Drowning in the Details

action centred leadership model


While leading a seminar on managing managers in lower Manhattan on Tuesday, I was struck by a theme that shows up frequently in my work:

How easy it is to lose sight of the big picture.

Let’s face it, no one shows up to work and thinks,

I’m just going to go ahead and get lost in the details, and forget about the bigger reasons why I actually spend all day doing what I’m doing.

But it happens all the time.

At the top of this post, you see the relationship between task, team, and individual.

This is John Adair’s action centered leadership model.

Adair believed that the manager is responsible for three areas:

    • achieving the task
    • managing the team or group
    • managing the individual

But not necessarily in that order!

A common ailment of workplace life is to put task before anything and everything else. Everyone’s on the hook for results.  That pressure puts task first.

The irony is that tasks don’t get done by themselves; they get done by people. To add to that, most projects at work are complex; they require more than one person to complete.

Thus, team.

Forget about team at your own peril.

When you focus solely on task, you focus.  Which is narrow.   You get myopic.  In order to achieve the task, your brain starts moving into problem-solving mode, trying to solve the problem with the resources that are already at hand.

This narrow focus is a blessing and a curse. It allows you to get into the nitty gritty details, but also makes you oblivious to bigger systems.

Drowning in the details doesn’t just happen to individuals:  it also happens to teams.

Kerry is a client of mine, a Senior Executive who works in the hi-tech sector. Her company does over $1 Billion annually in revenue.

Speaking before our session together last week, Kerry shared this story:

Our company is looking at acquiring in other company, slightly smaller than ours.  They do maybe $650 million a year.  We’ve spent all morning in meetings with them, going through the financials, asking questions back and forth, really try to get a sense of who who they were and how this acquisition would work.

In the afternoon, a group of us from our company went off on our own.  We rehashed the morning meeting talking about what we thought were strengths and liabilities, really getting into some of the details.  About 90 minutes into our afternoon meeting one member of our team stood up suddenly.  He raised a hand and said

“Can we stop for a minute?  Now, why are we looking to acquire this company again?”

It was as if he was like the child who points at the Emperor and says he’s not wearing any clothes.  In the midst of how busy we had all gotten we’d lost sight of whether or not this made any sense at all.  It was a giant wake up call to everyone in that room.

Next time you’re in the midst of task, be willing to rise up and see the reason that you’re doing what you’re doing.

It may not be a $650 Million acquisition, but it’s worth taking a second look.

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