Time to Change Perspective – The Military Leader


“I should have seen that coming…”

“If I hadn’t had been so focused on this, I could’ve anticipated that…”

“Where did THIS come from???”

We’ve all uttered these words at one point or another, searching for an explanation as to how our circumstances managed to outpace our intellect, premonition capacity, focused research, and detailed planning effort.

Army Staff Sgt. Ariel Hughes pulls a simulated wounded soldier through an obstacle during the Drill Sergeant of the Year Competition at Camp Bullis, Texas, Aug. 19, 2019. Twelve soldiers from around the U.S. took part in the four-day competition. Link to DoD photo.

Perspective is Decisive

Often, leaders fail to see the impending train wreck because they’re not leading at their level. Their perspective is off…inappropriately focused on something that doesn’t matter. Perhaps, a crisis. Or a shiny data point. Or a loud and captivating person. Any number of events, objects, and interactions are sufficient to divert leader attention.

But a leader’s job is to define priorities, and reality…which means they have a discerning lens through which they see the world, the organization’s landscape of effort. They know how to see that world and have the discipline to do so.

The question is:  how do you know what your appropriate perspective is?

What are your triggers for changing perspective? For pausing amidst chaos and unceasing organizational effort to assess the terrain and make course corrections? How do you know when you should stop focusing on small tasks and explore big problems? When do you switch from shallow, rote thinking to deep, creative thinking? What triggers have you identified to snap you out of the comfortable intellectual path on which you so diligently planned…and force you to consider alternatives that are counter to everything your team is doing?

Perspective Triggers

…How do you know when to think differently?

Here are some triggers to consider:

  • Systems/Processes – at the completion of a routine staff or organizational function like the Operations Process, when everyone is comfortable with the plan. Or perhaps when you make a big organizational change or transition from one phase of effort into another.
  • Events/Effects – when friendly, enemy, or environmental events occur. For example, crossing the Line of Departure in an attack is a good trigger to examine what is happening after the attack is complete. Destroying X amount of enemy capability is an appropriate time to assess if a high-payoff opportunity is forming, which would necessitate your guidance and organizational change. Conversely, the fact that a friendly element was destroyed is especially relevant if it’s the unit that puts you at 60% capability…and thus, combat ineffective.
  • Status Changes – one unit reporting that it is struggling in a certain area (sustainment, maintenance, ammunition, timing, communications, etc.) is cause to consider the possibility that this is a systemic problem that will grow. Widening one’s perspective might reveal that.
  • Conversations – a chat with the boss should trigger a perspective change (i.e. “What should I be doing better to meet my boss’ intent? Have I inappropriately prioritized my own efforts over my boss’?”) Perhaps it’s a frustrated subordinate who voiced concerns…probably a good time to step back and examine if this is a trend. No one else has that perspective or ability to survey the team…you do.
  • Time of Day – what is the ebb and flow of your perspective? Should you have a larger, more creative perspective during the morning when you are fresh? (If so, should you protect that time…to protect that thinking?)
  • Level of Fatigue – if you can avoid it…exhausted, hungry, wet, and cold is not the time to make big decisions. Do those states of being generate a trigger for you to reduce your decision making to only the small problems? Is there someone who can pick up the task of deep thinking for you? When you’re at your weakest, do you have a way to minimize decision risk?

The transition between modes of thinking is cognitively taxing. And most of us do it all day long without an appreciation of the toll it takes. Self-aware leaders recognize that they (and their organization) flow through various status of activity and effectiveness, requiring them to change perspective, approach, and guidance. Leaders susceptible to distraction miss big threats. Leaders who think and lead at their appropriate level, with their unique vision of the organization, enable big opportunities.

For more on how to think, consider the book Thinking, Fast and Slow.

Questions for Leaders

  • Do you have the wrong perspective? How would you know?
  • Have you enabled someone around you to keep you appropriately engaged and ahead of the organization?
  • What if you stopped making decisions for the organization…who would pick up the ball?

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