In 2011, Rosabeth Moss Kanter, a world-renowned author and Harvard professor, noted the ability to Zoom In and Zoom Out as a critical leadership and strategic thinking skill.  She related it to the zoom function on a camera – being able to zoom in on finer details or certain aspects that might need attention OR to zoom out to get a broader or more comprehensive picture.  Zooming in and out is a strategic leadership competency that is still critically important today, and it’s a concept we have used successfully with leaders and leadership teams as they seek to take their organizations and themselves to the next level.

The value in zooming out to zoom in or vice versa lies in the ability to look at planning, problems, issues, or opportunities from different angles to strategically assess where you are, where you might want to go, and explore the art of what is possible.  Here are three examples of application:

Strategic Planning
As you consider your strategy, engage in foresight activities and discussion. Zoom out to consider the longer-term horizon and open up the freedom of exploration. Consider questions such as:

  • What is the future for our profession/industry? What signals of change do we see outside of our industry?
  • What might the markets we serve look like in 10 years? How might our customers have evolved?
  • What would have to be true for us to achieve growth of 10x?
  • What does success look like for our company in 10 to 20 years?

After this purposeful work and with that context, zoom in to focus on the next 12 months. Identify the three or four most impactful initiatives that could move the organization toward that longer term view.   

Problem Solving
In issue resolution or problem solving, parties can get channeled and entangled in the moment or the details. Zoom out to look at context, considering:

  • What are the outcomes we are driving? What are we trying to accomplish?
  • If perfectly executed, what does success look like?
  • How does this issue connect to broader goals? What matters most?
  • If you were outside of the situation and were advising the individuals in it, what might you observe? What might you see as important?

With the bigger picture in mind, zoom in to think about the following:

  • What options for actions exist? How can we create positive movement?
  • How might this impact (the client?, the team?, the organization?, etc.)?
  • What is the best strategic choice to move forward?

Organizational Change
In a recent Gartner survey of more than 800 HR leaders, 45% of respondents said employees are fatigued from all the change that is occurring in the business environment. Zooming in and out can help leaders stay in touch with the quantity and scope of the changes impacting employees and better position them for success.  In reviewing this for your organization, zoom out to ask:

  • What are the changes we have in motion right now? What is the timing associated with each?
  • How many employees are impacted by each change? (i.e., how many people are we asking to change how they work?)
  • To what degree are we asking them to change? (i.e., what is the scope of the change)
  • If we look at the portfolio of changes in process, what groups are being impacted most and how?

Zoom in to consider:

  • How might it feel for employees in the most impacted groups? If we were in their seat, how would we feel?
  • How can we support people collectively and individually in the changes we are asking them to make?
  • How are we equipping our supervisors and managers to support their teams and individual team members?

While three specific areas of application are shared as examples above, the ability to zoom out and zoom in is a skill and thinking framework that can be used in a variety of circumstances or strategic areas to strengthen the action or choices made.   

To enhance your strategic leadership (or your team’s), challenge yourself to zoom out – what might this look like at some point or by some measure in the future? Challenge yourself to zoom in – If that is the big picture/desired outcome/future view, what does it mean for this area/specific issue/or action. Whether zooming out or in, be sure to also challenge yourself to shift perspective and consider a problem at different points in time or from different points of view (e.g., customer/client, team, shareholder, employee, partner, etc.). It will enhance the possibilities you see and potential actions for positive movement.

Strategic leadership is a key to breaking through to the next level for your organization and for yourself, and a major aspect of strategic leadership is being able to broaden your perspective to see context (zoom out) and narrow it for impact (zoom in) or to draw upon the ability to shift perspectives when needed.  Adding this tool into your thinking process and doing this with intention will lead to more effective decision making and stronger results.