THE THIN LINE BETWEEN BEING DETAILED AND BEING PETTY

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There is a valid connection between details and development. The ability to pay attention to details is one of the yardsticks of an excellent individual. Virtually in every field of endeavour, what is common to most leaders is their obsession with details and what is common to most laggards is their utter disregard for details.

Not all details are worthy of a leader’s attention, because not all details are of consequence. Two kinds of details every leader will confront on their journey are consequential details and inconsequential details. The consequential details are details that can have either a positive or negative effect on a leader’s objectives. Such details must never be overlooked. 

Inconsequential details, on the other hand, are details that have virtually no effect on a leader’s desired objectives and as such, must be ignored. This ability to distinguish what must be looked into, as against what must be overlooked is crucial to a leader’s effectiveness. What enables a leader to distinguish between both is the clear definition of that leader’s objectives. 

To be effective, a leader must distinguish between what must be ignored and what must be explored. Click To Tweet

A leader, therefore, must not major on the minors. They must distinguish between what must be ignored and what must be explored. I define a distraction as anything calling for your attention that will not contribute to your intention. Leaders must beware of them.

A distraction is anything calling for your attention that will not contribute to your intention. Click To Tweet

On the other hand, the hallmark of a petty individual is their obsession with inconsequential details. As individuals can be petty, so also institutions or organisations can be petty. In my experience, the most destructive people in any organisation are the petty ones and they must be curtailed,  if not expunged from organisational leadership summarily.

The hallmark of a petty individual is their obsession with inconsequential details. Click To Tweet

Insidious Communication of Pettiness

What makes the petty individual dangerous is not just their obsession with inconsequential details, but their insidious communication of such inconsequential details through either formal or informal relationship networks within the institutional polity. Innocent as this subtle miscommunication may seem, what it accomplishes is to siphon individual and institutional energy away from set objectives. If these petty agents are permitted to persist,  the very atmosphere of the organisation can be infused with toxicity and animosity to the point where the institution grinds to a halt. And in most cases, such organisations become incapable of fulfilling their objectives.

One way to distinguish between the petty and the valid, is to simply ask the question, ‘How does this information contribute to the fulfilment of our objectives?’ If you can’t get a valid answer, you are probably dealing with a petty issue.

Obsession with Issues Above One’s Pay Grade

Another manifestation of pettiness is an obsession with issues that are quite frankly not one’s business or issues that are above your pay grade institutionally. By this I mean, issues that are beyond the scope of one’s decisions and hence influence. The work of Stephen R. Covey on distinguishing between circles of influence and circles of concern greatly deals with this issue and should be consulted. 

Using Personal Issues to Undermine Institutional Objectives

A third sign of pettiness is using personal issues to undermine institutional issues and objectives. In my view, there are many personal issues that if allowed to have a say in institutional objectives, can and will halt progress. I have noticed that what matters to a leader aren’t necessarily the personal issues of people, but the validity of their contribution to the institutional vision or mission. To the degree to which a person’s personal affairs doesn’t undermine institutional goals, those affairs are quite frankly not the leader’s business. Unfortunately, most petty people lack the capacity to rise above this subjectivity. 

Pettiness is a luxury that a leader cannot afford. As such, a leader must react to pettiness decisively because of its destructive effect on organisational objectives. The leader must also understand that the fountain that pettiness flows from,  is a lack of focus on the achievement of individual or organisational objectives. Such distractions must not be entertained for a second. 

The focused leader will do well to both ignore the content of such inconsequential details, as well as the petty individuals who convey them. Click To Tweet

True leadership must incorporate both the macro perspectives that deal with the big picture, as well as the micro perspectives that encompass the consequential details needed to fulfil that big picture. All else should be ignored. 

This capacity to distinguish between what should be ignored and what should be explored should also be applied to the external environment of the organisation and society at large. Especially in this age of social media, not everything said is worthy of the leader’s attention, particularly if they are of no consequence.

The focused leader will do well to both ignore the content of such inconsequential details, as well as the petty individuals who convey them.  In the words of Stephen Covey, ‘The main thing is to keep the main thing, the main thing.’

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