Lost in the Wrong details, or Leveraging the Right Details? (And how you can know.)

A friend of mine has his private pilot license and loves flying his Cessna. He is also fond of saying “Don’t bother me with the details, I’m not a details kind of guy.” Until he gets in his plane, then he’s all about the details. In fact, he wisely obsesses over details like making the flight plan even before he gets in the plane.

The key is focusing on the details that matter.

When it comes to your:

  • Pilot
  • Surgeon
  • Restaurant chef
  • Real estate agent
  • Dentist
  • Plumber
  • Kid’s teachers

You get the idea, pretty much everyone – you care about certain details too.

There is a huge difference between details that are unimportant distractions, and details that can actually change a life. A good leader knows the difference.

Obsessing on the wrong details can make you a micro-manager, obsessing on the right details can make you an effective leader.

  • Do you get stuck in the wrong details?
  • Do you miss important details?

I’ll let you in on a surprising fact.

The best leaders I know are very detail-oriented in at least one specific area. They don’t necessarily love all the details, but they pay close attention, and they are good at it.

For example, some senior pastors know the financial details backward and forward. Other senior pastors care about and are involved in every minute of programming for a Sunday morning.

(This is not limited to senior pastors.)

What details are you paying close attention to?

Good leaders are not focused on all the details, but they are focused on the right details at the right time.

This is not limited to the strategic elements of leadership, but very much applies to the spiritual nature of your leadership.

Being sensitive to the prompts of the Holy Spirit, those small quiet prompts that could easily be missed or ignored, can often make a major difference in eternal outcomes.

5 ways to help you leverage the right details:

1) Determining the right details starts with discerning the right voices.

The pressures you face as a leader can cause you to focus on details that are not the best use of your time. Gaining relief from a pressure is not a good reason to handle a detail.

Every leader has certain voices in their life that bring asks, expectations, and requirements. You can’t do all of them and still lead well, therefore discerning the different voices makes a huge difference.

Discerning who and what to respond to is not easy, but it’s not a mystery. It requires a thoughtful and deliberate nature that can discern from the many organizational priorities and personal needs.

For example, in your church, which details will advance the mission and help make progress? Don’t follow the loudest voice, do what brings measurable progress.

Or it might be more personal, maybe one of your kids brings you something really small, nothing you think will change the world, but it may change their world, so that makes it a priority.

It’s an art, don’t give up. The more intentional we are, the better we get at discerning the right details.

2) Upholding fierce allegiance to your purpose and priorities over your preferences.

We all have things that we find more enjoyable than certain other tasks and responsibilities.

I have an unusual relationship with email. I’m fast at it and I like to be helpful. If I know the person I imagine myself talking with them, so I enjoy it. Plus, I can “check” something off the list.

That doesn’t mean I should be doing the email.

The truth is, responding to email feels productive and is easier than doing my higher priorities that will make a bigger difference. It’s a perfect storm for a Type-A person.

As leaders, our ability to lean into personal discipline over personal preference will always help us choose the right details. 

We can still do the “fun” stuff, but as my mom was fond of saying, “Eat your vegetables first.” (Hey, I was a kid then and I didn’t like brussels sprouts or bell peppers!)

3) Knowing the difference between professional excellence and perfectionism is essential.

  • Perfectionistic tendencies are the habits where the extra effort does not create better results.
  • Professional excellence are the habits that increase the overall return of effort and energy according to measurable outcomes of your vision.

In other words, high standards increase results, but over-investing in unproductive details will drain your energy and slows down progress.

Candidly, the difference can be a fine line. And it’s not always easy to see that line clearly, so I’ll ask a friend or mentor around me. They can spot it in a second, try that if you find yourself unsure.

4) Your personal growth determines what you are willing to let go of.

Is it difficult for you to let go of things you know you should delegate to others? You’re not alone. What should you be handing off to a trusted team member?

What holds you back?

  • Desire to control?
  • Confident you can do it better?
  • Don’t trust the team?
  • It’s fun and you like to do it?
  • Something else?

Be careful not to hold on to certain “pet” details in a ministry that prevent the full empowerment of a staff member to lead that ministry.

Years ago, when we were moving into a new and large building our senior pastor asked me to build and temporarily lead a world class usher team. I was on it!! Two years later he asked why I was still leading it. Honest answer, I was having a blast. As XP it had been a long time since I was hands on with a ministry and I loved it. So I handed it off to a staff leader but kept my fingers in a few details that I really cared about. That was a mistake. I needed to let it go in order to fully empower that leader!

5) Elevating human kindness is rarely a waste of time.

As Christ-followers and spiritual leaders, we might tend to small details that don’t look like a good investment of time, but it meets a human need at a heart level.  I think Jesus gives us a two thumbs up!

What I’m saying here isn’t throwing the idea of this post out the window.

There are details that matter and details that don’t.

A long-time friend of mine says “If you just made a decision and no one gets mad, you made a decision that doesn’t matter.” (Gerald Brooks – Love you friend!)

Some things really don’t matter, but people always do.

Just keep your heart engaged for those moments that may not seem strategically the best use of your time here on earth, but heaven might see it differently.

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