A common misperception among leaders is that once you get to a certain level, you should consider only a 30,000-foot perspective (i.e., the big picture) of your business.
Although a high-level perspective is necessary for leadership success, it must be accompanied by an in-depth understanding of your team’s operation (e.g., your drivers of cost, profit, quality, and customer satisfaction). When you make a habit of ignoring the little things, you eventually end up ignoring the big things. Don’t misinterpret this as micromanagement. We are discussing leadership knowledge, not leadership activity.
Your car provides a helpful analogy for understanding the importance of both the big picture and detailed information. Just as your car’s dashboard tells you speed, fuel level, and engine temperature, your organizational dashboard tells you if sales are up 5 percent, productivity is down, or project deliverables are on schedule. Leaders typically use dashboard knowledge.
While dashboard knowledge is important for understanding broad metrics and the general direction of your operation, it is less helpful for identifying specific actions, improvements, and adjustments that will help your team run more smoothly. For that kind of information, you have to look “under the hood.” Looking under your car’s hood provides insight into why your car is running hot, why it veers to the right, and why it’s not starting as quickly as it should.
Under-the-hood knowledge about your team gives you specific information with respect to a given job, time, place, and set of circumstances. Inspiring coaches involve team members who possess under-the-hood knowledge. They understand that by the time a warning light on your dashboard starts blinking, you already have a problem under the hood. Your frontline team members then become your experts.
One of our CEO clients, Bob Bunker, likes to hearken back to his Air Force days when he’s looking under the hood. He refers to his field offices as the FEBA (Forward Edge of Battle Area). It’s a vivid reminder to his corporate team that the field offices are where the business battle is won on a daily basis.
Bunker has been known to spend much of his time on the FEBA listening to his field team and customers and supporting both of them. He says, “Getting on the FEBA allows me to see and feel the daily processes and ponder process reengineering opportunities and technology applications, and better appreciate the interdependencies of our corporate and customer systems as a whole.”
Involving his frontline team gives Bunker a more complete view of his business and enlists team ownership of the solutions. Inspiring coaches put their egos and assumptions aside to seek real-time input from team members who are working under the hood every day.