The 30,000 Challenge

by | Jan 15, 2019 | Change, Learning

“As a leader you must not get caught in the weeds, you need to keep your head up and maintain the 30,000 foot view – give the vision and maintain the direction of travel.”

Seems sensible, good advice – right?

Perhaps if everything is smooth sailing, calm, and clear, but I have not seen, heard of, or been involved in a change process that is. Change is inherently messy, emergent, with surprises along the way. When we are involved in change processes, we need to bounce between the 30,000 foot view and the 2 foot view. We need to be able to see the vision, the direction of travel, to have the moments where we can raise our heads and see where we are going and the progress we’ve made. Here we can see more clearly how pieces fit together, policies and standards needed, stakeholders to connect, challenges and barriers coming up, opportunities and timing. But, we can’t stay there.

Image of a sound wave bouncing between 30,000 feet and 2 feet

We need to immerse ourselves in the ‘weeds’ of day to day operations. We need to ‘walk the factory floor’ as it is said in manufacturing, but this is not just about manufacturing. We need to spend time with the coders, the frontline social workers, the salespeople in the retail shop or on the B2B calls; we need to ‘roll up our sleeves’ and join the disaster response teams, the airline flight crews, etc. We need to spend time, not just visiting but actually doing the roles that we are affecting with our change.


Because it is at the 2 foot level where the change we seek to make or the impact we seek to have, happens. The 2 foot level is where all the complexity converges, all the silos are felt, all the bureaucratic & organisational process excuses are meaningless. It is here that your 30,000 foot vision becomes reality.

Here you will realise if you are communicating clearly, if the values you aspire to, if the impact you seek to have is actually happening or has been lost in the ‘Chinese whispers’ through middle management on 30,000 foot journey.

Ideally, you bounce between 30,000 feet and 2 feet, with even some stops along the way, connecting dots as you go and likely making directional adjustments as well. As you move between you will hear different perspectives on the same reality, thus enriching your understanding and complexifying yourself. You will remind yourself the view at any level is not the whole picture, just a one view, one perspective on reality.


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