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The View from the Air

Posted on the 28 July 2021 by Alanhargreaves @RechargeToday

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The View from the AirFeeling overwhelmed? 

Recently, ploughing through reams of leadership theories and models, I stood back from my messy whiteboard and wondered: does management have to be this complicated?

Then I remembered it doesn’t. I escaped this valley of overthink via an old memory: the helicopter view. Using it to organize my thoughts reminded me it’s a remarkable leadership tool in its own right. 

It’s not new. I first heard it in a cadet officer’s course in 1966. It was in army-speak then, but it applies to just about anything. 

So what do you do?

Get in your chopper and take off. This is probably the most important thing you can ever do about anything. Rise above it now. Get your head out of the landscape. Climb until you can see the entire terrain. When you get there, breathe out. Rest for a moment and take in the view.

The View from the Air
You can see a lot of things from up here, including yourself. You’ll be able to see that you are very good at a lot of things. That’s why you’re a manager. And being one, you’ll share a characteristic common to an estimated 70% of executives. That’s imposter syndrome: a worry about the things you might not be good at. That’s handy up here because it makes clear the things you need to get other people to do. That’s called delegation, which is another word for management.

Once you’ve come to terms with yourself and your role, take a look around. Where do you want to go? You can probably see alternative routes to the hill you want to take. From here you can get some clarity around appropriate strategies. Some will be simple. Do you clamber over rough terrain or detour around it. Think of Steve Jobs on his return to Apple in 1997. He cancelled 90% of existing product development, replacing it all with a simple 2X2 matrix: desktop, portable, consumer, pro. We all know the rest.

The View from the Air
Check your tactics

What dangers lie in the route you have chosen? Are you an incumbent surrounded by startups? From here, you can see what’s happening on your flanks and get ideas on what to do about it. If you are the startup, you can see the weak points in the perimeter. Regardless of the situation, does it call for offence, defence or more of the same. Even if it’s the latter, try imagining how the landscape might change.

That last point is crucial. The dramatic pace of change in today’s business environment puts a high value on evolutionary capability. Your heavy artillery might have done a good job, but is it approaching its use-by date?

The View from the Air
You need to have a variety of skills, people and resources in case you need to do things like adapt, reshape or pivot. 

Getting Grounded

You can land now, but before you descend, have another good look around.  When you’re back on solid ground, use that view to filter your decisions. How do your tactics and strategies fit with the overall landscape, now and in the future?

The helicopter view is not a panacea but It helps you escape a crowded mind. From up there you can see things from outside your head rather than from within it. It works on all sorts of situations, not just business. 

You can even try it at home.

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