We get it. A leader’s day is jam-packed with meetings, calls, and more meetings. Decisions have to be made, and fast. But before you make your next big decision, you might want to consider another perspective.
Effective leadership is like driving a car, says Adam Galinsky, a management professor at Columbia Business School and coauthor of a study published in the August 2014 issue of Social Psychological and Personality Science. A car doesn’t move without gas.
“Power is a psychological accelerator,” he says. In this car metaphor, you need a steering wheel so you don’t crash. “Perspective taking is the psychological steering wheel,” Galinsky explains. Problems arise, however, when leaders act without considering the impact on others.
Fast Company spoke with Galinsky about his research, and why leaders should practice taking the perspective of their customers and employees.
It’s not just power that’s needed, Galinsky says. Power plus perspective taking–or imagining the world from someone else’s viewpoint–is the winning combination.
“When taking another person’s perspective, [you’re] trying to understand what they know,” he says. It comes down to sharing and receiving information, which, Galinsky says, is critical for effective decision-making.
Power alone, the study suggests, can lead to selfish, egocentric decisions. On the other hand, taking others’ perspectives into account all the time can lead to indecision and reticence. “When you anchor too heavily onto your own perspective, and don’t take into account the viewpoints of others, you’re bound to crash,” Galinsky says.
In one study, Galinsky and his team asked students to assume the roles of boss and employee. Each team was given certain information to solve a murder mystery. Half of the participants were asked to take the perspective of their partner into account during the exercise, and to consider how their partner might view the situation. The teams then worked together to solve the murder.
Researchers found the teams where the bosses were asked to take the perspective of their employees did a better job of sharing information and making decisions than their counterparts.
“Getting people engaged in perspective taking is easy to do, and has [a] dramatic effect,” Galinsky says. He suggests the reason powerful people aren’t necessarily good perspective takers is because they have more demands on their time, and they’re less dependent on people than people are on them. “People are good at perspective taking when you remind them to do it,” he says.
Which techniques can leaders use to adopt their audience’s perspective? Galinsky says a regular check-in is helpful. Every few days, ask yourself whether you’re considering the information others are offering. Are you giving them the opportunity to speak? Are you steering effectively?
Another way is to make the leader accountable. When you need to explain a decision to other people, you’re more likely to consider other perspectives, he says. “We all know how to do it; we just need to be reminded to do it.”