Looking Through the Lens of the Leader
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I had a neighbor who loved the color purple. No, not the novel or screenplay. I’m talking Barney the Dinosaur (is that still a thing?) purple. Her clothes were purple. Her car was purple. She and her husband attempted to paint her house -- you guessed it -- purple (long story, but let’s just say the home owners’ association nixed that one before the first coat dried).
I could take it or leave it, personally, but it makes me wonder why some people could see a color and love it, while others don’t. Or why some people love the taste of sushi, while others can’t go near it?
There are a number of explanations, both psychological and physical, as to why we see (taste, feel, experience…) things the way we do. It’s an interesting area of study, which I won’t get into. However, we all experience the world differently. This holds true when it comes to the way we see the organizations in which we work.
Let’s look at our differing “views” in the workplace as if they were lenses from which to gaze through. It’s quite possible -- probable, in fact -- that when an announcement is made by a company, the employee is screening things through a different lens than that from which the company views the event. Employees start by asking themselves questions about how they, personally, are impacted. For example, a company may announce that their insurance provider has increased the cost of employee healthcare. The company will cover 50 percent of the increase, but will pass the other half on to the employee. The organization sees this as, “we need to help the employee out by eating half of the increase from the insurance company,” while the employee thinks, “I can’t believe they’re increasing my rates!”
This difference in viewpoints is due to the fact that we consider things through different lenses that don’t always align: the organizational lens, the employee lens, and the leader lens. The trick for a leader, then, becomes examining matters through each of the three lenses in order to get the clear picture:
The organizational lens.
Even when employees and executives are looking at the same set of details (like the healthcare increase above), they interpret things differently. The organization sees matters that the employee does not. The organizational lens looks out for what’s best for the organization, meaning company managers see things as they affect the status of the organization. While this may seem selfish to employees, employees would not exist without the organization, and vice versa. When managers peer through this lens first, they see what needs to be done to preserve the strength of the organization, and ask, “Is this move beneficial or harmful to our success and that of our stakeholders?
The employee lens.
Through the employee lens, a manager observes from the employee perspective. Through this lens, a manager gains a better understanding of how employees are likely to interpret issues such as compensation, the culture, working conditions, work-life balance, and so on. Through the employee lens, managers may gain perspective that isn’t possible by looking through the organizational lens, and that’s important to the success of an organization. After all, isn’t the success of a company based on people? Through the employee lens, the manager asks, “How will employees see this, and what will the perceived impact be?”
The leader lens.
This lens is key to a manager’s success, yet one that most don’t handle well. It involves looking through the organizational and employee lenses simultaneously. But it doesn’t stop there, as thismeans paying attention to the leader’s own viewpoint as well. It is the ability to consider three points of view: their own (as an individual manager), the organization’s, and the employees’. This is where the leader asks, “How do organizational and employee views, as well as my own view of this, sync with the overall vision and mission of the organization?
While this probably won’t help my neighbor with bad taste, leaders who are able to use these three lenses effectively take into account their own personal needs, those of the employee, and the needs of the organization. Shifting between lenses and asking questions through these lenses as guides gives us a multiscopic, more complete perspective.