Are you one of those people who notices every detail? Or perhaps you’re one of those people who doesn’t notice any detail. Neither one? Ok, you’re in the middle. While I don’t know the exact distribution, I do know that some people are wired in a way that causes details to pop out, while others miss everything.

Hopefully, it’s apparent, that as with most things, balance is important. If you spend all your time focused on the detail, you’ll miss the big picture, the strategic. On the other hand, if you never notice the details, you’ll miss out on many critically important things.

For the world-class leader, it’s a bit of a balancing act. You look at the big picture, you develop a strategy, you cast vision and you pay attention to the details. You observe how members on your team are feeling. You notice that there is one line item in the budget that appears overly inflated. You watch macroeconomic trends and understand the world of geopolitics and global economics, but you also notice when your wife gets a new haircut and when a key member of your team is distracted.

This week’s brief article is will focus more on noticing detail. Perhaps another time I’ll focus on the big picture and the balance between strategy and tactics. Suffice it say that both are important, both have a place and neither, by itself, is sufficient. The macro and the micro are both important.

When I reflect back on almost 30 years in Corporate America, from the shop-floor to the board-room, it’s clear that the best leaders, those who were truly world-class, are those leaders who continually move back and forth between big picture and detail.
But while many understand the importance developing vision and strategy, not as many understand why it’s important for them to pay attention to details. Let me explain.

Clearly, leaders can’t pay attention to every detail. But they can use high-level metrics and screens to filter the data. It tells them where they need to focus. Using metrics and dashboards can identify gaps that need extra attention. This is, in essence, leading by exception. You notice what is “out of control” and then dive deep into the details to look for the root cause so you can help eliminate it. This makes sense, right?

If your organization is performing well in a given area, look to other areas. I can almost guarantee that you won’t have uniformly excellent performance across the board. You’ll have some areas that need focus and attention. This is akin to using statistical process control. You leave the process alone when it’s in control. When the process is out of control, you dig deep to understand the root cause for the abnormality. Yes, there are times when, as a leader, you want to raise the bar for a process that’s in control, but much of the time, you’ll want to focus your efforts on out of control points.

But it’s not only technical details, such as metrics and control charts, that you’ll want to pay attention to as a leader. You’ll want to pay attention to emotional data, soft data, even “artsy” data. What do I mean? Well for starters, pay attention to your team and their emotional health, your wife, your kids, your parents, your direct reports, etc. If your wife gets a haircut, you need to notice and pay a compliment. If your daughter gets good grades on her report card, you need to notice and reinforce her efforts. If a colleague is not behaving like they normally do, you need to inquire (or at a minimum let them know you’re concerned), though you don’t have to be nosey. Paying attention, in detail, to others lets them know you care. And it give you important data points about individuals and the health or your organization, be it a family or a large global corporation.

You see, there are several reasons it’s important for leaders to pay attention to the details. It shows you care about others individually. It shows you care about the organization. It’s required to solve complex organizations issues. It keeps you honest, relevant and credible.

There’s a final reason I’ll mention. It has nothing to do with efficiency or effectiveness as a leader. It has to do with beauty and enjoyment. It has to do with the arts. Noticing detail in the natural and created world is a gift. You can look at, and appreciate, the details of a spider web, the brush strokes of a painting, the workmanship of a fine handcrafted piece of furniture or the mechanical intricacies of an engine.

You can listen to the sound of various birds singing in the spring or the delightful sound of your local orchestra. You can notice and appreciate detail via any of your senses, taste, smell, sight, feel and sounds. Try it. Watch the ants. Observe the grain in a nice wooden antique. Notice and appreciate the distinct flavors in your favorite dish.

You get the idea. Observe the details. Notice out-of-control points for technical processes and take appropriate action, but also notice details for the sake of beauty itself. Both the arts and the created world will provide plenty of opportunity for you.

Are you observant by nature or do you have to work at it? Are you better at noticing details in data and technical processes or people and emotions? Or do you demonstrate balance between the two?

As always, the floor is open to your comments, suggestions, thoughts, and feedback.

Dr. is an agent of change and is able to balance the needs of the business and the needs of people. Dr. Gerwig believes and practices the values of performance and delivery of business metrics while simultaneously developing and growing people into leaders. You can contact him at RobertGerwig[at]


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