Click here for TotalCare’s COVID resource

Changing the story. Changing the narrative. Changing your perspective. All the same concept, and a very powerful one in life and leadership. But what does that mean, and how can we apply this change in the stories we tell ourselves about our problems?

A change in perspective means seeing things in a new way. It’s a new way to look at our problems. This is not an application of Norman Vincent Peale’s positive thinking. Rather, it’s an exercise we must intentionally adopt and consciously apply so problems can be handled in a way that promotes solutions and forward progress. Below are three examples, three new ways, to see issues we would typically consider negative.

boy putting a cross over impossible on blackboard

You come to work, and you’re faced with problems. A trusted staff member is not meeting expectations even with repeated coaching. A client left an unfavorable Google review. A business you started is losing money. A key project you had hoped to launch is not taking off. As you walk through the hallway, you get a text from your wife that your cute new puppy is not well. All of these hit on the same day.

How do you handle these tests? With frustration? Or hopefulness? Do they drag you down, sour your mood, and affect your countenance? Or are you able to rise above the heaviness and meet each challenge?

On a day like this, most of us drudge through, doing the best we can, myself included. But a few years ago, I learned a lesson from my older brother Frank. My brother is a very positive person and a highly successful businessman. We were having dinner at Chili’s one evening and he was sharing what I perceived to be problems. Then he said, “If you don’t have five problems a day, you aren’t pushing enough.”

What? I’ve always seen problems as roadblocks we must overcome with courage. He sees problems as a sign of healthy progress. Since that revelation, I have incorporated this perspective change in my life. It has helped me tremendously in dealing with issues calmly, even joyfully.

Of course, one may argue that problems are not a sign of progress, but of dysfunction. But even dysfunction is an invitation for us to learn something and move forward. Even dysfunction, when viewed through this lens, can be a sign of healthy growth and progress.

When I have a day like I described, I know I have a choice to let those issues bring me down or lift me up. The difference is in my perspective. It’s found in the narrative, or story, I tell myself about them. Which one do you choose to tell yourself? “I can’t believe I have five big problems today.” Or, “I have five challenges today because I am pushing forward.”

And that begs the question, how do we adopt healthier perspectives to transform our lives? By pursuing growth. If I had not written down my brother’s words that night at dinner, and contemplated them and incorporated them into my thinking, it would have been just another dinner I had with my brother.

You have a person on your team who gossips. Maybe a person who gossips and has a negative attitude. How about a person who gossips, has a negative attitude, and as soon as you are gone, does not finish his work? How do you feel about such a person? That they are dysfunctional? A cheater? Destructive? Corrosive? Our tendency as leaders is to have negative feelings toward them, and delegate them to the trainers we trust. When we engage this perspective, we start feeling contempt toward these people.

The new perspective I discovered is to see individuals as lacking in maturity. In this way, I remove bad feelings toward them, which in turn will have huge benefits. This does not mean that we should excuse or hide bad behavior. We must draw boundaries and have consequences. For me, this new perspective took my leadership several levels higher because I no longer react with negative emotions when a person does something wrong.

A titan and defender of justice, Bryan Stevenson, is an attorney who works with death row inmates who are wrongly accused. He works to improve our legal system which he perceives over-incarcerates people. I heard him recently discuss how in the last few decades we have filled America’s prisons with non-violent offenders: drug users.

One way to see those involved with drugs is as criminals. As such, we are afraid of them and angry with them. Another way to see those involved with drugs is as sick individuals. With this shift in perspective, we are more compelled to help them, rather than put them behind bars.

Your Friend,