When discussing the topic of leadership, one of the first words that tends to come to mind is "vision." But what does it mean to have a "leadership vision" -- or to be a "visionary leader"? Often, it has to do with having a picture in your mind's eye that is different from -- and better than -- the current reality. And it's about realizing that who you are and how you lead are inseparable from the lens through which you view the world.
For leaders, formulating a vision is just the first half of the equation; communicating it in a clear, compelling, and inspiring way to get others on board is the other, equally important, part. As the American financier and statesman Bernard Baruch once wrote, "The ability to express an idea is well-nigh as important as the idea itself." So, how can you more effectively get others to "see" what you're saying?
That's where "flipping the eye" comes in.
The cover of my new book, VisuaLeadership: Leveraging the Power of Visual Thinking in Leadership and in Life (Post Hill Press/Simon & Schuster, 2020), features on the front cover a rainbow-colored eye. This image is meant to metaphorically represent the fact that, just as no one in the world has an eye like this, no one out there sees the world exactly the same way you do. The image is also intended to remind leaders that, in order to get their vision out of their heads and into the minds of others and to make the invisible visible and turn their vision into reality, they may want to explore the concept of "flipping the eye" in two ways:
First, leaders need to turn the eye around on themselves: to hold a mirror up to reality and reflect on their own values, beliefs, biases, and assumptions -- in short, questioning everything, and attempting to see themselves, with complete candor, as others see them.
And secondly, they need to seek to see the world -- with empathy and compassion, and in a spirit of diversity, inclusion, belonging, and equity -- through the lens of others.
Which brings me to this "elephant in the room" story.
One of my CEO executive coaching clients felt like there was a problem in his company, but he couldn't quite put his finger on what it was. He felt there was some rumbling and grumbling among his people, but when he asked if there was something going on, no one said anything.
With everyone working remotely due to the pandemic, I suggested that he record one of his Zoom staff meetings and play it back later to look for any clues. And when he did, he was horrified by what he saw.
As it turned out, he was always so focused on observing everyone else -- their facial expressions and body language -- that he never paid any attention to how he was coming across. Until that day that he "flipped the eye" on himself. What he saw was a leader disengaged and distracted. Continuously checking his phone, reading his emails, and texting while others were talking. Rolling his eyes or scowling when he disagreed. And often shutting down and interrupting people mid-sentence. Worst of all, he later discovered that he not only did this with his people during staff meetings, but he often exhibited similar behaviors when speaking with clients and vendors.
That was the elephant in the room that his people -- including those on his executive team -- were too uncomfortable and intimidated to bring up...until he saw it and brought it up himself.
Just as watching himself on video enabled this CEO to "flip the eye" in order to see how he was coming across to others, all leaders need to maintain this same level of awareness, even when not on camera. As Socrates said over 2,400 years ago, "Know thyself." This self-awareness is the foundation of being an emotionally intelligent leader.
One of the metaphors I often use to remind leaders of how they are coming across to others has to do with the question: "What is your 'leadership weather report' today? Are you a cloud of gloom and doom...or a ray of sunshine who lights up the room?" This simple analogy (and it even rhymes!) is meant to remind leaders that while the weather outside is beyond your control, the climate you create inside your team or organization is entirely up to you.
You just need to remember to "flip the eye" to keep the future looking bright.