Seeing the Forest for the Trees: What Leaders who Maintain Broad Perspective Have in Common

At nearly every organization, somewhere within the competency framework there’s a reference to “being able to see the big picture.” Understandably – staying grounded in a broader perspective is a valuable skill. But the thing that intrigues me most about seeing the big picture these days is the irony in it. Because while it should be easier than ever to see the big picture, in actuality, it’s much more difficult.

You see, one of the first elements of broadening one’s perspective is information-gathering, because to see the big picture, you need to do just that… see it all. Therefore, people often set off in search of more information to ensure they are considering all the angles, all the detail, and not missing something crucial. With technology, gathering more information is remarkably easy – it’s often just a few screen touches, keyboard strokes, or mouse clicks away. Great, right?

Not always. Piles of information eventually reach a point of diminishing returns. I think of it this way: imagine holding a photograph of the “big picture.” Keep peering closer and closer in the hunt for more understanding, and you can inadvertently change that photograph into an impressionist painting. Stare too closely and you get confused and left wondering “what exactly is this?”

That’s because ultimately, seeing the big picture is not simply about gathering the most detail – it’s about having the knowledge, perspective, and experience to be able to take in the most relevant information and discard the distractions.

We recently conducted research on what leadership behaviors predict being viewed as effective in seeing the big picture. Check out the full Best Practice Report here.


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About the author

Drew is MRG's resident I/O psychologist. When not at MRG, he's either with his family (most likely) or in his workshop (less likely). His stack of unread books is commendable.

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