“At the center of your being you have the answer; you know who you are and you know what you want.”
After I was in the Air Force a while, I kept hearing a lot of the senior officers in meetings ask, “What’s the sight picture on this?” or “What’s your sight picture?” At first, I had no idea what they were talking about, but I soon figured out that, for a pilot, a “sight picture” is the relationship of the nose of the aircraft to the horizon; or in the case of a fighter jet, it’s the relationship of the jet to an opposing jet or a bombing target.
A good sight picture is essential to ensure that the aircraft is heading in the right direction, at the right speed, and at the right altitude to reach or hit the target. It takes all of a pilot’s training and senses to maintain a proper sight picture. A pilot that keeps it true will arrive at the destination or hit the target. A pilot that lets it drift will be off course and in potential danger.
Once I understood this, I adopted the sight picture metaphor as part of my leadership approach. Having a clear sight picture of who I was and what I stood for kept me oriented to my fundamental purpose as a leader and headed toward my goals. Surprisingly, most leaders take little or no time to understand themselves and thereby miss the opportunity to take their leadership to higher levels of competence and maturity.
The process of achieving your leadership sight picture deepens your self-awareness. As each component of your picture is assembled, you build a comprehensive understanding of how and why you operate. As you uncover new layers of personal insight, you set the stage for true self-mastery. The result of this process is a transforming view of your identity that can take your leadership to whole new levels.
Getting clear on your sight picture is really where it all begins if you want to improve as a leader.
DEEPER INSIGHT INTO HOW TO DEVELOP YOUR LEADERSHIP SIGHT PICTURE
Here is an overview of what I call the leadership sight picture.
- Innate personality: Few would argue that your personality is critical to your ability to lead. Personality is innate; it is also the aggregate of all the decisions you have made, your experiences, what you felt about those decisions and experiences at the time, and how you remember them. Personality remains fairly consistent throughout life, which means there is a recognizable regularity to your personality. From a self-awareness perspective, it is vital that you gain at least some insight into your personality because it fundamentally affects how you present yourself to the world. It also greatly influences how others see and respond to you.
- Motivators: We’re all familiar with the basic human needs for food, water, and shelter. But professional success as a leader requires that your most important psychological needs are also met on a regular basis. From that perspective, understanding your underlying motivations is key to matching your needs to your actions and goals. It stands to reason that if your psychological needs are met, you’ll be able to tap into your internal resources more readily, better focus on your responsibilities, and enjoy your work more.
- Cognitive intelligence (IQ): Academic research has shown that cognitive intelligence is one of the factors that correlate to leadership. Cognitive intelligence is an important leadership characteristic, particularly when it comes to unpacking and solving complex problems. Intelligence is also one of the best predictors of general job performance (Schmidt & Hunter, 1998). Being smart doesn’t mean that you have to be a genius, but it does mean that it’s to your advantage to be smarter than the average bear.
- Emotional intelligence (EQ): IQ is a measure of an individual’s intellectual, analytical, logical, and rational abilities. EQ is the aspect of ourselves that enables us to make our way successfully in the world in terms of our relationships with others. In everyday language, emotional intelligence is referred to as “street smarts” or “common sense” (Stein & Book, 2011). Research studies have demonstrated that EQ predicts effective transformational leadership skills (Barling, Slater & Kelloway, 2000) and that its absence is related to career derailment (Ruderman, Hannum, Leslie & Steed, 2001). Knowing your EQ can be very useful to a leader.
- Strengths: A strength is a capacity for feeling, thinking, and behaving in a way that allows optimal functioning in the pursuit of valued outcomes (Snyder & Lopez, 2010). Dr. Martin Seligman, the founder of positive psychology, holds that your strengths are central to having good character and experiencing well-being. By identifying your strengths, you will be able to put them in play, be at your best most of the time, and add to your value as a leader.
- Blind spots: Blind spots are those aspects, usually negative, of your personality or your behavior that are known to others but not to you. Said another way, blind spots are areas in which you remain stubbornly rigid in your views. They prevent you from learning and adapting to change. Obviously, awareness of your blind spots will help you take action to eliminate them on your journey to become a more effective leader.
