In both our personal and professional lives, we proceed through our days with perceptions of ourselves within the context of the larger world, and we act accordingly.
We have no other choice. Because we are only human, our unique point of view necessarily limits our perceptions: i.e., what our own five senses provide us in terms of information, input, and people’s reactions to us and what we say and do.
On those occasions when we can broaden our perspective by adding those of others, our eyes are opened. And though we may not always be pleased or comfortable to learn these kinds of truths, our ability to live in the world and work with other people has nevertheless been significantly expanded and improved.
The same holds true in the realm of corporate communications. At the start of a new assignment, our client liaison provides us an overview of the company and the challenges it faces – in particular, the challenges for which we have been retained to help solve.
Yet, as well informed as she/he may be, the liaison can give us but one perspective. It’s not surprising, then, that our best work happens when we are able to launch new assignments with the benefit of additional perspectives and insights, which we do through a number of means, not the least of which is talking to as many people as possible, both inside and outside the organization.
This is not to say that the liaison is wrong or ill-informed. In fact, our client contacts are usually among the best informed in the companies we work with, because they’re usually in a senior communications role, which demands that they stay well connected and current.
Even so, the perspective of one person who resides in one part of any organization is necessarily limited and influenced by where that person sits and whom she/he listens to and respects.
Even the CEO is not immune to this shortcoming. In our years of working with a range of corporate leaders, some have been very conscious of this challenge of perceptions and perspectives, and effective at dealing with it directly. Others have not, carrying an arrogant attitude that says, “I know what the truth is.”
The CEO of a former client, a global airline, made it a central part of his job to reach out regularly to the company’s many stakeholders: employees, paying customers, FAA regulators, stockholders, etc.
Once, we were visiting their headquarters and, when we went to lunch in the company cafeteria, I spotted the CEO sitting at a table with a half-dozen employees. When I remarked on it, my host said that that was the CEO’s habit when he was in the headquarters office. He would simply pull up a chair at a table and dine with employees. He would talk to them, listen to them, answer their questions, and share ideas.
We were told that he did the same when he traveled, always building into his schedule sufficient time at the airports around the world to talk to ground crews, customer service reps, and aircraft crew. He flew both coach and first class, and quizzed adjacent passengers about their experiences with the airline.
As it is with us when we start an assignment by immersing ourselves in multiple perspectives, a CEO like this one is going to be smarter and better connected to the core truths of his organization, as well as the ways that it evolves.
He will often sense impending changes before anyone else does. He has no illusions about the forces that impact the health of his company, and doesn’t have to rely on a buffer zone of advisors, assistants and, dare I say, yes-men. Consequently, he can operate more effectively, and make better-informed and timelier decisions based on reality.
There’s an additional advantage of his reaching out. Because he makes the ongoing effort to extend himself and listen to his company’s key stakeholders, he operates with their support and trust – which is perhaps his greatest asset in doing his job.
This holds true whenever we seek to broaden our own self-perception by folding in additional perspectives. When we do so, we envelope greater truths beyond our own world view and bring ourselves closer to the ultimate reality, building greater trust among our peers along the way.