Puzzling or Puzzled?

What building a puzzle for the first time in a long time reminded me about leadership

  1. Let go of what you think you know

I realised this when I saw 1000 puzzle pieces chaotically spread across my kitchen table. What we think we know limits our effectiveness. A bold statement, but how often are we (myself included) blinded by our own biases, presumptions and beliefs. Most of the time, we’re not even aware of how we limit ourselves (and others!)

Over years of lived experience, we gather a set of beliefs and assumptions about ourselves and the the world that governs the way we make sense of everything. These perceptions transform how we interpret ourselves, each other and the events in our lives. Our mindset, our disposition, our attitude, even our moods act as filters on the lens with which we see the world.

Without an awareness of where our thinking is at or monitoring our emotions, we have a recipe for missed opportunities, misguided assumptions and incorrect opinions. Bias, opinion, perception and judgment is something that can only be understood through reflection. And once understood, best left behind.

Top tip: stay curious.

2. Try a different angle

I remember attending a course once where the presenter invited a participant to step up onto their chair, he asked them to describe the room from their vantage point. Next he invited that person to climb onto the desk and once again describe their viewpoint. Next he invited them to step down onto the floor and describe again, the scene in front of them. It was a powerful reminder of how different angles influence how we see the same things.

My puzzle forced me to try every angle. So many pieces looked the same, but just weren’t the right fit. Same in life and in leadership — different voices, different perspectives, different experiences add richness and vibrancy, depth and flexibility; as well as scope and insight to situations. Whilst we may all be experiencing the same situation, we are not experiencing it the same way.

This is the basis of critical thinking. Diverse viewpoints help us stay aware that reality is probably a mix of many different points of view. Understanding this and making it neither right nor wrong helps us remain focused on keeping it real. And it doesn’t hurt either, to think of things from different perspectives yourself. Try Edward De Bono’s Six Thinking Hats.

Top tip: Keep it real.

3. Gain perspective

It’s difficult to let go of long-held viewpoints and beliefs. Understanding when to walk away to gain perspective on a situation is one of the greatest skills any leader can learn. Utilising this skill allows us time to reflect and maintain presence of mind. It allows us to be gracious and graceful under pressure. It allows us to be compassionate with ourselves and others, and helps us gain clarity and focus on what matters now.

When others fail to meet our expectations, it is imperative that we frame our disappointment tactfully. Failing to do so can undermine our authority, as well as disempower our team. Respect that is lost because of an outburst or misplaced judgment has long lasting repercussions. Find ways to be firm and fair. Be sincere and considered in your evaluation of the situation. The onus for good communication always lies with the leader.

Top tip: take a helicopter view

4. Make sure you have all the pieces

This speaks for itself! One missing piece and the whole has a glaring big hole in it! We are only ever as good as the information we have. This applies to you and your team. Information sharing is a two-way street. When your team functions well, you get the right information in the right way at the right time. Similarly, teams that operate effectively require good input. Does your team enjoy psychological safety? Do they collaborate and feel seen and heard? Are they confident enough to share their ideas and concerns? Does everyone believe that their opinion matters?

It is only in an environment where trust exists that we authentically contribute and collaborate. Any relationship lives or dies by the level of trust. High trust = courage and connection.

Information is shared quickly, effectively and efficiently. Teams function fast and perform optimally. So do leaders.

Top tip: create safety

5. Plan

Fail to plan and you plan to fail. Goal setting and vision statements should not only be in the domain of start-ups and entrepreneurs. It is especially important for teams who’ve been working together for some time. Taking time to plan, strategise and engage your team creates an environment of accountability and encourages individuals to keep learning, allowing them to flourish individually and together.

As well as having professional goals, personal goals add meaning and depth to your achievements. Knowing what matters to you, and why you’re working hard on developing yourself, your business, your brand and your team becomes ever more meaningful when you know how to balance it with your personal life.

Take time to reflect on and engage with your nearest and dearest. Are they engaged with your dreams, do they feel supported and cared for. Who are you “being” for them? And as importantly, how are you “being” for yourself? Is your perfectionism kept in check by your compassion, is your drive balanced by rest. In other words, “Do you like the company you keep in the quiet moments?” (From The Invitation http://www.oriahmountaindreamer.com)

Top tip: Stay calm, plan and keep piecing the puzzle together!




Founder-Coach, Leadership Advocate, Writer

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Gretel Huntington-Smythe

Gretel Huntington-Smythe

Founder-Coach, Leadership Advocate, Writer

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