Breaking Out of Your Personal Perception Prison

By Peter Jeff
The Leadership Mints Guy

                               Here’s an idea to help you become more aware of your surroundings.

        One night at sea, a ship’s captain saw what looked like the lights of another ship heading toward him on a collision course. He had his signalman blink to the other ship: “Change your course 10 degrees south.” The reply came back, “Change YOUR course 10 degrees north.”

         The ship’s captain answered, “I’m a full captain – change your course south.” To  which the reply was, “Well, I’m a seaman first class – change your course north.”

     This infuriated the captain, so he signaled back, “Dammit, I say change your course south. I’m on a battleship.”To which the reply came, “And I say change your course north. I’m in a lighthouse.”

          That’s how then Senator Joe Biden told the Battleship vs. Lighthouse story  in a 2005 speech.              I remember the first time I heard the story in the late ’90’s  Stephen Covey, author of Principle-Centered Leadership and The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People closed his Leadership seminar with that Battleship vs. Lighthouse story that has since helped me more accurately navigate my sense of leadership.  I saw myself in that story acting impulsively without determining all of the facts.  And ever since then I have often thanked that irate captain in his battleship for helping me break out of my Personal Prison of Perception.

  When 2 People Meet 6 Are Present

       Apocryphal or not, the story of the Battleship vs. Lighthouse reminds me that the most effective leaders I have known understand that what you see is quite often not what you get. The Battleship vs. Lighthouse story helps us more fully embrace William James’ observation that whenever two people meet,” there are really six people present. There is each man as he sees himself. Each man as the other person sees him and each man as he really is.”

       Let’s turn the clock back to late 1890s. You’re a cowboy in the American West. You’re viewing your first “picture-show”, your first movie – a western. Suddenly the bad guys on the screen start shooting. They seem so life-like, so real, so deadly.

      Instinctively, you reach for your gun and do what comes naturally to a gun-wielding cowboy: you start shooting at the bad guys on the screen. Historians tell us this earlier version of the Battleship vs. Lighthouse story happened often. And why not? Responding to gunfire was the cowboys frame of reference.  They were only defending themselves.

Light at the End of the Tunnel or An On-Coming Train

     Those cowboys shooting at a movie screen remind me of Plato’s observation that we are trapped inside a cave and know the world only through the shadows it casts on the wall. (Or a movie screen). And those shadows vary according to the time of day, as author John Steinbeck observed in his novel  Travels with Charley.  He wrote: “So much there is to see but our morning eyes describe a different world than do our afternoon eyes, and surely our wearied afternoon eyes can only report a weary evening world.”

       Who knows, maybe the evening light might deceive as much on land as on the water. You may think you see a light at the end of the tunnel. Or is that an on-coming train? But you finally figure out it is really another train heading directly toward you on your tracks. Don’t be a hero and stay the course. Be a leader and steer the course. Strategically enlightened.  Not tragically embolden.

        Today’s ImproveMINT
Break out of your Personal Perception Prison to keep your leadership thinking in mint condition.

You might also like these previous LEADERSHIP MINTS on Strategic Thinking:

Broadening Your Funnel Vision
Taking the Scum Off Your Mind
Beware of Jumping to Conclusions

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