Forest and Trees

One of the big challenges of leadership is being able to view both the forest and the trees as they lead. 

In order to be effective, a leader has to be able to take a step back from small decisions to see its ramifications on the big picture. This is especially important in crisis management. Poor leaders will be tempted to run the path of least resistance, and make a knee-jerk decision in a crisis scenario, which almost never pays off in the long run. 

But the most effective leader is not just one who operates on a big-picture level. I've worked for organizations before where the primary leader only functions at 30,000 feet, and it doesn't work. He isn't able to see the short-term ramifications of his big-picture vision, which breeds resentment and discouragement, or apathy on the part of the people who work under him. 

If you only function at a big-picture "forest" level, you'll never reach your vision because you'll run off all the people assigned to work at the "tree" level. You don't get them, so you can't empower them. 

On the other hand, if you only function on the "tree" level, you'll operate and execute with a "ready, fire, aim" tendency. You'll be more interested in pulling the trigger and getting a decision off your desk than you will be in making sure the decision benefits the group you're leading in the long-run. 

The best leaders move freely between the "forest" view and the "tree" view as a part of each decision. They work hard to understand the short-term and long-term ramifications of each decision they make. And the greatest leaders are able to do this extremely quickly. 

With that said, I've never met a leader for whom both views come naturally. We typically have to struggle to see either the "forest" or the "trees" picture with any clarity at all. I tend to be better at a "forest" view. When I shoot, my philosophy tends to be "ready, aim, aim, aim, aim, aim..." So I work hard to think more at the tree-level, and to surround myself with people who think well at the tree-level. I want to consider both, because I want to be a great leader.