as leaders to process our emotions and feelings so that we can channel or manage these and be truly intentional about how we communicate and inspire others.
The multiplier effect is in exploring the full range of vantage points
As leaders we often may complete personality or leadership psychometrics which enable us to understand ourselves and to understand our preferences. As humans we all skew naturally to certain behaviours and interpretations.
Exploring the full range of vantage points enables us to be even better at creating clear direction and creating the right space for others to thrive.
The same can be true of our positioning in the organisation. We may have certain preferences when it comes to the time and energy we spend in different vantage points, and our responsibility is to challenge ourselves to ensure we are leveraging all these opportunities to bring the widest possible perspective to our leadership.
Exploring the full range of vantage points enables us to be even better at creating clear direction and creating the right space for others to thrive and take us from a to b.
If you enjoyed this topic you should check out “Creative Leadership: Why it’s time to rethink what makes a good leader”.