How ‘Gaining Distance’ Leads To Better Leadership 

Leonardo da Vinci once said:

“Every now and then go away, have a little relaxation, for when you come back to your work your judgement will be surer. Go some distance away because then the work appears smaller and more of it can be taken in at a glance and a lack of harmony and proportion is more readily seen.”

Perspective is everything.

Last week, I had the opportunity to be part of an interview panel with a company keen to ensure diversity and robustness in their selection process (big applause to them for their diversity focus BTW).

The hiring manager had recently returned to New Zealand after some time overseas with the company. He commented how experiencing some physical and metaphorical distance from the NZ operations had offered up a fresh perspective.

It made me think about the benefits of gaining distance.

We may not always have the luxury of distance in the physical sense, but there are always measures we can take to obtain a more realistic perspective to our own situation.

If you have an issue you are struggling to resolve, but feel like you’re too close to the action (or emotionally attached) to make a good judgement call, some distance could be the answer.

4 ways leaders can build their ‘perspective muscle’:

1. Put yourself in the shoes of other stakeholders. For example, take five minutes to imagine you are your customer or supplier and ask, “what would they see that I am blind to? What insights does their perspective hold?” Another technique is to say to yourself, “if a good friend or colleague was facing this situation, what advice would I give them?”

2. Change Your Setting. Is it time for a weekend away at the bach/crib/holiday home? Holidays, a different city, a walk in nature alone or even working from a different physical space are frequently enough to get us out of our normal routine and catalyse perspective.

3. Delay making the decision if you are still unsure. Take a leaf from the wisdom of this Native American proverb – “When you are in doubt, be still, and wait; when doubt no longer exists for you, then go forward with courage.”* Faced with time pressures? At least give it the ‘overnight’ test or the 30 minute breather before deciding.

4. Do the 10/10/10 principle. In their book, Decisive, Chip Heath and Dan Heath warn against visceral emotion clouding our judgement. A clever anecdote is the 10/10/10 principle – thinking about our predicament on three different time frames. How will we feel about it 10 minutes from now? How about ten months? How about ten years from now? This way of artificially fast-forwarding time in our mind can provide that perspective we so need.


Putting space between yourself and that which is causing you confusion or consternation helps to build valuable perspective.

Whether that distance is physical, time-based or achieved by looking through another person’s eyes, the space provides an environment where intuition, wise decision-making and creative problem solving can emerge.

What’s the thing you do that helps you gain clarity and perspective?

How can you take a step back and gain distance before deciding?


Did you enjoy this blog? If so, please vote for me in the best blog section of the ESET Netguide Web Awards 2014. Simply click here, scroll down to the blog section and type in Thanks so much and please share this with your colleagues and friends as every vote counts!

*Ponca Chief White Eagle (1800’s to 1914)

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Suzi McAlpine

Suzi McAlpine is a Leadership Development Specialist and author of the award-winning leadership blog, The Leader’s Digest. She writes and teaches about accomplished leadership, what magic emerges when it’s present, and how to ignite better leadership in individuals, teams and organisations. Suzi has been a leader and senior executive herself, working alongside CEOs and executive teams in a variety of roles. Her experience has included being a head-hunter, an executive coach, and a practice leader for a division at the world’s largest HR consulting firm. Suzi provides a range of services as a Leadership Development Specialist, including executive coaching, leadership workshops and development programmes for CEOs, leadership teams and organisations throughout New Zealand.

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