Andrea Belk Olson headshot Andrea Belk Olson

Are you a tyrant of small things?

Most of us never get formal training on how to lead a team, let alone lead an organization. Many simply learn on the job and make their way through the ranks, picking up both good and bad traits along the way. Sometimes, new leaders get the opportunity to attend “leadership” training programs and learn some basics. However, there’s still a preponderance of organizational leaders who don’t empower others, continue to micromanage and become a “tyrant of small things”.

Inherently, a leader’s job is to lead people. Not tasks, not projects – but people. A leader’s team is the “engine” that gets those tasks and projects done. And an engine needs to be tuned, maintained and fueled.

As leaders, when we have a singular focus, such as only on growth, we believe that this is alignment “fuels the engine”. Most every seminar on organizational leadership talks about giving the company a clear focus and purpose – something that everyone can rally around and align their efforts towards.

However, if this focus is measured and rewarded based solely on output numbers, leaders will drive their teams to reach the numbers and dive into the “how” (implementation) rather than the “why” (objective). This creates tyrants of small things – those micro-focused managers that spend their energy on the details of execution rather than whether there’s a better way, faster way, or even if that activity is even value-added. Those exact things you want your teams to examine, question, and innovate on.

Being a tyrant of small things is a leader that’s only looking at the “how” not the “why”. They over-direct the implementation, rather than keeping an eye on the bigger picture and helping their teams do the same. They question their team’s capabilities rather than challenge them to think bigger and examine new ways to solve problems and achieve goals.

This happens often to leaders who were promoted from “doers” to “leaders”. What made them successful in the past was focusing on the “how” and they continue to do so, just through their team. They are ill-equipped to help teach, push and expand their team’s capabilities and productivity, as they never had to do it before. They often don’t have the tools – whether it be simply motivational skills or even clear and compelling mission/values to use as their compass.

So first and foremost, identify whether you are a tyrant of small things. Do you question the “how” rather than the “why”? Are you pushing your team to advance their own skillsets and capabilities, or simply thinking about output targets? This tyrant mentality is the thing that fuels employee churn, negative cultures, internal competition, and organizational silos. The top things that each and every company I speak with complains about and wants to change. It starts with eliminating the internal tyranny.

About the Author:

Andrea Olson is a strategist, speaker, author, and customer-centricity expert. As the CEO at Pragmadik, she helps organizations of all sizes, from small businesses to Fortune 500, and has served as an outside consultant for EY and McKinsey. Andrea is the author of The Customer Mission: Why it’s time to cut the $*&% and get back to the business of understanding customers and No Disruptions: The future for mid-market manufacturing.

She is a 4-time ADDY® award winner and host of the popular Customer Mission podcast. Her thoughts have been featured in news sources such as Chief Executive MagazineCustomer Experience MagazineIndustry Week, and more. Andrea is a sought-after keynote speaker at conferences and corporate events throughout the world. She is a visiting lecturer at the University of Iowa’s Tippie College of Business, a TEDx presenter and TEDx speaker coach. She is also a mentor at the University of Iowa Venture School.

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