Learning How to Be an Agile Leader

Effective problem solving requires viewing situations from several angles.

Sometimes, you just need to look at leadership from a different angle. In Zoom Leadership: Change Your Focus, Change Your Insights, organizational consulting expert Janet Britcher urges readers to “zoom in and out” with a flexible, open mind when problem-solving, rather than looking at a situation from a single point of view.

Janet Britcher

In exercising what she has coined “zoom leadership,” individuals see both “detail and the big-picture perspective,” Britcher writes — a skill successful business-event organizers put into practice daily. “Zooming in to the details can help make an informed decision about implementation and/or previous experience with that kind of solution,” she says, and “zooming out to the organization’s direction, strategies, priorities, and values can provide important vision and guidance…”

Britcher suggests looking at situations through three different lenses: 

1. Thinking. Learning to think about problems in new ways helps leaders grow, according to Britcher. “A leader may excel in analytical skills. He may have built a great career on the accuracy of his data. Yet he may be faced with an issue that demands a more broad view and a quick decision — even though there is insufficient data available,” Britcher says. “In this case, zooming out from the normal pattern of relying on detailed information may provide a perspective that enables him to make a decision in a new, albeit less comfortable, circumstance.”

2 Acting. “Leaders may benefit from zooming in to take a smaller action or zooming out to take a larger action,” Britcher writes. “For example, when a layoff is being considered, some leaders choose to make a few cuts to staff, hoping that the cost reduction of some salaries will provided needed financial relief; they have zoomed in to take a small action,” she says. Other leaders, however, may prefer to zoom out and look at the bigger picture. In this case, they might consider that the bottom line and employee morale will bounce back quicker by announcing all layoffs at once, instead of dragging it out.

3. Feeling. Thinking and acting are recognized as key components of leadership, but feeling is just as important. For instance, the loss of a major prospect or client can send shockwaves through a company, but when handled properly,  can also prompt “resilience, productivity, and innovation,” Britcher says. For example, “[leaders] can zoom out to share the overall history of success that the company has previously experienced, reassuring the team with evidence of long-term stability.” On the other hand, zooming in on negative feelings in the workplace also has its benefits, as it can help leaders identify the root of employee dissatisfaction and improve conditions.

Casey Gale

Casey Gale is associate editor of Convene.