Episode 22

Published on:

8th Sep 2020

Big Picture Thinking

Big Picture Thinkers

“As we think, so we lead” Part 1

There are several ways to learn big picture thinking. One way is to learn how to lead through ambiguity. 

Learning to live with ambiguity is learning to live with how life really is, full of complexities and strange surprises.

James Hollis, American psychoanalyst

Quick definition: ambiguity arises when there is uncertainty in our next steps, when the process is vague or perhaps could go in two different ways with neither being right or wrong to get to an intended outcome.  

What if rather than being disheartened by the ambiguity, the uncertainty of life, we accepted it and relaxed into it?

Pema Chodron, Buddhist nun in the Tibetan tradition

Here are three things about big picture thinkers:

1.      Big picture thinkers have learned how to be comfortable with the kind of ambiguity I just shared. Not because they don’t care about the details, but because they have learned that there are time when big picture thinking is essential, particularly when headed into an unknown future.

2.      Big picture thinkers learn to juggle different options without having to find “the one” that is perfect or right. Not because they are indecisive, but rather they have chosen to embrace the idea that having varied experiences, taking risks, learning from and helping others along the way expands their thinking.

3.      Big picture thinkers stay focused on the outcome rather than trying to control every detail – every rock, vine and root along the way. I am not in any way suggesting that this kind of thinking moves a leader away from their core values but rather this kind of grounded leadership empowers a move towards thinking differently when the situation calls for it.

The mark of a mature, psychologically healthy mind is indeed the ability to live with uncertainty and ambiguity, but only as much as there really is. Uncertainty is no virtue when the facts are clear, and ambiguity is mere obfuscation when more precise terms are applicable.

Julian Baggini, British philosopher

If you are in a place where you need to be innovative, where you are looking for ideas and solutions to big problems, or where additional creativity is needed, consider pursuing the elements that will help you learn how to be a big picture thinker. You can start today with getting comfortable with ambiguity. Real ambiguity

If you want to cultivate the ability to think big picture, then you must get used to embracing and dealing with complex and diverse idea.

John Maxwell, leadership expert and author

The title of this series in the Art of Leadership is called “As We Think So We Lead”. If you haven’t before, let me encourage you to consider thinking as a self-contained, autonomous activity.  There is and will always be a need for thinkers. 


Maxwell, J. (2009). How Successful People Think. Center Street: New York, p.8.

To discuss ways to advance your own growth as a thinker, reach out to me at www.healthyleadershp.online. As a certified coach I would love to help you on your journey.  

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About the Podcast

The Art of Leadership
The Art of Leadership focuses on soft skills... some of the hardest skills a leader will ever learn.
The Art of Leadership with Dr. Niña Ellison focuses on the soft skills of leadership, their value and the power of their influence. As a leader, if you are interested in moving from success to significance then balancing both hard and soft skills is essential!

Hard skills are demonstrated through technical expertise that results in clearly measured goals being reached. They are vital to the success of any initiative or program. On the other hand, soft skills emphasize the transformation of people. They highlight behavioral changes and making a difference in people’s lives.

This podcast is for leaders who are seeking a fresh perspective into some of the hardest soft skills a leader will ever learn. You can connect with Niña at https://www.ninaellison.com

About your host

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Niña Ellison

In 2019, after years of leading teams varying from international disaster relief and healthcare to the US Corporate world, Niña founded Healthy Leadership to focus on her passion for partnering with leaders in their growth and sustainability. Her own journey into soft skill development has convinced her that while her technical skills helped her get her foot in the door, her soft skills moved the influence of her leadership from success to significance.

As a soft skill specialist Niña takes monthly deep dives in her podcast series, The Art of Leadership, to explore the underlying dimensions of soft skills. She knows that soft skill development is not so much about WHAT but HOW a leader leads.
• From a 10,000 foot view a leader pursuing soft skills asks, “How do I problem solve; How do I manage time and energy?”
• From a 1,000-foot view that same leader, as they dig deeper into soft skills, begins asking questions like, “How do I listen; or How do gain self-control?”
• From Ground Zero the leader recognizes that there are underlying dimensions of soft skills as they ask, “How do I model respect for all; How do I sustain hope; How do I demonstrate appropriate love in the workplace; How do I maintain the right attitude?” How do I lead by serving?

Nina believes that behind every wildly effective and sustainable system and process are leaders and teams who have interwoven soft skills into every phase of their work.