Tag Archive for big picture

“Quotable,” on seeing the big picture

“A good leader needs to be able to see the big picture. Like puzzle pieces, each piece of the context, the environment, the organization, or the situation fits into a larger context, and the leader can best see how it fits when viewing the whole picture. In order to see the whole picture, that leader must be able to get on the balcony, zoom out, and get above the forest to be able to see clearly. Being able to do this will keep him from getting lost among the trees, and will provide the perspective necessary to implement changes and adjustments. Learn to see the big picture.”

See the Big Picture

Earlier this month, I shared a post on the importance of using a dashboard to help you keep your eye on the big picture.  That post reminded me of the equal importance of simply being able to see the big picture, which was the subject of a post that I shared about a year and a half ago.  It seemed appropriate to revisit that topic, to help us connect the value of a dashboard with the value of seeing the big picture.

I enjoy puzzles. I enjoy all kinds of puzzles – word puzzles, number puzzles, brain games, etc. – but in this instance I am specifically referring to jigsaw puzzles, the ones that are pictures cut into hundreds of little pieces that need to be assembled. And I have a preferred method of assembly: first turn all of the pieces face-up, setting aside those that have a straight edge (the outside frame); then assemble the outside frame; finally, begin to assemble the rest of the pieces, looking first for pieces that more obviously fit in the same section together. In the process of putting the puzzle together, however, one of the most important components is not the puzzle itself, but rather, the picture on the box.

It is the picture on the box that provides the perspective and the vision of what is being assembled. It provides a visual landscape that helps in determining the general context or place where an individual piece belongs. It’s a map that lets you see where you want to go. I once used the picture on the puzzle box to illustrate a lesson in a class I was teaching, by giving a puzzle to each of several small groups of people. Some of the groups had the puzzle box, so they could see their picture, but some of the groups did not (and some had all the correct pieces, but some had the wrong pieces or were missing pieces; that served to make a different point). Part of the purpose of the lesson was to illustrate the importance of “the big picture,” or the master plan, for managing a process, a task, or life itself.

Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit, by J. R. R. Tolkien, demonstrated the same concept when he and the company of dwarves were traveling through the Mirkwood Forest. As they traveled, the troupe lost sight of the path they needed to follow and became lost, and began to be disoriented. Eventually, Bilbo was sent to climb a tree in order to get above the canopy, and when he did, two things happened: his head cleared, and he could see where they were in relation to where they needed to go (in the movie, he could see the edge of the forest; in the book, he could only see more trees).

Heifetz & Laurie address that idea in a Harvard Business Review article, “The Work of Leadership.”   In the article, they discuss the importance and challenge of adapting behaviors and changes in order to thrive in a new or different environment, and specifically identify six principles for leading adaptive work. The first principle is labeled “Get on the Balcony,” which is explained as follows: “Get on the balcony. Don’t get swept up in the field of play. Instead, move back and forth between the ‘action’ and the ‘balcony.’ You’ll spot emerging patterns, such as power struggles or work avoidance. This high-level perspective helps you mobilize people to do adaptive work” (2011, p. 60). They go on to say that “business leaders have to be able to view patterns as if they were on a balcony. It does them no good to be swept up in the field of action” (p. 60). The emphasis in on the importance of a leader being able to move between the balcony and the field of action, and the necessity of the balcony for providing perspective.

Collins & Hansen also address the idea in Great by Choice (2011), in a chapter that discusses identifying and responding to dangers and changes in the environment. Using the terms “zoom out” and “zoom in,” they point out that effective leaders, “when they sense danger, immediately zoom out to consider how quickly a threat is approaching and whether it calls for a change in plans. Then they zoom in, refocusing their energies into executing objectives” (p. 122). The authors then describe the discipline required to “zoom out for fast yet rigorous decision making and zoom in for fast yet superb execution” (p. 122). The discussion emphasizes the need for effective leaders to be able to step back and zoom out to the big picture in order to recognize and understand the changes and issues in the environment, which then makes them better able to zoom back in and focus on plans, objectives, and details.

The implication is simply this: a good leader needs to be able to see the big picture. Like puzzle pieces, each piece of the context, the environment, the organization, or the situation fits into a larger context, and the leader can best see how it fits when viewing the whole picture. In order to see the whole picture, that leader must be able to get on the balcony, zoom out, and get above the forest to be able to see clearly. Being able to do this will keep him from getting lost among the trees, and will provide the perspective necessary to implement changes and adjustments. Learn to see the big picture.

Collins, J., & Hansen, M. T. (2011). Great by Choice:  Uncertainty, Chaos, and Luck – Why Some Thrive Despite Them All. New York, NY: Harper Collins Publishers.

Heifetz, R. A., and Laurie, D. L. (2011). “The Work of Leadership,” in HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Leadership. Harvard Business Review Press: Boston, MA.

