“I have a few loose ends to tie up and then I’ll be home.” Does that sound like a familiar phone conversation at the end of a long day? Sometimes those loose ends take a few minutes; sometimes an hour or more. It can be cleaning out your inbox, returning a phone call or two, or packing up your briefcase for an early morning flight. Whatever the loose ends are, the trip home will rest easy on your mind if they are done. And if they aren’t, sleep comes hard that night, because a rope, or business, or church, or life with loose ends has a way of coming unraveled.
It is common today for leaders to believe that the details are beneath them: “I leave the details to my staff.” Great leaders don’t buy into that line of thinking and know that the difference between good and great is often attention to detail. In the business world, no one has ever understood this better than Steve Jobs. From the iMac…to the iPod and iTunes…to the iPhone…and finally to the iPad, Jobs was obsessive about personally ensuring that every detail met the standard of excellence he expected in Apple products. General Colin Powell, who served our country ably as both the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and as the Secretary of State, had this to say about details:
“Never neglect details. When everyone’s mind is dulled or distracted the leader must be doubly vigilant.”
“Never neglect details.” Wow! Never? Really? That’s what he said, and he’s right.
History is full of missed details that brought down nations, companies, individuals and organizations of all kinds. The Greeks defeated the Trojans because someone forgot to look inside the Trojan Horse. In the late 1990’s, a Mars Orbiter Satellite was designed partly in metrics and partly in English units. Guess what? The navigation system malfunctioned and it was lost in space. In 1994, a small detail—a safety valve left off—caused an explosion that killed 167 men on the Piper Bravo oil rig. As the old saying goes, the devil is in the details. I am not saying that the leader has to personally take care of every detail, but the leader does have to be “doubly vigilant” to make sure that every detail is taken care of. Steve Jobs did. Colin Powell did. You have to also.
[This is an excerpt from my first book, One Stone At A Time, coming this fall.]
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© Copyright 2012 by Dick Wells, The Hard Lessons Company
"The best way to lead people into the future is to connect with them deeply in the present."
Kouzes & Posner