Somewhere, somehow, we got the idea that leaders shouldn’t bother with the finer points of running a business; that staying high level is the mark of true leadership. That’s dangerous thinking that can slow down the development of a business unit.
When I interview management candidates, I like to have them describe their leadership style. The reason I do this is to see if their thinking has graduated beyond clichés and into the realm where they truly understand their gifts and the personal development cycle that was necessary to get them where they are today. I’ve noticed there are certain clichés that, when offered, often represent the full and total understanding of the person in front of me. In other words, they’re stumped to come up with any kind of example or deeper conversation on the subject. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that – it just underscores that they are at the beginning of their leadership journey rather than a seasoned manager.
“I have an open door policy” can be an example of one of those statements. Another common one is “I hire good people and let them do their thing.” But the one that bothers me – and this is the only one that does – is this line: “I’m not a micromanager.” The reason it bothers me is that the word micromanagement is not well understood, therefore it’s easy to misuse.
Attention To Detail Is Not Micromanaging
Great leaders have the ability to toggle their attention between high level and detail according to business needs. It’s a skill that requires flexibility and a keen understanding of how everyday tasks impact the longer-term vision. If something doesn’t look right, it’s the leader’s job to dig in and understand what’s happening. You’ll have to decide each time if this is an opportunity to delegate, or something you should handle personally.
Here’s what I wrote in “Zooming For Effective Leaders“:
I think part of the problem is that it’s not sexy to wallow through the muck of a gnarly problem. It’s messy and it can be frustrating. Some call that management hell – I call it being midway to a solution.
What Is Zooming?
Zooming is a highly desirable leadership trait where the leader consciously steps away from higher level activities to “zoom” or deep dive into detail to assess a situation or satisfy curiosity. These leaders see things that others miss — and this comes from their unique ability to connect the day-to-day minutiae with how well or how quickly the team will achieve big picture goals. And for that reason, their teams are often among the higher performers in the company.
So the next time you’re curious about why something is the way it is — an invoice looks odd, fulfillment time seems too long, or you’re overhearing comments not in line with the usual banter — dig in. Share with your team what you learn.
And don’t ever let anyone use “I don’t know” as a get-out-of-jail-free card.