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What cancer taught me about perspective

25 Sep 11:00 by Scott Horton

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And how I now use this in leading teams.

I was 29 when I found a lump and went to the doctors.  I didn’t think it was anything sinister, but she sent me straight for a biopsy and when I received the results, I was told I had cancer.

For anybody that has heard these words, it is a real shock to the system as we all know the potential consequences.  The previous year, I had lost my dad to pancreatic cancer, so I immediately feared the worst.  Further results showed that it had spread to my stomach and that I needed an operation and chemo immediately, otherwise it would spread to my lungs.

When I arrived at The Royal Marsden hospital in Surrey, after my initial operation, for my first chemotherapy session I realised that I was not alone.  I was surrounded by cancer patients who all looked the same. Most of them had no hair and they were all walking around attached to various medical devices. I had been told that I’d lose all my hair over the next three months but to be honest, this was the least of my worries.  I did really struggle to see the kids with cancer, as they looked so vulnerable, but they were always so happy and brave and were definitely a beacon for hope during such an uncertain time.

I’ve always been a very positive person and my glass is always half full.  However, I was suddenly battling with some dark thoughts and was scared about my treatment and whether I would be cured.

On my second day at The Royal Marsden the best thing happened, and it changed my entire outlook and perspective on what I was facing.  I met a guy in his 40’s (I’m now 48) who had been diagnosed with Esophagus cancer and he knew that his chances of surviving were slim. When I told him about my cancer he said, well you’re one of the lucky ones”. 

It took me a few seconds to comprehend what he had just said but then I understood.  My chances of survival were a lot higher than his and therefore from his perspective, I was lucky - very lucky.  I had a cancer that could be cured. 

From that day on, my attitude changed completely.  I stopped fearing the worst and whenever I told anybody that I had cancer I would follow it up with “but I’m one of the lucky ones, my cancer can be cured”.

This was a real-life lesson on perspective-taking

From this day onwards, I have always looked at things from other people’s perspective. Yes, I will have my own point of view and can have a strong opinion.  However, there is always another person’s perspective, and this is so important in business and relationships.  I have worked closely with many Executive Leaders over the past twenty years and the most successful leaders, in my opinion, always have perspective.  You can see this in their attitude and approach and their leaders and teams see this, as well.  This can be in the form of empathy, sympathy, creativity but the most important one in my opinion is bias and stereotype reduction.  They also help other people to develop perspective.

The ability for leaders to perceive a situation or understand a concept from an alternative point of view is so critically important and can’t be underestimated.  The best leaders, in my opinion, will always approach discussions with perspective and this is what sets them apart from the competition.

In today’s challenging environment, it's always good to get another perspective.