Attributes of Leadership – Mastery of Detail


Successful leadership calls for mastery of details of the leader’s position – Napoleon Hill

Master of Details?[This is the ninth in a series exploring the attributes of leadership outlined by Napoleon Hill]

Details, details, details! They say “God [or the Devil] is in the details.” However you say it, details matter. Often the success of and the speed with which you complete something rests on how well you manage related details. Therefore mastery of detail is an important attribute to develop as a leader. Yet, is it really essential to success? After all, there are some successful people who appear, well – scatterbrained. If it is essential, then we must also ask: How do we develop this attribute, and is it possible to go overboard and get caught up in minutiae?

How Important are Details?

One business consultant and coach to Fortune 500 executives, Gary Ryan Blair, says all details are very important. In an article entitled “Pay Attention to Details,” he cites numerous professions where seemingly small details make a big difference (crime scene investigators, healthcare professionals, first-responders, architects and engineers, and more). His point: Small acts make up our lives, and the quality with which we complete these acts determines the success we enjoy in our lives. To use words quoted in his article, “The magic behind every outstanding performance is always found in the smallest of details.”

Brandon W. Jones used an interesting analogy to underscore the importance of details in his article “Paying Close Attention to Detail.” Think of a hinge on a large gate. While the gate opens and closes, the ends move significantly. However the hinge hardly moves at all. Yet without it, the entire operation fails. That hinge beautifully illustrates the details of any project we take on in life. It may seem like “small stuff” to us, but it can have a huge impact on the outcome!

You get the point. When it comes to details, there is no “small stuff.” It all matters, and the better we become at handling those details, the greater the quality of our work, the better the outcome of our efforts. We can sum it up with a quote from Gary Ryan Blair taken from the above referenced article: “If you long to accomplish great and noble tasks, you first must learn to approach every task as though it were great and noble. Even the biggest project depends on the success of the smallest components.”

Becoming a Detail-Oriented Person

Some of us have an affinity for handling details. For others, we’d rather have root-canal surgery than deal with all the different aspects a project entails. Even if we’re not a manager, business owner or entrepreneur, we must still be detail-oriented in our approach to work and life. This is particularly true if we ever hope to accomplish more than we do at present, and especially if we hope to accomplish something significant. So how do we go from distracted to a detail managing machine?

In an ehow.com article, Oubria Tronshaw tackled this challenge. She came up with a 10 step program for going from a distracted zero to a bonafide detail hero. They are:

