As humans, we aren’t wired to go it alone. And yet, so many leaders try to transcend the wiring. The higher you rise as a leader in an organization, the more pressure is on you to “figure it out.” And you CAN figure it out, eventually. But when you and your business are in it for the long haul, you know that the pressure to innovate, evolve, and grow can lead to burnout. You’re not exactly stuck, but you’re not exactly moving at the pace your organization requires to meet its goals. That’s when it’s time to bring in an outside perspective to collapse your timeline for transformation.
Why is investing in an outside perspective so powerful? It's because you are “hacking” some of the circumstances that regularly prevent innovative ideas from surfacing in your organization. Lack of new ideas and innovative thinking is rarely the problem in companies. The problem is that the established ways of doing things, systems that help make us more effective and efficient, can also stop us from making quantum leaps we must make to evolve and survive.
In the article How Outsiders Become Game Changers, the authors reveal that “being less tied to the norms and standards to which insiders conform, outsiders recognize solutions that escape incumbents’ attention.” Yet, the article goes on to explain that outsiders with innovative ideas often don’t have the social capital to gain advocates for their ideas, or the power to effectively advocate for them on their own.
When you hire an outsider to work with you, you get the best of both worlds. You gain the ability to escape the systemic and cultural constraints or traditions keeping you stuck, AND you get an injection of new ideas and best practices from outside your company, and even outside your industry.
This is why we engage directly with CEOs when we work with companies as a Chief Synergy Officer. It’s the combination of an outside perspective with the power to contextualize and amplify it that changes the game.
You don’t bring in an outsider to tell you what to do. The power of outside perspective comes from the combination of your own experience and wisdom with someone else’s. You bring them in to observe things you haven’t noticed, to share ideas you haven’t considered, and to give your own ideas the nudge they need to become impactful. You’re creating a partnership, so it’s extraordinarily important to trust the person you’re bringing in.
This is a tricky subject because as humans, our reasons for choosing to trust or distrust someone are subject to bias. One common reason we like and trust people is because they’re a lot like us. However, ask yourself this: if you want a powerful new perspective, do you think it should come from someone just like you? And if that’s the case, what is stopping you from figuring things out on your own?
In addition, recognize that a healthy relationship should feel good. Your outsider should listen to you and recognize the validity of your perspective. They should make you feel supported, never less-than. Maximizing the dividend is dependent on your level of vulnerabiilty - revealing what you really think, how you really feel, and acknowledging what is really working and what is not, regardless of how you feel about it. This is not at all easy, but the reward is that bringing in the right person results in a scenario where the product is more than the sum of its parts. You feed off each other’s energy to accelerate your ability to move forward with conviction.
The discovery process and new ideas you’ll gain from bringing in an outside perspective are certainly powerful, but your relationship shouldn’t end there. Cycles of intense exploration and innovation need to be followed by a period of commitment to the needed changes you’ve identified. This can include things like gaining buy-in across the organization, shifting current systems, creating new ones, giving people the time they need to adjust, and adapting the plan along the way.
When we work with clients, we uncover the majority of transformational insights within the first few months, but we’ve found that it is critical to stick around for a number of reasons. Companies seeking transformational change need more than a new perspective. They also need accountability partners for change, guardians of organizational focus, and an extra boost of energy for those times when the evolution process feels exhausting.
Every business will have slightly different cycles, but the key idea is that it’s important to make seeking outside perspective an ongoing practice as a leader. Plan for it and budget for it (both in terms of money and the time you’ll invest). And remember to always think of it as the smart investment that it is: not a sign of deficit, but a commitment to growth.