One of many adjustments that anybody needs to make in their thinking as they transition from individual contributor, to manager and then to a manager with a larger team is high level thinking. A basket of tactics and a to do list is fine for an individual contributor, and I think most appropriate. Sometimes, I still think about skipping out on my job and then cranking out a bunch of tactical to do’s. Sure, I can get them done fast, well and potentially better than most. However, in my current role, that’s not going to help the team elevate their game.
In management, a colleague said a few months ago with presentations to senior leadership, “However high you think you are, start higher.” He grinned and the whole room laughed uproariously, but it’s true. Suppose an astrophysicist walked into your office and started giving you and your team a detailed description of some of the most fascinating minutia of her craft. Other astrophysicists might be glued to their seats, listening in enraptured. But for the people in the room like me, who have expertise in a list of areas but not the foggiest idea of what matters in astrophysics, I’m going to check out. Start dreaming about a sandwich.
How do you know if you’re high, or you just think you’re high?
Start with a team member outside of your immediate group, who doesn’t have the expertise that you, or the team, can bring to bear on the topic. If their eyes roll back and they start asking you what they should have for lunch, “Houston, we have a problem.” Otherwise, if they get engaged, understand the metaphor, the allegory or parable, and the big picture they seem interested in…you can give them some details, to back up that big picture. But if you don’t start high, build the foundation of truth, you lose the opportunity to really communicate.
If we can’t communicate with each other effectively, then the experts among us will just sound like the teacher in Charlie Brown. Potentially full of knowledge, but useless at transmission.