  1. Plan your day in advance. Ms. Tronshaw recommends planning your following day before you leave work. That sounds so simple, but yields incredible results. David Byrd discusses this as part of his Next Step Achievement System®. Ms. Tronshaw highlights the time-saving aspect of having a plan when you walk into work. Mr. Byrd goes further. If we plan the day/night before, our subconscious mind receives a mental image of what we hope to accomplish. Since it never sleeps, it’s working on ways to do what you planned, even while your conscious mind is at rest. That leads to greater effectiveness during the following day.
  2. Complete your least favorite task first. By getting the things you like least done first, you can better enjoy the rest of your day. Having this mindset helps avoid procrastination, leading to greater productivity.
  3. Group similar tasks together. I can personally attest to this as a huge time-saver, and definite productivity boost. Setting aside time to do things like review and respond to email and blogs, make calls, set appointments, and print materials frees up the rest of your time for other (often big pay-off) activities.
  4. Keep email and other extraneous online applications closed while you’re engaged in task completion. Since you’re setting aside time for email and the like (see the previous point), keep those applications closed while you’re working on other things. If people need to reach you for emergencies or some other important matter, give them a specific way to contact you. This way, you only give attention to one outside source while completing other tasks, reducing distraction.
  5. Give yourself treats along the way. Few things motivate as much as the promise of a reward. Giving yourself personal incentives for completing key tasks keeps you engaged and focused. Whether it’s a coffee break, time to read an article, or a trip to a new restaurant for lunch, the reward keeps you moving forward. Darren Hardy, the publisher of Success magazine, also recommends attaching a take-away for not completing the task. Doing so can really motivate you to succeed!
  6. Store water and snacks at your workstation. This reduces the need to get up. I’m reminded of Chris Gardner in The Pursuit of Happyness, where he accomplished more than his peers partly because of eliminating the breaks others took. It seems like a little thing, but it pays off in big dividends.
  7. Take scheduled breaks periodically throughout the day to avoid burnout. I know this seems to contradict the point above. Not so! While you want to reduce unnecessary breaks, working continuously is a grind. So give your mind and body time to unwind. You’ll find you are more productive when you do.
  8. Schedule socializing and personal calls. Making and taking personal calls throughout the workday is a big productivity killer. This is especially true if you work for yourself, since your income relates to what you accomplish, not a paycheck. The challenge is twofold. First, you like the flexibility self-employment grants, and want to use that to do more for family and friends. Secondly, those family members and friends may not appreciate that you have a schedule, particularly if you work from home. Resist the urge to use time scheduled for work to accomplish personal matters. Operate from a schedule, making sure to schedule time for social/personal affairs.
  9. Switch your tasks every hour to keep your focus sharp. Monotony is the bane of productivity. Yet we all have mundane, repetitive tasks to complete. Switch them up, so you aren’t doing the same thing for long periods of time. This will boost your productivity, as well as your satisfaction with the work you do.
  10. Show up early. The wee hours are great times to get things done! For example, I completed the majority of this post during a writing session that began around 4:30AM. There are fewer distractions (who will call you that early in the day?!), and my mind seems sharper in the early hours. Everyone is different, but if you can squeeze even half an hour extra each morning to get things done, you’ll surprise yourself with how much you accomplish. John Grisham was busy as a lawyer when he decided to write. He wrote two of his books, A Time to Kill and The Firm, between 1984 and 1989. He did so by getting up at 5:00AM, going to the office early, and writing until about 7:30AM. It was grueling and exhausting, but it paid off! Now, he receives ridiculous advances for his books, and major studios vie for the rights to turn his books into films (or at least that used to happen). That’s a powerful testimony to showing up early! (Read more about his sacrifices and motivations here)

That sounds like a lot to do – and you’re right. You likely won’t master all the steps above right away. That’s okay. The key here is being aware of the steps, and then making a conscious effort to implement them. “But you said above that details matter! So how can I relax when I don’t have a handle on all of the 10 steps?!” Okay, first – breathe. Success, indeed life, is not just about learning and doing. It’s about embracing the process. Don’t expect perfection, and certainly don’t expect overnight mastery. Just get started, and keep moving forward. Eventually, you’ll master the necessary skills.

In the meantime, remember those “scatterbrained” successful people mentioned at the outset? How do they manage to accomplish so much when it seems clear they aren’t the most detail-oriented? They do it by surrounding themselves with people who are. You can do the same. Thus, get help to fill in the areas where you lack the necessary skills while working to develop a mastery of detail.

How would you rate yourself when it comes to handling details? What can you do to improve in this area? Leave your comments below.

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4 thoughts on “Attributes of Leadership – Mastery of Detail

  1. I fill three different functions on my job, and they all depend upon repetitive tasks. Generally, I am okay with all of them, but it seems like just when I get a good rhythm going, someone, like the little tornado called the AP Manager comes to my cube, and disaster strikes! Therefore, I do not think that I have the issue so much with handling details. I’d love, however, to be able to make others handle theirs!

    How do I handle the details? By multi-tasking. It’s the only way for me to get the to-do list completed every day. While I am in SAP setting up invoices to be processed, I am often on the phone with a vendor helping them clean up their accounts from the spin-off, correct billing information, and converting them to e-mail, on top of chasing around purchasers in e-mail and by IM to get purchase order numbers created or corrected… while running the department help desk!

    My only issue is time…. Details, I have down pat. To the point where I walk past something and immediately notice at a glance that the top screws are a different color than the bottom two. And then I have to point it out to someone else. Now THAT has the power to completely derail my day, because I will obsess on that every time I look, pretty much to the point where I need to replace them. I think that is something I need to improve upon, because tunnel vision focused on something so trivial is never beneficial.

  2. Pingback: Attributes of Leadership – Willingness to Assume Full Responsibility | Back-Office Bulletin

  3. Pingback: Attributes of Leadership – Cooperation | Back-Office Bulletin

  4. Pingback: Causes of Leadership Failure – Inability to Organize Details | Back-Office Bulletin

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