Two key attributes of exceptional leaders

Several attributes make great leaders. However, two of them stand out. These are paying attention to details and the ability to think through a problem.


Paying attention to details

Andrew Carnegie, a self-made industrialist, who was the world’s wealthiest man in the early 20th century, mentioned paying attention to details as one of the traits that helped him and a few others become exceedingly successful. Carnegie said anyone who wishes to make a success of his endeavour must never fail to pay close attention to the details of every aspect of his business. Over a century later, Hugh Black, a Scottish-American writer, observed that paying attention to details is the secret of success in every sphere of life, adding that those who do not pay attention to details prime themselves for failure. Concurring with him, Charles R. Swindoll, an American preacher, said the difference between something good and something great is in the attention that is paid to the details surrounding the issue.


Why paying attention to details is important

A company’s products define the company. How a person handles his affair tells the person’s story. Every piece of work is a reflection of the person who did it. Since failure to pay attention to details leaves room for sloppiness, those who travel that route often jeopardize their reputation. As the saying goes, there is no second chance to make the first impression. So, if an individual fails to pay attention to details and ends up performing below expectations, he gets himself branded as an underperformer. Changing that perception could be herculean. Employment opportunities have been missed because of spelling mistakes; business opportunities have been lost due to wrong calculations on business proposals. If a company, due to the failure of a department to take time to cross the t’s and dot the i’s, ends up producing a defective product, undoing the damage caused by that slip could cost a small fortune and take many years.


Sloppiness is costly

Sloppiness comes at a huge cost to persons and organizations. Anyone who is paying for a service or product expects value in return, not excuses for non-performance. If the value is not delivered for any reason, he will look elsewhere to satisfy his need, except the service provider is a monopolist. That is why the market place is said to be impersonal. Patronage is given to those who deliver on the promise made. The truth is that the world hardly overlooks errors. The market may not praise a company when it does something extraordinary, but failure to meet agreed terms will not be spared condemnation.


Those who don’t pay attention to details take customers for granted

Organisations that fail to pay attention to details and consequently make unsatisfactory products take their customers for granted. Those who take customers for granted cannot last in the business even if they operate as monopolists. This is because there will come a time when other service providers will get into the industry, then the ex-monopolist will pay for its misdeeds. That is what happened to Nigerian Telecommunications Limited (NITEL). There was a time when it was the only company providing telephone services in the country. Then, it displayed gross disrespect to customers and treated customers like lepers. All of a sudden, the market was liberalized and other players were brought in. Despite having the edge of an automatic licence as well as almost 500,000 customers before any of the new entrants, it could not survive the competition because it was not given to paying attention to details such as customer care. It eventually went under. Every business exists to satisfy customers. Those companies that satisfy customers indeed are the ones who pay attention to details.


How to pay attention to details

These are some steps that can result in paying attention to details.


Schedule your work

When things are lumped together, committing errors and overlooking some important steps become unavoidable. But when the work is scheduled, you know what to expect at any point in time. Those who work smart usually allocate time for every activity. This enables them to track what they do and how it is done. So, scheduling work enables one to pay attention to details.


Avoid distraction

One of the causes of mediocre performance is distraction. Those who are distracted hardly produce excellent results. Avoid distraction, stay focused on the work at hand so that the desired result could be accomplished.


Spare no effort

Those who want to cut corners or make quick fixes are usually given to overlooking details and as a result come up with below par performance. Commit to taking the highway of rigour to achieve whatever you set out to achieve. Spare no effort to get the right result. Those who spare effort pay for it with poor outcomes.


Go beyond the obvious

Excellence is exceeding set standards. This is accomplished when individuals or organizations choose to go farther and deeper than the obvious. Doing this will enable them to see what others do not see and as a result do what others cannot do.


Review the work

When the task has been completed, set aside a moment to go over it one more time. There is nothing that is so good that cannot be improved upon. Going over the completed task provides an opportunity to have a fresh look at what has been done with a view to improving on it.

When leaders pay attention to details it positions them to have a holistic view of the situation at hand, thus making it possible for them to do what is right for the organization.

The second leg is the ability to think through a problem.

The major assignment of leaders is to solve problems. A leader who does not solve problems is already out of job, though the manifestation may tarry. Problems come in various forms, shapes and sizes. But whatever the manifestation of a problem, the leader is expected to mobilize the resources of the organization to find solution to it. This is done by thinking through the problem.

If any problem is proving too difficult for an organization or a person, it is a sign that enough thinking has not been committed to solving the problem. When leaders think through a problem or lead their people to reflect over a situation, the solution will become clear. So, a leader who does not take time to think is less than what he claims to be.


Thinking is a daily activity

Every leader who is worth the title must set aside time on a daily basis to think about the organization he leads. Great leaders build time to think about their organizations into their daily schedule. This gives them the opportunity to travel into the future to see opportunities before they become apparent and identify problem before they are known to all. By doing this, they are able to seize opportunities ahead of competitors and solve problems before they fester. Setting time out to think makes leaders reflective, not reflexive, thus they take absolute charge of situations around them instead of putting themselves at the mercy of situations.

Apart from doing their own daily thinking, great leaders set up think tanks who think about issues concerning the organizations with a view to proffering solutions to them.

Engaging in daily thinking activity enables the leader to read the situation correctly and provide appropriate leadership.


How leaders think

Leaders think in a number of ways to increase their productivity and enhance their organization’s profitability. Here are some of them.


Creative thinking

Creativity is doing something new or doing an old thing in a new way. Every leader should develop capacity for creative thinking. Doing so will enable him to come up with new ways of doing things that will help the organizations. If it is an organization that is involved in manufacturing or production, this line of thinking will also help the organization to come up with new products that will improve the life of every customer.


Reflective thinking

Reflective thinking enables the leader to take the whole picture into consideration before taking an action. Leaders deal with the big picture but not all leaders know this. Those who lack this understanding never become the leaders everybody respects. Being reflective enables the leader to have the right perspective and eventually take the appropriate actions.


Strategic thinking

Strategic thinking is looking beyond the problem to look for a solution. Strategic thinkers proffer solutions to difficult situations by simplifying the problem. By simply breaking what looks like a complex situation to simple tasks or smaller bits, they solve a problem that seems to be stalling the progress of the organization.


Focused thinking

Sometimes certain situations defy prescribed solutions. When this happens what outstanding leaders do is to engage in focused thinking. This is stepping away from other issues to devote time and thoughts to just one matter. By so doing, the issue becomes clearer and the appropriate solutions become apparent.


Selfless thinking

The major challenge of many leaders is that they are unable to separate their personal interest from corporate interest. Leaders will go far and achieve their dreams if they will only think less about ‘what is in it for me’ and focus on ‘how our organization can be great.’ Conflict of interests holds organizations down. But when those running an organization are willing to sacrifice personal interest for corporate good, then there is no limit to what the organization can accomplish. It is very normal for an individual to give thoughts to how to improve his lot. But great leadership robs an individual of the right to protect his interest. His thinking should be improving the lot of the organization and its people. So, a leader must also regularly engage in selfless thinking so that his personal interest does not come in the way of the progress of the organization he leads.


Last line

Leaders who combine paying attention to details with thinking through problems stand head and shoulders above others.



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