WORKSHOP: Personal Trainer

Stephen Bubb, chief executive of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations (ACEVO). Send your questions to: stephen.bubb@haynet.com

I am really good at strategy and communications, but my boss tells me that I need to concentrate on detail. What should I do?

Oh dear, detail - the cry of the anally retentive down the ages.

First, let us be clear that skills in communication and strategy are incredibly important to all leadership positions. They lie at the heart of leadership and if you have skills in this area, your boss should be encouraging you to develop them and supporting you in those areas.

Most recent studies of leadership have stressed the importance of emotional intelligence. What makes the difference between being a good and a bad leader will be seen in a person's ability to take a strategic perspective, be a visionary and inspirational communicator, motivate and inspire a team, and influence and network.

I am not aware of many leadership studies that say a strong grasp of detail is essential. That does not suggest that detail is unimportant.

You certainly need to ensure that you have the right people in the right positions to ensure that operational issues are handled effectively. Someone has to have a grasp on detail, but not necessarily you.

The implication here is that you should 'deprioritise' strategy and communication and get roped in to detailed operational matters. This will not be a very effective use of your particular talents. Clearly this will partly depend on the particular job or the role you are being asked to undertake.

If you were a director of finance you would certainly need both the strategic overview and the ability to spot details which might be career-threatening: for example, mistakes in the accounts you are presenting to the board.

If you are delivering a strategy that involves competing priorities and time frames, then a clear grasp of timetable and project planning is important.

You must avoid the temptation to start micro-managing others - peering over their shoulders to see if they have the detail right. One chief executive recently said to me that they let their chair do all communications and networking while they "ran the organisation". To me this missed the point of the leadership role.

The danger of appraisals is to encourage staff to work on their weaknesses.

You actually need to work on strengths while recognising weaknesses and taking steps to ameliorate them. Somehow I don't think on any great leader's tombstone you will find the epitaph "a great one for detail".

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