Connect the Dots

Most of us probably remember doing “connect the dots” picture puzzles when we were young.  The page would have dots all over the paper, usually numbered in a sequence.  The task was to place your pencil tip (or crayon) on the first dot, draw a line to the second dot, then another line from the second dot to the third, and so on, until all the dots were connected.  At that point a recognizable picture had emerged (at least, if you connected the right dots together, it did).  The reason they formed that picture was because they were not a random smattering of dots; rather, they were each specifically and intentionally a point on a bigger picture, and therefore, connecting those dots allowed the picture to take shape.

Astronomers do something similar by grouping stars together (constellations) and drawing imaginary lines between those stars in such a way as to form a picture or a symbol.  This makes it easier to identify and remember particular groupings and locations, relative to direction, season, and time.  The real significance of the picture is not the picture itself, but rather the particular arrangement, and the connectedness of the stars in that arrangement.  In other words, these specific stars appear in this particular place, in relation to each other, at this time of the night and year.  This knowledge is what was used by mariners of the past to navigate ships, providing a map in the sky for direction and location.

One of the skills that an effective leader learns to harness is connecting the dots.  Generally, a leader is responsible for providing and shaping vision, which requires the ability to see and communicate the big picture. Part of seeing the big picture includes seeing how various pieces fit together to form that picture.  It is an understanding that certain events, actions, and ideas are going to complement each other in a way that produces a positive impact.  Therefore a good leader is able to identify those connections in order to harness their connectedness.  He also helps others to recognize those connections.  In an article originally published in the Harvard Business Review, Warren Bennis and Robert Thomas describe this as the importance of grasping context, saying, “The ability to grasp context implies an ability to weigh a welter of factors, ranging from how very different groups of people interpret a gesture to being able to put a situation in perspective. Without this, leaders are utterly lost, because they cannot connect with their constituents” (p. 112).

Rath and Conchie, in Strengths-Based Leadership (2008), also speak to this when they categorize 34 leadership strengths into four basic categories, and then identify one of those strengths as Connectedness.  They explain, “people strong in the Connectedness theme have faith in the links between all things. They believe there are few coincidences and that almost every event has a reason” (p. 139). This involves helping people to see how various pieces are parts of a whole, or part of a bigger picture.  The person with this ability recognizes interrelatedness between events, people, or both. It is the ability to connect the dots and then help others see the connection.

This happens to be one of my particular strengths (it showed up as one of my top five when I took the StrengthsFinder profile).  Part of the reason stems from my faith in the sovereignty of God, which in turn leads to confidence that things don’t happen by chance. Part of the reason simply stems from an ability to recognize connections.  The realization of this emerged over time, and eventually I understood that it was one of the things that made me more effective as a leader.  I could identify factors in the environment that were impacting outcomes, or see how specific individuals were influencing culture, or spot the connection between seemingly unconnected events.  This in turn helped me to understand how to shape vision, or make adjustments, or communicate information.

For example, when I began working in one school, I discovered that the students as a whole were performing poorly on standardized tests, like the SAT and the ACT.  As I reviewed curriculum, I could also see that many of the classroom tests were focused on details and memorization, but at the expense of critical thinking and interacting with ideas.  I also learned that most students did not take practice standardized tests (like the PSAT or PLAN), because it was voluntary, and so they little familiarity with those tests.  Although those pieces were not the only reasons, I could see the connection between those factors and poor test scores.  My response was to create tests that improved critical thinking and reasoning, require all students to take the PSAT and PLAN, and create and institute a Test Prep course.  The result was a notable improvement in average scores.  But it began because I recognized the connections.

In two different organizations, I experienced an initial lack of trust, and resistance to my efforts.  When I took the time to do some research and understand some of the history and culture, I learned in each place that the organization had been through a period of harshness, excessive control, and poor treatment of employees.  It was clear that there was a connection between their past experience and their responses to me.  An understanding of that connection helped me to determine my own actions and responses, enabling me to intentionally restore and rebuild trust.

More recently, connecting the dots of environmental factors led to changes that I implemented in the instructional process.  Over the last ten years, I could see that young people were being affected by technology.  The onsite of the Internet, with accessibility to information, social media, and electronic devices are all factors that combined to influence how children interact with the world around them.  Global communication became possible, making the world smaller.  Technology was incorporated into the workplace environment in many fields.  When I connected these dots, the conclusion was clear – digital integration needed to be part of the classroom.  As a result, I initiated a 1:1 program, one in which each student carried an electronic device into the classroom as an educational tool, and teachers incorporated the use of those devices in the learning process.

The lesson for you is this: you will be more effective if you can learn to connect the dots.  Find the connections, and use those connections to make decisions that will result in positive changes and improvements, decisions that will move you and the organization forward.  And here’s a tip: it’s easier to see connections if you can zoom out and see the big picture.

