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Is Your Career Suffering From Tunnel Vision?

Leadership Coach

If you’ve worked hard to differentiate yourself by specializing in a certain area, you may run the risk of over-relying on your expertise. Instead of giving you an edge, that narrow perspective could be holding you back—and your career might be suffering from tunnel vision.

Do any of these statements sound familiar?

“I know so much more about the product, but the guy with the big personality got the promotion.”

“I had the most experience of anyone in the department, but they let me go after the reorganization.”

“I don’t understand why I didn’t get the job—I’m an expert in this field.”

These comments may indicate that the employees haven’t demonstrated the general, broad business skills and strategic thinking that could position them as prime candidates for leadership.

To get their careers back on track, they need to expand their perspective. What does that mean exactly? People with a broad perspective have the ability to think about problems from different angles. To understand other points of view. To better anticipate client needs or competitive moves. To appreciate (and even leverage) diverse opinions among their team members. To think strategically and creatively at the same time. You can see why “broad thinkers” are a smart investment for any type of organization.

If you’ve been passed over for jobs, advancement or recognition too many times, I suggest some honest self-assessment. Could tunnel vision be the culprit? Making some targeted changes could have a positive impact on your career. Here are five ways to help widen your perspective:

  1. Read more. Not just blogs and industry publications. Reading fiction is an excellent way to expand your mental horizons. Our perspectives are shaped by our life experiences, so reading about the adventures and challenges of other people can extend our own views of the world.

  2. Try some new hobbies. Travel, Paint, Garden. Whatever gives your mind a fresh challenge. Adopting a new hobby will likely change your outlook on life and, according to research, increase your level of happiness. Plus, you’ll be a more interesting conversationalist!

  3. Increase your connections. Get to know colleagues in other departments. People who are younger. Older. From different backgrounds or cultures. Be curious. Ask questions. Mentally put yourself in their shoes. Not only will that increase your ability to get things done internally, but you’ll also begin to stretch your thinking as you build friendships with people who see the world in a different way. Those differences are extremely valuable for organizations and create an environment that genuinely fosters innovation.

  4. Find a mentor. Having someone to guide you in your quest to gain a broader perspective can be priceless. A mentor can share valuable insights from the angle of senior management and, sometimes, from a completely different side of the business.

  5. Listen with greater purpose. Tune in to your conversations at a higher level, and work harder to understand the viewpoints of others. That was the topic of a recent Wall Street Journal article by Jennifer Breheny Wallace. She focused on how to help children broaden their perspectives (and become more popular) by building their conversational skills and learning to manage conflict. She recommended that adults should read fiction books with them and discuss the different characters’ perspectives. She also suggested playing games with them like cards or chess, which require them to imagine what the other players are thinking and predict their next moves.

Just imagine how that skill could improve your negotiations. If you can determine the needs and motivations of the other person, you can identify common goals and potentially strike a deal much faster. Approaching those situations with a wider scope of thinking is the best way to generate win/win results.

Smart organizations know that success depends on leaders with a broad perspective. They want powerful leaders who recognize and value diverse thinking, which allows them to interact well with all types of people in every functional area. Without that expanded range of understanding, they might miss out on important nuances in client conversations.

Don’t let tunnel vision slow down your professional progress. With some effort, you can make the shift to a career-enhancing broad perspective.

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