What is a True "Big Picture" Leader?

The concept that to be a good leader you must focus only on the "big picture" and leave the details to others is a myth. Effective leaders cover both sides of the ledger.

However, this does not mean you must know the intimate mechanics of every process. It means that you do have to be aware of the basic details, that you have the right people covering them and that you have a follow-up system. Here's an example, from a first hand experience, that has withstood the test of time.

We Called Him "Red"

Early in my Navy experience aboard the guided missile cruiser USS Little Rock, CLG-4, (cruisers are named after state capitals) I served under an executive officer, Commander Berry (we called him "Red" in private, of course), who seemed to be everywhere at once.

He was a WWII survivor of a torpedo attack and was my first true example of serious leadership. After over 40 years I still use many of his methods today that helped me gain the edge and will share one special one with you here.

Attention to Detail

"Red" would often be seen on deck asking the status of certain machinery and weapons systems. Then you would see him in the engineering spaces checking on the status of a noisy pump.

He was even reputed to have been overheard asking a cook on the crew's mess deck if there was enough sugar in the cookies. From guns to butter, he appeared to be everywhere and aware of everything.

When he saw you he would ask the status of a specific task he had delegated. What always impressed me was his attention to detail. How could he maintain the "big picture" yet still remember such finite details on a guided helicopter cruiser 610 feet long, with a crew of over 800 and his myriad responsibilities?

Learning "Red's" Secret

Later, I learned the secret that cave him the edge. He kept a small green pocket notebook (Navy issue, of course) and briefly noted personal things about his officer staff and whatever he had delegated to them. Also, he noted any major systems that needed attention that had to be operational for the ship to carry out its mission. He posted in his diary daily, reviewed it every morning and then several more times during the day.

I still have mine after more than four decades. It's a tattered relic now. I still review it occasionally with nostalgia and thanks to "Red" Berry for setting the example.

His key was not just the notebook. It was the notebook plus the effort to learn personal things of importance about people he led: are they married, children, special circumstances, talents and major goals. He was always visible and approachable because he regularly circulated, called people by name and knew their challenges, problems and efforts to help maintain a constant state of readiness.

My motivation to get things done immediately was that "Red" would never forget and sure enough would ask me about them. As a result of his "big picture -ention to detail" type of leadership our ship was always awarded the battle efficiency "E" and maintained high morale.

Over the years, I've applied that leadership process of attention to detail to my business endeavors. It has been one of the secrets contributing to personal success.