Using Your “Zoom Lens” for Steadier Performance

The most successful leaders I work with are also the steadiest. They don’t get thrown off their game by bad news and don’t overreact to problems, even messy ones. Such strong grounding is admirable, effective, and contagious. So what capacities keep these managers so well grounded? One common element seems to be their ability to fluidly adjust their perspective. They can “zoom out” from a specific problem and bring their attention to the entire landscape of priorities, resources, opportunities and challenges. When we stay aware of the entire landscape, then unwanted developments in any one area are a relatively smaller problem – a minor bump – on our professional terrain. And the rest of the landscape remains an accessible array of resources – a place to look for new solutions and smart detours without overreacting. A look at the broader landscape in which we work also serves as a healthy and humbling reminder that it’s not all about us.

In contrast, we’ve all seen the hardcore problem-solver manager who literally pounces on the problem of the day and lets it consume all of his or her attention and energy (sucking others in as well), as if all measures of their success and failure depend on that one problem. Responsive problem-solving is certainly a valuable management skill; but it can quickly shrink our solution space, when we “zoom in” too much with excessive focus on a problem at hand, and blind ourselves to useful and encouraging information, such as: What is still working well?…. Who can help with this problem?…. Will this issue work itself out in a few days?

Whether you’re able to do this habitually in your professional life or it requires a large dose of intentionality, the choice is yours: Either keep your perspective at “zoom in” as the default, and focus anxiously on the most intense part of every challenging situation, or zoom out regularly to put challenges in more accurate perspective, to find your footing, and see more options. When you take in the whole landscape, and still zoom in on particular situations briefly as needed, you can bring a better informed and more emotionally grounded mindset to your work.