The Forest is Full of Trees

Whenever I’m giving advice to people who want tips on applying for management positions, the number one thing I emphasize is the ability to see the Big Picture. People who get bogged down in the details will not make good managers (IMHO, the only time to micromanage is when you are specifically working with a staff member on correcting behavior or improving a specific skill). You have to learn to delegate and trust that a lot of the micro, detailed work will be taken care of.

But does that mean the details aren’t important? Of course not. In fact, the second piece of advice I give potential managers is to be able to see the forest AND the trees, but that the higher up you move in an organization, the less you have time to personally deal with the details yourself. For example, you can boldly profess a desire to change the face of ebook lending in libraries but if you skip or gloss over the details, you can end up without a tangible product or a deeply flawed collection development policy. That doesn’t necessarily mean your entire project is a failure just because your thinking was visionary and broad, but the details are what make ideas work at a practical level. As a leader, you will often have to trust that the support team you’ve built will take care of those details for you, but that doesn’t make them less important or less worthy of praise, claim and recognition.

We throw our attention at those Big Idea folks and (while I sometimes quibble with who’s chosen to win awards), that’s a good thing. People who think big should be celebrated and held up as examples (and the people chosen then have the responsibility to model professional behavior; as a wise man once wrote, with great power, there must also come great responsibility). However, if we focus our attention solely on these people, while ignoring the support staff, the people who did a lot of the dirty work to make it happen, then we lose something important. “Why” we do things is vitally important and should be our guiding principle but without the ground level work, those big ideas can never come to fruition.

To paraphrase Casey Kasem, dream big but keep yourself grounded by the idea that the greatness of an idea is directly proportionate to the number of details involved in making it happen.

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One response to “The Forest is Full of Trees

  1. val March 18, 2013 at 12:30 pm

    When I read the blog post referenced here, I had a similar reaction. In fact, here’s what I posted in the comments when a friend shared the link to that post:

    “i take probably the opposite approach when proposing conference talks. i feel like, if i don’t have anything concrete and practical to tell you, i’m wasting your time. big picture stuff is great for keynotes and the occasional amazing speaker, but i need you to translate your big picture into action items, not just fire me up. maybe it depends on where you are in your career. management probably needs the inspiration and lofty goals and big conversations, but down in the trenches i need to know exactly what you did and how you did it, and how i can do it too (and of course why i would even want to do it.) like, talking about institutional repositories and linked data and open access and why we should care is important, but more important to me is how i can actually implement it in my library.”

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