Zooming: A Way to Change Focus to Gain New Insights

As human resources professionals have embraced the business partner role and become more involved with helping managers leverage the talents of their group, leadership has risen as a focus of their work. This may take the form of group or team events, workshops delivering content on leadership, or one-on-one coaching of managers to help them achieve their results and overcome obstacles. I experienced that transition myself, during the 20 years I was a human resources leader — more time and focus was devoted to helping managers achieve their business results.

Zoom Leadership: Change Your Focus, Change Your Insights is a decision tool that leaders, and those who support them, can use to enhance decisions. It was developed while providing leadership coaching to leaders who were faced with dilemmas. These may be in the form of competing commitments, or choosing between two good (but mutually exclusive) steps, or two dreaded actions, or an outcome that promised good results but clashed with the culture, or other types of stresses. (Deciding between good and bad outcomes is easy!)

Zoom Leadership involves two key components: the concept of zooming closer in and further out, as with a video camera or online map. And the concept of looking through four lenses: Think, Act, Feel and Witness. Sometimes just one of those different areas of focus can be enough to unlock stuck thinking or discouragement. Sometimes more lenses or more changes in focus can provide the needed solution.

What is Zoom Leadership?

Zoom Leadership can be a simple, yet powerful approach for leaders when implemented properly. I define it in the following manner:

Zoom Leadership is a streamlined approach to exploring and altering perspective to create insightful options when faced with seemingly intractable problems.

Over the years I have come across many instances of business professionals who struggled a great deal with their challenges. One such individual, Rachel, found herself constantly under siege. She had been with the company nine years, a lot longer than many of her counterparts. As a result, she had vast knowledge about the company, its history, and processes. She felt strong devotion and loyalty to the company, as well as a strong sense of teamwork, and ended up taking on tasks that were significantly outside the scope of her role in order to assist people in other departments. Often she worked at the office late into the evening.

Rachel objected to how others in her organization tended to have an individual focus, unaware of the impact of their words. Co-workers would sometimes be careless about how they represented the company in client meetings. Some blatantly criticized the company to a client. Others apologized for a delay in responsiveness when the client was actually at fault.

That wasn’t all. Rachel was frustrated that people from other departments repeatedly asked her for the same information. Rachel felt that the supervisors and managers of their respective departments should serve as more responsible resources for their team members.

On the one hand, Rachel felt she had a big picture perspective: She was looking at the interests of the company as a whole. She was invested in its long-term success, professionally and personally. She wanted to be helpful, so she kept adding more to her already filled plate.

On the other hand, she felt her company’s implementation team had a responsibility to offer better training, improve access to knowledge, establish quality control measures, improve their processes, and create and analyze metrics (such as weekly reporting) that would reveal issues before they were stumbled upon.

Rachel had already “zoomed out” to Thinking about the big picture. She had also simultaneously “zoomed in” to notice errors in details. However, the Action she had “zoomed in” on involved her taking on too much work. Her reluctance to push back on her workload was due to Feelings of commitment and responsibility to the company and the clients. Eventually, I envisioned Rachel heading towards burnout.

Think: Cognitive activities such as strategizing, analyzing, comparing and researching.
Act: Taking action, intentionally to produce results, or out of habit.
Feel: This includes self-awareness and the all-important Emotional Intelligence.
Witness: The practice of active listening that lets others think aloud and gain clarity.

Learning to say ‘No’

I was well aware of the company’s growth plans and thought that Rachel’s heroic measures were never going to be enough. I posed the following question to her: “What do you think would happen if you were to focus all of your thoughts and energy on sustainability and scalability?” She carefully considered that reframe. Suddenly, her perspective “zoomed out.” She realized that taking on workload and problems from her colleagues was only enabling what she perceived as their laziness. Contrary to her intentions, her rescue efforts were holding them back from learning opportunities. Once she drew this conclusion, she felt liberated about saying “No” to people when they were looking for her fix their problems or take up their slack. She resolved to try this new approach, although moving out of her habitual helpfulness would be challenging.   She could see the payoff for the company. Zooming out to place sustainability and scalability in her field of vision enabled her to Think and Feel differently, which meant she could Act differently.

Where is your focus?

Today, we are in a wonderful age of information. We have far more information than we can handle and access to all of it right at our fingertips. We can pursue whatever topics or facts prompt our curiosity any time of day, as long as we have power cords, outlets (or chargers), and Internet access.

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Our scarce resource is attention span and being able to stay focused and get things done without the distraction of so much accessible data. A critical aspect of being a great leader is being able to devote enough attention to a problem in order to solve it or create something new.

In order to reclaim your attention, which you may not even realize has dissipated, you must learn how to quickly reframe: To look at a familiar situation from a fresh, more empowering and effective point of view. Reframing leads to several positive outcomes:

  • Improved relationship skills — Working well with diverse people
  • Greater self-awareness — Noticing reactions at the intellectual, emotional, and physical levels
  • Deeper understanding of values — Knowing the foundation that provides confidence and clarity
  • Clearer life purpose — Awareness of the daily contributions and lasting legacy that motivate oneself and others

With regard to that final point, leaders who are aligned with their values and life purpose have more energy, vitality, results, and impact.

Keeping it straightforward

By encouraging leaders to “move in and out” to view their perceptions of reality, Zoom Leadership provides an immediate visceral experience, an altering of the status quo. It can be illuminating or disturbing, as our sense of the world as we know it becomes reordered. It provides quick access to options, yet it also can be profound in terms of gained insights.

Most of us habitually use the zoom feature on a cellphone camera or video camera to alter the size and scope of the subject. Online maps and apps also allow us to quickly change the size and scope of the area. Leaders I’ve worked with have found zooming to be a comfortable, yet provocative metaphor to consider new options.

Leaders are best served when they can remain grounded in their current knowledge of how things get done while at the same time altering their perspectives.

Creative Commons image by Anders Ljungberg

Janet Britcher, MBA, author of Zoom Leadership: Change Your Focus, Change Your Insightsis president of Transformation Management, LLC, an organizational transformation and effectiveness consultancy. Janet has extensive leadership, executive coaching, human resources and organizational consulting experience, as well as serving as adjunct faculty in management at Lesley University and Regis College. She is a coach supervisor for William James College Executive Coaching program, a coach with the executive education program at the MIT Sloan School of Management, and is a certified coach through the International Coach Federation.

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