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Simon says, “Attend to the details without getting bogged down in them.”

“The devil is in the details.” That is Simon’s only point here. What can be missed is the fact this devil is particularly devilish. Every situation, set of circumstances, problem, or issue has its broad-brush look and feel. From that perspective, it takes on its special definition. Given that definition, Simon can draw on his insight and experience and take appropriate action. He does not need the details to know what to do. In fact, he is so oriented to managing people and processes at this level he quickly becomes impatient with those who insist on providing far more detail than Simon wants or needs.

Less successful leaders take a different approach. They want and need every detail, no matter how trivial. They believe the more information they have, the better will be their choices and decisions. These leaders see themselves as thoughtful and thorough. People like Simon are, they think, impulsive and inclined to shoot from the hip.

Here is the underlying problem. No matter how much detailed information leaders have, there is most always more information that could be made available, if they are patient enough. There are also things they cannot know and details that will not be forthcoming no matter how patient they are. It is normally possible to know more and impossible to know everything.

Leaders always act based on partial information. The challenge is knowing when to act and when to wait on more detail. Were that not enough, information tends to go down in proportion to the potential unwanted consequences of the decision or choice. The more potential there is for bad outcomes, the less well-informed the leader is likely to be. In these situations, successful leaders tend to act too quickly and less successful leaders tend to get bogged down in the details and postpone action indefinitely.

Understanding these facts of leadership, Simon counsels wisely: Attend to the details without getting bogged down in them. If you are apt to act too quickly, slow down and assimilate more detail. If instead, you are apt to obsess over the details, take a deep breath and act. Either way, you may want to use Simon’s secret technique. He sets a specific, future time to decide. This forces him to consider more detail and to get more input. It also forces a closure to input and an end point for attending to detail. When the time comes to decide, he decides. As Simon puts it, “When the bell rings, you just jump on the bull and hope you can hang on.”

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