How Leaders Can Focus on the Big Picture

Every leader knows that they shouldn’t micromanage — even if some of us still do. But while we understand the downsides of micromanaging and taken action to avoid it, we still haven’t sufficiently embraced the upsides of not micromanaging.The main upside is that leaders have more time to spend on what we call macromanagement. Although there are different definitions of this term floating around, when I talk with executives, I use it to mean managing the big issues rather than the small ones. Time and effort spent on macromanagement enables leaders to be as clear, decisive, and disciplined at the macro level — on the big strategic questions the organization is facing — as their managers are at the micro level, i.e., about how these decisions might be implemented.

So, what are these big strategic questions that leaders aren’t spending enough time on or aren’t answering in a sufficiently clear or disciplined way? They are questions about:

* why the organization exists and what its purpose is
* what it offers (and does not offer) its customers, and how and why this offer delivers value to these customers
* what this produces for the business and for shareholders — the critical outcome metrics by which the organization will be judged
* how the people within the organization will behave — toward customers, other stakeholders, and each other

I don’t know many leaders who would say they don’t think these questions are important. But I know lots of leaders who don’t spend enough time answering them, and even more who don’t answer them with sufficient clarity so their people can then get on with delivering the answers. Lack of Time Isn’t the Only Reason Leaders Ignore These Questions.A lack of time, too many so-called “priorities,” and the gnawing presence of the urgent masquerading as the important are usually quoted as the main reasons why leaders’ answers to these macro questions aren’t clear enough.

If leaders aren’t providing clarity and certainty about these critical macro questions, then the best, most motivated employees flail in their so-called freedom because they can’t be sure they are doing what leaders want or are using their time and resources in the best way possible. And because they want to do that, they find this lack of prescription stressful — and a huge constraint on them acting in an empowered way. Equally, the less keen and the less motivated on the payroll take this lack of prescription by leaders as license to do what they want, which, of course, may be diametrically opposed to what the leaders had in mind.

Make choices in the negative. For everything you decide you want, articulate what that means you can’t do. This forces you to think through the consequences of choosing these options by thinking about what the trade-offs are for each choice you are making.Pretend you have no money. When organizations are strapped for cash, they have to make hard choices about what to spend money on because they don’t have enough. It’s often during such times that leaders describe themselves as at their most strategic.

Talk to the unusual suspects. These could be inside or outside your organization, but whoever they are, choose them because they are likely to disagree with you, challenge you, or tell you something you don’t know. To ensure you have a ready supply of such people, you may need to look again at your strategic network — it may have gotten too stale to offer you such connections. If that’s the case, weed out the deadwood and actively recruit people from different sectors, skill sets, and backgrounds who can help you test the quality of your macro answers.

Exist at the macro and micro-levels simultaneously. One of the CEOs I most admire can do this — she goes from 10,000 feet to ground level in 30 seconds, linking her answers to the macro questions to the micro operational implications for the business. But what she does really well is come back up. Because it is all too tempting, once you have gone micro, to stay there. But the main point of going micro is to test the validity of the macromanagement views you are coming to.

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