For a team leader, it is absolutely essential to see the big picture—to have a vision for the team and to identify the projects through which the team moves toward achieving that vision.  However, many a leader makes the mistake of assuming that this big-picture view means that he or she should not bother oneself with the details involved in making the dream a reality.

Like many other chief executives, Jim was a visionary:  He had grand concepts of what his organization should be and what services it should provide.  During his early years in the role, Jim was famous for handing-off his ideas to subordinates, tasking them to make each of his dreams a reality.  Whenever subordinates told him that a project was not feasible, Jim became very frustrated and vented that frustration at the subordinates.  Thus, Jim became known for being a difficult boss.

After a few years of frustration in his ongoing attempt to lead the organization, Jim learned that his team members did not like his style—that he was not being effective.  Naturally, his reaction was to blame the subordinates for being uncooperative.

In order to improve the unpleasant atmosphere, Jim purchased the services of a consultant- coach.  After gathering information about the situation, the coach challenged Jim, teaching him to communicate better with his team members, to listen to their input, and to facilitate a collaborative team process rather than merely giving assignments.

It was a difficult transition for the leader, but Jim admitted his need for growth and he learned to hold project-specific team meetings in which he did, in fact, facilitate discussion.  These productive meetings soon became the core of the organization’s culture.

Of course, through the remainder of his career, Jim’s nature remained that of a big-picture person, but he learned to appreciate the necessary process of leading his team through the details.  He bought into this process so much that when a team member would share an idea for a new, large project, Jim was often heard to say, “Yeah, but the devil’s in the details.”  By this, he meant that conceiving a project is fun, but the details make a project hard.

Of course, the word “devil” can also be used to refer to anything that weighs a person down, keeping the person from performing at one’s full potential.  In that regard, the devil of this tale was Jim’s own pride, which threatened to keep him from accepting his need for growth.  Fortunately, Jim became the master of his devil and went on to lead his team to major accomplishments—creations that remain the key elements of the organization, even now that Jim is retired.

Do you have a devil to master?

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