- Biases: Like all human beings—past, present, and future—you are hardwired with innate biases and heuristics (built-in problem-solving routines) that automatically inhibit your otherwise amazingly flawless judgment and decision making. Most of the time these biases and heuristics are so natural that you don’t even realize you’re using them; and even when you do know, it’s hard to change your behavior. What’s more, your reasoning becomes imprecise and incomplete, which can lead to distorted views of a situation, incorrect interpretations, inaccurate judgments, and bad decisions. These are detrimental to a leader. Because biases are hardwired, the key here is to become aware of the important ones and put controls in place to minimize their impact.
- Dominant patterns: As a leader, you possess unique brain wiring—patterns—that influences your behavior. These deep-seated patterns are filters you use to interact with the world in particular situations. They also shape how you process information and make decisions. These patterns reveal what motivates and demotivates you in a given context (motivation traits), as well as the internal mental processing you use in specific contexts (working traits). Learning to listen for and identify these patterns is key to increasing your understanding of your behavior and that of others. This is powerful stuff for a leader if you can learn to harness it.
- Moral beliefs and ethical code: This element of your sight picture addresses the heart of what you stand for in terms of right and wrong (morality) and how you enact those beliefs in your daily leadership walk (ethics). I believe that no other part of your sight picture will have a greater effect on your ability to lead others. Therefore, getting clear on your moral beliefs and ethical code is indispensable.
- Passions: Your passions are those feelings that give you effortless energy, enthusiasm, and enjoyment. These are the feelings you experience when you are doing what you really like to do. Passion is a force multiplier when it comes to leadership because it buoys not only your spirit but also the spirit of those you lead.
- Limiting distortions: As we all do, you have automatic thought patterns that distort the reality of who you are or the situation in which you find yourself. Bringing these thought patterns to the surface helps eliminate the hold they have over you and allows you to put countermeasures in place. Productively dealing with your limiting distortions paves the way to a healthier self-image and more productive leadership behavior.
- Professional skills: Conducting a solid inventory of your technical skills in your functional specialty is important so that you know what your strengths, weaknesses, and gaps are—particularly as they apply to where you are in your career. Part of your credibility as a leader is based on how competent you are in your designated area.
- Resilience: The demands of your leadership role will place stresses upon you; in order to sustain steady, high-level performance, you must become stress resilient. Lack of stress resilience leads to reductions in performance due to decreases in cognitive intelligence, emotional intelligence, and health. In short, chronic stress is a real danger for you as a leader. When you are stress resilient, you have the capacity and the reserves to productively deal with and manage stress, and thereby avoid catastrophic leadership failure.
- Capacity for humility and service: Two of the most important fundamental virtues underlying our view of heroic leadership are humility and service. Being a heroic leader means that you are someone who places your talents and skills, whether large or small, in the service of others. What’s more, you serve with an unassuming humility that allows you to fearlessly employ all that you are, while also acknowledging your limitations and others’ strengths.
- Personal mission statement: Your personal mission statement integrates all that you have learned as part of building your leadership sight picture. It captures your purpose, your vision, who you want to become, and what you intend to accomplish at this particular stage in your leadership journey. Your mission statement helps focus your energy, actions, behaviors, and decisions toward those things that matter most to you as a leader.
Once you go through each of these steps, you will (1) have established an exceptionally clear leadership sight picture; (2) know yourself in a much more profound way than you ever have before; and (3) have set the stage for growth, change, and improvement as a heroic leader.
- Having a clear sight picture keeps you oriented toward your fundamental purpose and goals as a leader.
- Your leadership sight picture is about self-awareness: knowing who you are, what you stand for, and what makes you tick.
- Once you establish your personal leadership sight picture, it will set you on the path toward self-mastery.
- Of the fifteen elements, which one do you feel is most important to you? Why?
- Of the fifteen elements, which do you think will require the most work on your part?
- What are some things you can do to build your leadership sight picture?