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  • Writer's picturePeter McKenzie

Big picture or in the detail? What type of leader is best?

(Transcript by Otter)

What type of leader are you? Are you a big visionary, a big picture person? Or are you a detailed thinker who likes to get into the nitty gritty?

If you're in the C suite; if you're the CEO, the CFO, the COO, you're probably used to big picture thinking. You're not there to see the trees, you're there to see the entire wood. You're there to think about a strategy, to think of innovation, to be creative, to look long term.

But some may accuse you of having your head in the clouds, being pie in the sky at 40,000 feet: you're not practical. So perhaps you need to be that detailed thinker: to execute the plan, to know what roadblocks there are, to get over them, to get really into the detail.

But then you can also be described as being in the weeds, of having no innovation skills and not being able to actually compete against the competitors, because you can't fix a decent strategy.

So what then is the answer? Which one do we want?

Well, I would argue we need both skills. Sometimes we need to zoom out, need to see the entire picture, be big picture thinkers, and other times zoom in to the details, right away from the strategy into the day to day issues that we face.

It's like having on the one hand a telescope, and on the other hand, a microscope. To go out, to see the universe and in to go in and see the tiny detail.

Isn't a coincidence then that both those instruments were invented by the Dutch. In 1590 Zacharias Janssen invented the microscope, and only 18 years later in 1608, Hans Lippershey invented the telescope.

So we've got the Dutch to thank for being able to zoom in and out in our real world. But as a leader, we need to do the same. If you need more big picture thinking, then you need to have time to reflect. You need to sit back and think about strategy. To do that, you need to get away from being perfectionist to get away from being caught in the "BAU" (business as usual), in the daily grind.

Perhaps a coach can help you with that.

On the other hand, if you need to get into the detail, it's really, really important that your team helps you. You have "SMEs" or subject matter experts around you that can help you get to understand what goes on in your organization every single day.

So you need both the microscope and the telescope to zoom in, and to zoom out to really see both the big picture and the detail because as Leroy Eims the writer said:

"A leader is one who sees more than others see, who sees farther than others see, and who sees before others do."

i.e. is a visionary.

But John Wooden, the great basketball coach says:

"It's the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen."

So don't forget the details...

Zoom out AND zoom in!

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