Attention to detail can be really important when it comes to running a business. Leaders play an important role, so it makes sense that attention to detail should be important to them, too.
However, many managers and leaders are not naturally detail-focused. Some people have a sharp eye for detail, while many leaders are more interested in the “big picture”.
There are a few situations where attention to detail can be really important, and others where it doesn’t matter so much. If you’re not a “details person”, all is not lost.
The benefit of being a leader is that sometimes you can delegate important tasks to people who can do them better than you can.
As a leader, you should care about the details. But that doesn’t mean you need to be the one focusing on them all day, especially if that’s not your natural strength.
In this article, I’m going to take a look at some of the reasons why attention to detail matters. But I’ll also look at what you can do if attention to detail is not one of your strengths.
How Do You Know When Attention to Detail Really Matters?
Attention to detail can be critical at certain times, and not so important in others. It really depends on the situation.
Let’s look at some factors to consider to help you decide when attention to detail is important, and when you can let your standards slip a little.
Attention to Detail Can Impact Your Reputation
A leader’s reputation is important, because it influences the people around you. Attention to detail can be a factor which impacts your reputation, because it says something about you.
For example, if you fail to pay attention to the details of an important document or presentation that you’re delivering, it may contain mistakes.
So if it doesn’t look like you’ve reviewed your work before it goes out into the world, what are you telling people?
Here are some possible messages you are sending:
- Your team is disorganised and rushes their work
- You hope that people will look past the issues and will instead spend time really understanding the core contents
- You believe people won’t notice
- Your team isn’t capable of doing high-quality work.
Attention to detail can really matter for important work, because it shows the amount of pride that you take in it. Obviously, some work is more important than others so there is no perfect formula to tell you whether it matters in your situation.
Examples of Situations When Attention to Detail Matters
Sometimes, it’s important to focus on attention to detail. For example:
- When you’re submitting an important proposal to win work for your company
- If the consequences of mistakes could be high, such as in healthcare or construction
- If regulators or other organisations will be inspecting your work e.g. during audits
- When you really need to look like you know what you’re talking about. For example, when speaking to the Board of your organisation.
Those are just a few ideas. Be sure to think about the situations that matter most for you and your team.
Learn More: 6 Great Ways to Build Your Leadership Brand.
Attention to Detail Can Impact Stakeholder Confidence
Attention to detail is not always about spelling or grammar. It simply means getting the small things right.
I’ve seen business proposals submitted where the title and name of the person who would approve the proposal were both incorrect.
I’ve also seen consulting submissions where the final pricing had errors, resulting in an incorrect cost.
Some people may look past these issues, but the fact is, they just make your work look sloppy.
If your important stakeholders see errors then they are likely to have less confidence in your work as a whole.
People are busy, and sometimes they have so many items in their todo list, they need a quick way to cut it down. If your work contains errors, it’s likely people will use them as the excuse they need to put your work in the bin.
Learn More: 3 Ways to Build Your Leadership Credibility In a New Team.
The Details Matter, Because You Are a Role Model For Your Team
When leaders don’t really care about the details and overlook mistakes, guess what? That’s what your team will start to do, too.
It’s important to remember that you are a role model for your team. They watch what you do, and they take notice of what you focus on. If you don’t pay attention to getting the details right, then they won’t feel the need to worry about them either.
So if you are frustrated with a lack of quality in the work of your team, it might be worth taking a look at the example you are setting for your team.
This can be a tricky balancing act for leaders who aren’t naturally detail-focused. If you tend to focus more on the big picture and vision, you’ve got to be careful that you don’t send the wrong message to your people.
Learn More: Seeing Performance Issues In Your Team? Try These Things.
Paying Attention to Detail Doesn’t Mean Aiming for Perfection
Here, I would like to make an important distinction. Just because you pay attention to detail, it doesn’t mean you need to spend your time working IN the detail.
What I mean by this is that you don’t want to spend your time consumed with small, lower-value tasks. Most of the time, you want to leave that to someone in your team.
But, when there is work to oversee, you should take care to make sure that the important details are right. It’s a fine balance, and sometimes people fall into the trap of trying to achieve perfection.
As you can see in the diagram below, attention to detail exists on a spectrum. Too little focus on the detail, and you’ll see mistakes. Too much focus on the detail, and you’ll spend too much time agonising over tiny aspects which may not be worth your time.
This is the challenge that perfectionist leaders often face. You can read more about perfectionist leaders in this post: How Being a Perfectionist is Killing Your Leadership.
Bigger Picture Leaders
I’ve made reference a few times to leaders who focus more on the “bigger picture”. There is nothing wrong with this. In fact, it can be a great strength for a team and an organisation.
Setting a vision and direction for your team is important. A vision is a picture of a better future, a place where you want your team to get to. As such, it usually doesn’t involve focusing on tiny details.
Big picture leaders can be inspirational and motivational, because their focus is to help their people achieve an aspirational and challenging vision.
In my experience, these leaders are often less interested in minor details.
The best organisations I’ve experienced have a combination of big picture people and detail people. These often fulfil different functions in the organisation.
For example, you probably want your Finance team to be full of people who pay attention to detail. The people who oversee product quality should also be in that category.
Learn More: Thoughtful Leader Podcast #81: The Power of Setting a Direction for Your Team (and how to do it).
What Do You Do If You’re Not Good With Attention to Detail?
Not everyone is blessed with strong attention to detail. There’s nothing wrong with that. It takes different types of people to create strong teams and workplaces.
If you struggle with attention to detail, you can try the following:
- Understand when it matters. Understanding when attention to detail is important for your team helps you to focus on it when you need to. Take time to understand which aspects of your team need it, and where it isn’t so important.
- Delegate to the right people. Some tasks need attention to detail. Make sure that you have people you trust to handle that for you. They might review deliverables or oversee processes that need to be just right.
- Involve yourself just enough. You can’t avoid paying attention to the detail all the time. Get others to prepare information for you so that it’s easier for you to digest. Then, you can focus on paying attention to the details for a short time when you really need to.
Leaders who never pay attention to detail can be caught out by mistakes or missed opportunities. Make sure that you create an environment where you reduce the risk of this happening to you.
Learn More: How to Delegate Work to Improve Your Team.
Attention to detail may seem like a chore, but there are some situations where it is very important.
Make sure you have those situations covered, and you’ll be able to lead without worrying about being caught out!
Do you think attention to detail is important? Or is it overrated? Let all the Thoughtful Leaders know in the comments below!
Yeah, thats nice.
Absolutely, the time and cost (not just money) impacts are potentially huge!
Thanks for the comment.
Hi Ben, I like your page as I am trying to teach a colleague about the importance of attention to detail… However, I have spotted some poor grammar on your web page….
“Many people may look past these issues, but the fact is, they just makes your work look sloppy. If your audience sees errors in obvious places, then they are likely to have less confidence in your work as a whole”.
I have subscribed and look forward to reading and learning more
Hah, great pickup! Quite ironic as I usually try to be quite tight on my grammar / spelling. I have fixed it so nobody needs to know in the future (apart from this comment).
Thanks for taking the time to comment and to subscribe – appreciate it!