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The Devil Is In The Detail – It Certainly Is

Having coached numerous leaders and executives over the years, there is a clear pattern of top performance. The most effective leaders can clearly differentiate between when detail is required and when it isn’t. I find this is analogous between either looking from the perspective of being in the helicopter, or looking from a position where you are in the weeds. Both perspectives are critical for success, but at different times of a change journey, or project implementation. I liken it to new product development, and then production. At the genesis of any new product it is important to have a wide view to capture all the ideas, and ensure you don’t get bogged down too early. However when a product has been scoped, then the design should go into meticulous detail to avoid any errors, miscalculations or flaws.

I have witnessed at first hand leaders getting bogged down in detail too early with the effect of losing traction /momentum early on, with the side distraction of disengaging certain members of the team. This also causes procrastination and avoidance, and if there are other team members who feel comfortable with detail, the situation can become self-perpetuating. One of the expressions I have used to guide consulting teams who are facing this challenge is “Beware the Detail Monster, because it gets hungrier the more you feed it”. On the opposite side, I have seen leaders have too much of a high level view at a time when detail is required. This can also be ineffective and highly frustrating for those who need a level of detail to execute their work properly.

The most effective leaders are able to understand the context of where they are and flex accordingly between the strategic view and the execution view. They are able to elucidate this to their teams too. In this way, the correct trajectory and pace is maintained, and most importantly minimise the waste and recycle. What does it take to do this? It is a combination of experience and conceptual capacity. A level of self-awareness can be invaluable here, as it supports us having the vision and foresight.

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