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Submarine or helicopter

Updated: Nov 12, 2021

There is a term that’s used often in business management and leadership development, which is “taking the helicopter view”, first coined by the Royal Dutch Shell Company.

It may also be described as “peripheral vision”, “bird’s eye view” or “clarity of purpose”. It refers to the ability of a leader to rise above the specifics – the nitty gritty – of a situation and to see it from a distance in its overall context. It is the ability to see the big picture without losing sight of the details and their implications. It’s quite a skill; being able to see both detail and overall view at the same time.

Leaders and business owners very often find themselves stuck or dragged continuously into the trenches of work. This is the opposite of a helicopter view and in fact a ‘submarine view from the bottom of the ocean’ might be a more accurate description in reality. If this is you, here are some practical ways to get a helicopter view.

  1. Move yourself to a different location. If you are trying to solve a problem, come up with innovative product design or think of new ways to market from the same chair and desk you are always at, the creative part of your brain is probably not open for business. When we move to a different environment that side of our brain wakes up. This could be sitting on the other side of your desk or indeed going out to a coffee shop or hotel to sit and make notes there.

  2. Think about how you would describe your business to an alien. If you had to summarise its history and future plans to someone who has no knowledge of it, you’d be amazed at what comes up from the deepest parts of your mind.

  3. If your attention has been hijacked by poor performance of employees or tricky clients, go back to your organisation’s mission and values, and your own values. They are your map to the appropriate response and to keeping you on track to your long-term goals.

Until next week, take care!



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