Detail-Oriented Leaders: How to See the Big Picture


If you are a detail-oriented leader, you are generally likely to be conscientious and excellent at planning ahead, but perhaps you aren’t particularly creative or strategic. But success in a dynamic working environment often requires both big-picture skills as well as attention to detail.

While the big-picture thinkers are the procrastinators of the world, I find that those who are skilled at paying attention to the details are the perfectionists of the world. While they probably aren’t coming up with breakthrough innovations, they are quite skilled at tweaking a mediocre idea into something truly fantastic.

Unfortunately, before something can be made better, the idea for the project needs to be conceptualized. Hard work, effort, and spotting the weak links may have gotten the detail-oriented leaders where they are today, but a weakness in big-picture thinking may hold us back when it comes to leadership effectiveness. And in an executive or managerial role in a competitive workplace, the ability to strategize and innovate is absolutely necessary.

So what can be done about it? How can this natural tendency to over-think the details be overcome? While you cannot just will yourself to be more strategic, you can use a few tactics that will allow you to accomplish that same result:

Hold Brainstorming Sessions

The saying two heads are better than one is pretty relevant to brainstorming. Don’t make any decisions during the brainstorming meetings. Instead, spark creativity by aiming to generate multiple possibilities. Use a flip chart or a laptop to capture ideas suggested during the session. Use Mind Maps and go further down the chain from the original concept. Extend the brainstorming sessions to different days and different settings if more ideas are needed. Oftentimes, our best ideas come to us during mundane activities such as in the shower or in the gym. Be sure to capture any good ideas that are not relevant to the current problem so you have them when you need them at a later date.

Take a Break

Whether you are working on an article, a book, an action plan, or a project timeline, you may hit a wall where you have worked on it for so long, yet so much work still needs to be done. Take a break. Do something physical instead of mental for a while. Or you can pass your project on for edits from a colleague. They will likely focus in on one or two areas that need improvement, rather than the fifty-two that you see. If such help does not exist, 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.

Work in Drafts

You know it well… you are making great progress, totally absorbed in working on something, but then you interrupt yourself to fix a typo. Which leads to rephrasing that sentence. Which then leads to reorganizing that paragraph. Which then leads to rethinking your project’s content in its entirety. Stop interrupting yourself! Schedule yourself to work in drafts. First, your mission is to create an outline or a timeline. This brings your focus to the big picture. Then, fill in the information one by one. Schedule big-picture reviews in between versions.

It Doesn’t Have to Be Good, It Just Has to Be Done

While this may sound bad, it can be a huge help for the perfectionists, and it can actually make a project turn out better. “It doesn’t have to be good; it just has to be done,” actually became my mantra in college when working on biology lab reports, and became quite helpful in graduate school as well. As a pre-med student who wasn’t very good with the ‘hands-on’ part of the science (good thing I made a career change early!), I struggled to write a lab report I could submit with confidence. A few times, I even considered the consequences of turning it in late or not at all. Doing the math, it turns out that the difference between passing and failing is much greater than the difference between acing it and doing a mediocre job… also known as the law of diminishing returns. In the end, that D I was expecting was usually a B+.

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