Addressing the Big Picture
“If you just focus on the smallest details, you never get the big picture right.” -- Leroy Hood, American scientistMost of us begin our careers working through the ranks. We are people executing tasks, and our early success comes from correctly completing assigned work while focusing on quality, time, and budget. Doing a good job at those duties is what got you noticed and promoted or led to your success. Eventually, though, we must move away from being caught up in the details of everyday business, micromanaging instead of leading. That requires asking big-picture questions and big-picture leading. Gaining a clear vision is the most important thing you can do to propel your business forward—with everyone aligned behind and empowered to make that vision a reality.Many leaders ignore the big picture simply because they feel they lack the time. Repositioning, realigning, and rebranding, all part of it, take time and resources. Building that big-picture mentality requires projecting forward. Because many leaders are taking on too many priorities, many of which are micromanaging, it’s difficult for them to feel as though they have the resources needed to address big questions. Instead, they focus on aspects of the business that might, when it comes down to it, not really be their job. Leadership needs to focus on seeing the big picture before anything else.Joel Garfinkle, business leader and consultant, says this can be a difficult shift. He says that transitioning into letting go of the habits and tricks that have always worked so far will take you to a place where you can think on a larger scale. He says letting go of certain habits get you on the way:
Overanalyzing: Your decisions can be guided by solid data, but you shouldn’t be living and dying by it. Analysis is fine when it comes to improving processes and even in setting direction, but leave the details to others and then have them present the information to you so can use the numbers to course-correct and steer your larger-picture plan.
Fixating on results: While result is admirable early on, not every problem can be solved, or every business goal achieved simply by doing more. Leaders must be able to hand the small projects over to others. Build a team that you can trust to deliver prime results so you can invest your energy on a broader focus and higher-value tasks.
Managing reactively: Being quick on your feet is a great skill. But on the large scale, constantly reacting to every change and hiccup can make you appear panicky, indecisive, and too focused on the minutiae. When your vision is big picture and spans months or years, what happens once on a Tuesday morning is a minor concern. Be sure your head is in the bigger game.
Going solo: The independent lone ranger who single-handedly completes projects is key, in some ways. But creating a big-picture plan often requires finding someone you can think with, brainstorm with, and bounce ideas around with. It’s a lot easier to think about bigger goals and plans when you have other people to discuss them with and to challenge your thinking.
Over-scheduling: Sometimes it can seem like there aren’t enough hours in the day to get it all done, much less set aside time to consider the future. Take a step back. Put a few hours a week in your calendar for planning and strategy, critical minutes for big-picture thinking.
These skills that were the foundation of your career will still be useful and will help you manage a strong, effective team as you steer the course toward the big-picture goals of your organization.These are the key, big-picture questions that need to be answered:
Why do you exist? What’s your purpose, vision?
What value does it offer?
Why does the value you deliver hold meaning in people’s minds and hearts?
How will your organization bring its value to life for the people? How will you behave?
For leaders to find the answers that will allow them to lead from the big picture and empower others to do their job, they need to do a combination of working on themselves and with others:
Begin by creating guardrails. Define what you are NOT. Clarify what you do not strive for, what you do not deliver, and how you do not behave. That will give you clarity around who you are and why you matter. Creating these boundaries forces you to think through consequences of decisions. This kind of clarity informs how you speak, how you look, where you’re headed, and how to make each decision down the road.
Think strategically. Big-picture thinking means strategic thinking; seeing the whole picture. Considering things in a silo never creates a strategy with impact. Think how you would implement this? It’s important to think big.
Get input from everyone. Often, seeing the whole picture requires widening your perspective. Everyone should have a voice. Getting everyone on board demands good listening. Give everyone within your company the chance to have a voice. Consider involving an outside perspective as well. It may bring new insight into the conversation.
Focus on the future. Every leader is responsible for taking their business into the future. To take other people with you, there must be something worth moving toward. A clear vision of the big picture will multiply the productivity and commitment of the team. Clarity about what the future could hold has the power to fuel innovation and empower the people who can make the vision a reality. Being a leader is all about the ability to look forward and rallying the troops to move them forward.So, if this is the leader you want to be, but you have a hard time overcoming your natural tendency to over-think the details, here are a few strategies to help you get there.
Two heads are better than one, so hold brainstorming sessions to collect ideas, not make decisions. Often ideas will arise that aren’t connected to the present need, so keep them for later. Also, write down and save your own ideas that come up while you are driving, in the shower, etc.
Take a break. Anything you work on becomes draining after a while. It’s normal to hit a wall when more needs to be done, but you just don’t have it in you.Take a break. Do something physical instead of mental for a while. You CAN pass your project on for edits at this point from a capable colleague. Most likely, they won’t see the two dozen things you see, and will focus on one or two that make the most critical difference. In any case, take a break, work on something very different in the meantime, and come back to it with fresh eyes in a few hours or a few days.
Another helpful tactic is working in drafts. When you are working to create a finished project as you go, when you stop to fix something, one thing leads to another and it turns into a full-fledged interruption and delay. Instead, schedule yourself to work in drafts. First create an outline and a timeline. This brings your focus to the big picture. As you fill in the information item by item, you can schedule big-picture reviews in between drafts.
Remember it doesn’t have to be perfect; it just needs to get done. This may sound horrifying to a perfectionist, but it can be a huge help, and it can truly make a project turn out better and certainly on time. You will get better at it the more you are willing to move past perfection on every detail.If you want to be an effective leader, you must focus on the big picture. You can do it. Think BIG.