Big picture questions for leaders

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Big picture questions for leaders

I’ve developed a little habit within my business. It’s nothing earth-shattering, in fact, it’s quite simple. I send out a team email every month. While this might sound like a communication activity, that’s not its main purpose. It’s a little trick I play on myself to check in with the big picture.

My days are full of face-to-face conversations. I value them highly. But I’ve noticed that most of my interactions in any given week are focused on the detail. Our conversations at Bright People are usually about a particular project, or about an idea for a new client, or about a better way to run our own company. Let’s face it, most of us who operate in the corporate space are problem-solvers and we love to get our teeth into a gritty challenge and explore many possible solutions! But when this becomes your main focus, it’s too easy to get caught up attending to the pixels and missing the big picture.

My monthly team email is one of the circuit breakers I use to drag me back out of the detail. I always start by reflecting on our purpose, our vision, our strategy and our big-picture goals. And when I do this, I feel my perspective shift. My sights are lifted, I see patterns that have emerged throughout the month in a new light, and I can see where we are making progress, and maybe where we risk going off track.

I’ve found these regular points of pausing and reflecting on the big picture to be invaluable, both within my own business but also on projects. I’ve seen too many great starts end up a long way down the wrong path because no one lifted their head to check in with the big picture. Then suddenly they are side-swiped by a change that someone probably could have seen coming if they’d been looking. Or they’ve been so focused on optimising one part of a bigger system, they don’t notice an unintended consequence that eventually causes havoc and brings the work to a halt.

Like trying to sail across an ocean with its shifting winds and unpredictable waves, being agile and finding the right path means looking up for navigation points regularly. I think it’s a leader’s role to be the one to look up on behalf of their team. Like the ship’s crew, team members give their time and energy to those things that leaders decide are important. They buy into a shared vision and they trust us to choose paths that achieve meaningful and rewarding results.

It takes a fair degree of discipline to pull yourself away from the detail for a few hours. I have to remind myself every month to create the space to write my team email and it’s always worth it (at least for me!).

I’d love to hear your method of regularly checking in with the big picture, and in the meantime, I thought I would share some questions I’ve used within projects to help everyone pause and look up:

• How does this activity fit into the bigger picture?

• Is this still the best way to get there?

• Are there any emerging trends or new innovations we should be considering?

• Have our customers/users changed their behaviour lately?

• What faint signals are you seeing or hearing that we should talk about?

• When you look at this work from a different perspective (eg. client/future user), can you see an opportunity for improvement?

• Is there a better use of our investments (time, energy, money) than where they’re going right now?