Day 24. There are four distinct pressures I always cover in my leadership coaching. These are in contrast to the trite subject of “balance.” Somebody may have figured out balance, that perfect mixture of business and personal. Work-life and personal life. It’s an impossible feat as far as I know. Instead, there are priorities…which are subject to change and shift situationally.
Let’s start with the pressure points I hear most often. “He’s in the weeds,” says the boss. “I need him to be more strategic.”
Translation: He’s in the details and I need him to not get bogged down in the details.
Translation: He’s doing the work still like he did before we promoted him to Director. We need him to better manage the work instead of spearheading all the work.
By strategic, most bosses mean “operate at a higher altitude where you can see the bigger picture.” Implied, if not directly stated, is the added desire for leaders or supervisors to be proactive and think ahead because every #1 (CEO, city manager or any other top-level leader who is in the top spot) is fearful about what might blindside the organization. Every wise leader is somewhat concerned about what they don’t know, or what they may not see coming. Hence, the admonition for everybody to be strategic with forward-thinking.
I use two metaphors for these two vertical pressures: boots on the ground versus eye in the sky.
Boots On The Ground
There are times when it’s vital for the leader to put on the boots and get them dirty because the devil truly is in the details. Consider an MIS (management information systems) department reviewing a pending vendor agreement, a 3-year contract that includes cloud storage. The CTO looks over the terms, diving more deeply into the weeds of the deal. She notices a pricing clause that includes the first year of free cloud storage. However, in years 2 and 3 the cost is approaching $300,000 annually. A seemingly minor detail that buries a cost of almost $600,000 over the term of the contract. The vendor representative never mentioned anything other than the first year’s “free” storage. She now begins to negotiate years 2 and 3 telling the vendor the deal hinges on those fees dropping significantly.
Do you think the CEO wishes the CTO had not dropped into the weeds on that deal? Or do you suppose the CEO is pleased she got her boots on and jumped into the dirt to ferret out the pitfalls of what could have been a bad deal? Yes, this CEO was very happy his CTO decided to get her boots on when she could have refused claiming her job was be the eye in the sky. Problem…the eye in the sky wouldn’t have spotted the costly detail.
The higher up the food chain you go in leadership or authority, the more time you must spend as “eye in the sky.”
There’s a reason for this. As well as a practicality. The higher up you go the more direct reports you tend to have. Direct reports who can more easily be your boots on the ground, doing the work you once did, but now can’t because you’re busy working from a higher altitude. As you climb the ladder you have to figure out when and how long to stay at each vantage point. You can’t just stay in one or the other without regard to the other perspective. It’s a life of constantly moving down into the details, when necessary, then soaring back up to higher climbs so you can see the bigger picture. It’s knowing when to go to each place and how long to stay so you can be most helpful to your enterprise, team, or group. Don’t forget leadership is influence and doing for others what they can’t do for themselves.
Eye In The Sky
This is the bigger picture, strategic viewpoint required to see the entire playing field. Being at this height enables you to see how things are working, or not working. Additionally, it helps you see what may be approaching – the ability to be transformational. That just means you’re able to see the greater or bigger vision. To future proof as best you can. To serve teammates in being able to see more clearly, too.
Admittedly, there’s not a ton of hourly or daily work performed at this level. It’s more vision and clarity work. It’s seeing things in order to prevent your people from being blind-sided. Unless you’re the #1 it’s also about helping your boss avoid being blind-sided. But it’s not just about being preventative, which is plenty valuable enough. It’s also about having the ability to be proactive and act in advance, hopefully, faster than your competition.
Jack Welch, while at the helm of General Electric, had a simple strategic plan. He’d ask his leadership, “What can our competition do in the next 18 months to nail us to the wall?” Then he’d ask, “What can we do in the next 18 months to nail them to the wall?”
That’s pretty simple, powerful yet straightforward strategic thinking. It demonstrates how important such thinking is to a global multi-billion dollar enterprise. But it’s also important to the small business owner or municipality.
Successful leaders and managers aren’t only interested in protecting themselves, but they also want to go on the offensive to ensure their futures as much as possible. Growth and improvement are vital. Our survival depends on them.
Tomorrow we’ll discuss some of the issues you’ll have to face as you navigate these two pressure points.
Be well. Do good. Grow great!