Have you ever seen a funhouse mirror, the kind they have at state fairs and old school amusement parks? Funhouse mirrors are hilarious because they distort your real appearance to skinny or fat, tall or short, or maybe give you a long neck and huge feet. The distortion can be extreme, funny, and disturbing.
Funhouse mirrors change our view on reality. If that’s what you saw everyday you would begin to believe the changes were real. You mind works like a funhouse mirror. A human mind frames perspective on life in the same way a funhouse mirror works, it distorts reality.
Your perspective is your reality but your perspective may not be the truth.
We live in the reality our minds create, that’s our perspective on experiences we have and the circumstances we face. Understanding that perspective is different than reality, and learning to frame a healthy perspective will cause you to grow as a person, and help you to lead your organization in a healthier fashion.
The story of Nelson Mandela can help us understand both incorrect and correct ways to frame perspective. I will share two core points from his story that will help you frame a healthy perspective and improve your leadership influence.
Early in his career Nelson Mandela battled Apartheid, joining and co-leading the ANC in an effort to overthrow the government. Initially he was committed to peaceful demonstrations, but later co-founded a militia to destabilize South Africa. In 1962 he was arrested and sentenced to life in prison. However, after serving 27 years he was released and immediately began working with the President to abolish Apartheid. Four years later, Mandela was elected President and went on to lead South Africa in reconciliation from the most powerful seat in the country.
Prior to Nelson Mandela’s arrest he could have easily seen the dramatic momentum of the ANC and other groups, with their growing numbers. He could have considered his own leadership abilities and sweeping influence. From these assessments his perspective could have been, “the momentum is on our side, and we are going to change South Africa in a short period of time.”
Many people look at reality with a high level of idealistic distortion, believing everything will be easy. This translates to an unbalanced perspective. Often entrepreneurs or leaders who experience success early on, end up struggling with idealistic distortion. When serious challenges arise they simply cannot cope with hardship. The funhouse mirror tricked them into believing early success (or current success) meant it would be easy.
Once Nelson Mandela was imprisoned with a life sentence, he could have easily thrown in the towel and mentally given up. A warden’s first words when Nelson Mandela arrived were: “This is the island. This is the place where you will die.” It was a very foreboding set of circumstances, possibly more challenging than anything you or I have faced.
Because of how dire the situation looked, his perspective could have been justified as: “I was doing my best, trying my hardest. I tried doing something very valuable in life, to correct a wrong, I am the victim because I am in prison. My dream is over.” He could have felt compelled to “accept the truth, you are never getting out.”
Neither of these false perspectives reflect how Nelson Mandela’s thought process worked, as he battled the internal funhouse mirror. So what were the secrets that Nelson Mandela knew which helped him frame a healthy perspective in prison, and fueled his immediate contribution to society once released from prison after 27 years?
1) Translate A Healthy Perspective
We have to consciously and continually translate our circumstances and experiences, to frame a healthy perspective.
Most people are reactionary, they assume their natural perspective is accurate, because its theirs. They don’t stop to question or consider if their natural perspective is healthy. Continually stopping to translate data that is coming to you through experience, information,or circumstance is the first step to framing a healthy perspective.
Over the past 20 years I have spent a lot of time in Haiti, and have enjoyed studying their language in between my trips. I have practiced many hours speaking Creole. Each time I visit Haiti and begin speaking the language the locals are engaged and I feel good about myself. The joke is on me and it is always embarrassing because I simply cannot understand a single thing when they began speaking back to me. You see, I have learned to speak Creole, but I simply cannot translate what they say in my mind. Because I can’t understand what they are saying, I have no context on what’s really going on around me.
We have to be conscious of the fact that our mind plays tricks on us with our perspective. If we do not learn to actively translate data coming in, we automatically default to what the funhouse mirror is telling us about our reality.
Business owners and leaders frame their own healthy perspective.
If someone is always having to frame your perspective for you, you aren’t leading because you aren’t even leading yourself in a healthy fashion. Dumping your circumstances on them and waiting for them to tell you everything will be ok isn’t you working on framing a healthy perspective. That is you garnering sympathy.
Having friends, an advisor or mentor who can talk through your challenges is critical, but in the end, you have to draw your own conclusions, and frame your own healthy perspective.
What is a healthy perspective?
A Healthy perspective contains the reality of challenges you may be facing, and, it sees possible positive outcomes. It understands that whatever we see does not provide complete clarity for today and for the future. It knows that sometimes we experience positive serendipitous moments and negative unforeseen challenges. In any circumstance, the healthy mind gathers information, translates details and navigates in a workmanlike manner to manage them towards an intended outcome.
2) Transmit A Healthy Perspective
The word transmission implies the action or process of transmitting something. It could be power, like in your vehicle. Or it could be data as in the case of the internet.
The internet is an excellent metaphor for business owners, managers and leaders. It is always transmitting information, sometimes its healthy and unfortunately, more often than not, it’s unhealthy. The information that is being transmitted is always framing the recipients perspective.
Leaders are like the internet, they transmit information and frame perspectives. Quality leaders frame a healthy perspective.
When you lead people, whether it’s in your business, a charity, or with your family, you have to help others frame a healthy perspective.
Unfortunately if you don’t frame their perspective, they will write their own and most often it is unhealthy.
Often in businesses I see erosion in the culture of the company, and the output of the employees. When the owner stops framing a healthy perspective about where the organization is today and what they are trying to accomplish, employee’s perspectives change and it almost always has a negative bend.
Nelson Mandela was prepared when he got out of prison to change South Africa. He often said, “I went on a long holiday for 27 years.” The truth is he was translating a healthy perspective every day he was in prison, for himself and the other imprisoned ANC leaders. The day he was released, he began transmitting a healthy perspective on reconciliation to a wounded country. Four years later he became the President of South Africa and Apartheid was soon abolished.