Bennis, W., & Thomas, R. (2011). “Crucibles of Leadership” in HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Leadership. Harvard Business Review Press: Boston, MA.

Rath, T., & Conchie, B. (2008). Strengths-Based Leadership: Great Leaders, Teams, and Why People Follow. Gallup Press: New York, NY.

See It From God’s Perspective

Throughout the Old Testament it is apparent that God has a sovereign plan and purpose – largely connected to the restoration of his house and of his people – and He works to carry out that plan. However, we usually spend our time acting completely unaware of that truth in our own lives today. We know that it is true, in a nebulous, spiritual truth kind of way, and we can see it clearly in retrospect (both in the stories in the Bible and in reflection of our own past experiences) but in the actual current day-to-day experiences of our lives, we behave as if we don’t realize it.

The events of Ezra provide a wonderful backdrop for seeing God’s perspective, for spotting His sovereignty at work in apparently random circumstances. The general story involves the fulfillment of the prophecy found in Jeremiah 29, when God foretold the return of the people of Israel to Jerusalem. The first half of Ezra, then, describes the return and the rebuilding of the temple, while the second half of the book describes Ezra’s return with spiritual leaders a number of years later. Although God’s sovereignty is evident all through the book, interspersed throughout are a number of references that specifically point out His intentional involvement. Among these verses are the following:

  • Ezra 1:1, “the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom”
  • Ezra 1:5, “all those whose spirits God had moved, arose to go up and build the house of the Lord which is in Jerusalem”
  • Ezra 5:5, “the eye of their God was upon the elders of the Jews, so that they could not make them cease till a report could go to Darius”
  • Ezra 6:22, “for the Lord made them joyful, and turned the heart of the king of Assyria toward them, to strengthen their hands in the work of the house of God”

These verses reveal that God’s sovereignty is evident from start to finish, throughout all of the events and activities that were taking place. They also reveal that God’s sovereignty occurs both externally – directing outside circumstances, people, and activity – and internally – moving in the hearts of people, including me.

It is against this backdrop that we learn from Ezra how to see the big picture from God’s perspective, and how that affects motivation and purpose. The lesson emerges in chapter 7, a pivotal chapter in understanding Ezra’s leadership (I touched briefly on this in a previous post, Ezra’s Model of Team Leadership). The chapter details how Ezra had been granted permission by King Artaxerxes to return to Jerusalem (with another reminder of God’s hand in that circumstance in 7:6 – “and the king granted him all that he asked, for the hand of the Lord his God was on him”). But then the king went beyond granting permission, and wrote a letter that provided authority, protection, and significant resources for Ezra (7:11-26). After the proclamation of the letter, Ezra’s initial response is recorded in verse 27: “Blessed be the Lord God of our fathers, who has put such a thing as this in the king’s heart.” His response clearly reveals that Ezra saw God’s hand in all that had happened. He was able to look beyond his own finite, human scope of vision and see the events from God’s perspective. He recognized that God’s purpose was over and through the circumstances.

As a result, he understood the real importance of what was happening, which in turn shaped his purpose and drive, and his communication to his team, which we see in 8:28: “And I said to them, ‘You are holy to the Lord; the articles are holy also; and the silver and the gold are a freewill offering to the Lord God of your fathers.” Ezra helped his team to understand that God had a sovereign purpose, and that the tasks that they were carrying out were being used by God to fulfill that purpose; therefore, their work was holy. Ultimately, an understanding of the holiness of their task (and of themselves) impacted their drive, their commitment, and their performance.

This story from the life of Ezra provides a great lesson for our leadership: while it is important – and even necessary – for a leader to be able to see the big picture, the Christian leader must take it a step further and see the big picture from God’s perspective. Then, when our understanding and determination of purpose are filtered through recognition of God’s purpose, it affects how we answer two important questions: Where are we going, and why are we going there?

It is always important for a leader to determine and define the necessary and intended direction, but part of understanding this comes from seeing the bigger picture of context from God’s perspective. When you are able to do that – to see the big picture from God’s perspective – you have an understanding of destination that goes beyond the visible and immediate future. You recognize a purpose that is bigger than you, that is bigger than your big picture, and which has an eternal impact.

What follows is an impact on motivation. For people to respond, there must be a clearly established and communicated purpose and motive, one that makes sense to and resonates with people, and helps them to understand and believe in why they are doing what they are doing. When they can see that they are fulfilling a role in God’s plan, then the work they are doing is elevated to a new level of importance; more than that, it is elevated to an act of holiness. For the follower of Jesus, this provides true motivation.

