Broaden Your Outlook to Broaden Your Opportunities

People who advance rapidly and become senior leaders often have a key trait in common: they perform well in their area of functional expertise, but they also focus on broader issues that affect the whole business.
 
When you invest your time and attention to learn more about where the business is going as a whole, you will uncover more ways to apply your expertise to helping the organization address key challenges. At the same time, when you use your agenda to enable the bigger, broader company agenda, you will get noticed by leaders looking for others who share their big picture view.
 
Put the business first
Early in your career it can be tempting to see everything from the perspective of your immediate role or work group. Company-wide issues might not even seem relevant to your daily work. But leadership experts say taking that view is a mistake. According to research from the nonprofit Center for Creative Leadership (CCL), “a broad organizational perspective is a critical leadership competency and one of the most important factors in the advancement of executives.” They warn that having a very narrow functional focus can hamper career progress.
 
Pitfalls to progress
How do you know if your perspective is too narrow? While early in your career you will be expected to prove your competence within your discipline and in a more prescribed role, even in more junior roles you can demonstrate a more comprehensive view.
 
Warning signs at any point in your career that you are restricting your potential with an overly narrow focus can include fear of taking purposeful risks and an unwillingness to challenge yourself in new ways. These tendencies can show up in various patterns including:
 
An unwillingness to stray from what’s working. Everyone enjoys the confidence that comes from performing tasks you’ve mastered. But if you always default to doing what you’re already good at it’s almost impossible to grow and prepare for what’s next. You also risk being pigeon holed in one area at the expense of garnering varied experiences and the versatility to advance.
 
Being reluctant to address shortcomings. The flip side of over-relying on current strengths can be ignoring weaknesses and areas that supervisors have pointed to for further development. When you receive constructive feedback, you need to act on it to grow your skillset.
 
Avoiding untested capabilities. “If you shy away from a function or area, the lack of knowledge and experience may become an obvious gap in your repertoire,” according to the CCL. This happens too often when women avoid operational roles or fail to build financial acumen. Expanding expertise is critical to expanding options.  
 
Broader is better
A broader perspective is powerful because it helps you see where what you do and the skills you already have fit into and support the larger organizational agenda. When you spot areas that allow you to grow your contribution to the larger mission you will grow your impact and opportunities to advance as well.
 
The nonprofit research and leadership experts at CCL and those at 80,000 hours (a nonprofit connected with Oxford University that helps people make the most of the lifetime hours invested in a career), suggest numerous ways to broaden your perspective and workplace horizons. Here are some to consider.  
 
  • Talk to other people. A tricky part of broadening your perspective is recognizing your current perspective and how it might limit you. Talking with people in different areas of the business and at different stages in their careers, even in casual conversation, you gain insights to see problems and opportunities you might not recognize on your own.
 
  • Consider the opposite. If you have a strong opinion about something, take a step back and think about whether the exact opposite could also be true. Or listen intently to someone who sees an issue differently from you. This can also be a valuable exercise when applied to gaining insights from people at different levels of the organization. What might look like a bad move to those working on the frontlines might make perfect sense when viewed from a strategic organization-wide level. And vice versa.
 
  • Be willing to learn. New experiences can trigger fear because the process of learning pretty much guarantees you will not start off as proficient. Your performance could even suffer in the short term. It can help to remind yourself at the start that emotions such as frustration, nervousness and even embarrassment may arise. Recognizing those challenges up front can better prepare you to deal with them if they arise. You can also motivate yourself by remembering that the effort you invest in learning something new today will undoubtedly pay off in the future.
 
  • Use a framework. The 80,000 hours team describes a habit of “narrow framing” where you consider too few alternatives, use a too-narrow set of objectives to evaluate various alternatives, and even consider your future through an overly narrow lens. One way to combat that narrow field of vision is to use a framework that forces you into a broader perspective and consideration of more ideas. You might use something like a SWOT Analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats); Blindspot Analysis meant to unearth incorrect assumptions; or a basic Cost-Benefit Analysis.
 
The more you broaden your organizational perspective, the more you will grow your leadership skills and discover new opportunities for increased contribution and greater advancement.
 

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