So, seeing the big picture is important, but seeing it from God’s perspective is more important. The challenge for you and me is to learn to open our eyes to God’s presence and intentional involvement, not just in the history recorded in Scripture, but in our lives today; it is to see the events and circumstances that are taking place in our daily experiences from His perspective. And when our eyes have been opened, and we recognize His sovereign purpose, then our responses, our purpose, our motives, and our motivation rise to whole new level.

Quotable (Heifetz & Laurie, on seeing the big picture)

“Get on the balcony. Don’t get swept up in the field of play. Instead, move back and forth between the ‘action’ and the ‘balcony.’ You’ll spot emerging patterns, such as power struggles or work avoidance. This high-level perspective helps you mobilize people to do adaptive work.”

Heifetz, R. A., and Laurie, D. L. (2011). “The Work of Leadership,” in HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Leadership. Harvard Business Review Press: Boston, MA.

See the Big Picture

I enjoy puzzles. I enjoy all kinds of puzzles – word puzzles, number puzzles, brain games, etc. – but in this instance I am specifically referring to jigsaw puzzles, the ones that are pictures cut into hundreds of little pieces that need to be assembled. And I have a preferred method of assembly: first turn all of the pieces face-up, setting aside those that have a straight edge (the outside frame); then assemble the outside frame; finally, begin to assemble the rest of the pieces, looking first for pieces that more obviously fit in the same section together. In the process of putting the puzzle together, however, one of the most important components is not the puzzle itself, but rather, the picture on the box.

It is the picture on the box that provides the perspective and the vision of what is being assembled. It provides a visual landscape that helps in determining the general context or place where an individual piece belongs. It’s a map that lets you see where you want to go. I once used the picture on the puzzle box to illustrate a lesson in a class I was teaching, by giving a puzzle to each of several small groups of people. Some of the groups had the puzzle box, so they could see their picture, but some of the groups did not (and some had all the correct pieces, but some had the wrong pieces or were missing pieces; that served to make a different point). Part of the purpose of the lesson was to illustrate the importance of “the big picture,” or the master plan, for managing a process, a task, or life itself.

Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit, by J. R. R. Tolkien, demonstrated the same concept when he and the company of dwarves were traveling through the Mirkwood Forest. As they traveled, the troupe lost sight of the path they needed to follow and became lost, and began to be disoriented. Eventually, Bilbo was sent to climb a tree in order to get above the canopy, and when he did, two things happened: his head cleared, and he could see where they were in relation to where they needed to go (in the movie, he could see the edge of the forest; in the book, he could only see more trees).

Heifetz & Laurie address that idea in a Harvard Business Review article, “The Work of Leadership.”   In the article, they discuss the importance and challenge of adapting behaviors and changes in order to thrive in a new or different environment, and specifically identify six principles for leading adaptive work. The first principle is labeled “Get on the Balcony,” which is explained as follows: “Get on the balcony. Don’t get swept up in the field of play. Instead, move back and forth between the ‘action’ and the ‘balcony.’ You’ll spot emerging patterns, such as power struggles or work avoidance. This high-level perspective helps you mobilize people to do adaptive work” (2011, p. 60). They go on to say that “business leaders have to be able to view patterns as if they were on a balcony. It does them no good to be swept up in the field of action” (p. 60). The emphasis in on the importance of a leader being able to move between the balcony and the field of action, and the necessity of the balcony for providing perspective.

Collins & Hansen also address the idea in Great by Choice (2011), in a chapter that discusses identifying and responding to dangers and changes in the environment. Using the terms “zoom out” and “zoom in,” they point out that effective leaders, “when they sense danger, immediately zoom out to consider how quickly a threat is approaching and whether it calls for a change in plans. Then they zoom in, refocusing their energies into executing objectives” (p. 122). The authors then describe the discipline required to “zoom out for fast yet rigorous decision making and zoom in for fast yet superb execution” (p. 122). The discussion emphasizes the need for effective leaders to be able to step back and zoom out to the big picture in order to recognize and understand the changes and issues in the environment, which then makes them better able to zoom back in and focus on plans, objectives, and details.

The implication is simply this: a good leader needs to be able to see the big picture. Like puzzle pieces, each piece of the context, the environment, the organization, or the situation fits into a larger context, and the leader can best see how it fits when viewing the whole picture. In order to see the whole picture, that leader must be able to get on the balcony, zoom out, and get above the forest to be able to see clearly. Being able to do this will keep him from getting lost among the trees, and will provide the perspective necessary to implement changes and adjustments. Learn to see the big picture.

 

Collins, J., & Hansen, M. T. (2011). Great by Choice:  Uncertainty, Chaos, and Luck – Why Some Thrive Despite Them All. New York, NY: Harper Collins Publishers.

Heifetz, R. A., and Laurie, D. L. (2011). “The Work of Leadership,” in HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Leadership. Harvard Business Review Press: Boston, MA.