I recently asked a mentor how to balance two seemingly exclusive ideas: 1) Diving deep into the technical details of a product to thoughtfully steer the outcome while 2) not burning out. As a leader I’ve always struggled to keep my distance from execution. Not only do I love to get into the details but I often revert to diving deep when things go off the rails. This level of granular steering comes at a price (at least for me): you can’t dive deep into several dozen areas at once and expect to effectively lead at the same time.

Confirming my bias for diving deep, I watched a clip of Steve Jobs explaining the pitfall in thinking “a great idea is 90% of the work.” He goes on to say the problem begins when you think “if you just tell all these other people, here’s this great idea, then of course they can go off an make it happen.” Steve is telling us that you MUST dive deep to get your intended outcome! Or perhaps it’s more nuanced than that…

I asked: “So how does diving deep scale for leaders?” The answer was: “You’re not Steve Jobs and neither am I.” Steve Jobs had the incredible ability to track thousands of data points simultaneously, very few people can do that effectively. Instead, focus on building the team and talent that gets you there without burning yourself out. The team should have your confidence that they can sufficiently dive deep enough to meet intended outcomes. The first step is gaining confidence and with that confidence you build trust with your team. Easy enough, right?

Where this breaks down is HOW you react when teams miss intended outcomes. Many leaders (like me) automatically go into “deep dive execution-mode” trading a better outcome for their own potential burn out. Instead, tackle the problem with collaboration and turn it into “everyone’s problem” by getting feedback and asking for help. If a team is struggling to meet outcomes and you feel yourself getting ready to jump headfirst into standups, try following these steps instead:

  1. Get feedback from other leaders, your own leader, stakeholders, and business or ops partners. Ask “How do you think this could have gone differently?” “What do you think we could have done better?” and “How has this missed your expectations?”
  2. Compile feedback from the group and then read back the answers to them in a subsequent meeting or 1:1. This will make them feel heard and confident in your ability to understand the core issues.
  3. Find time with the team or person in question and deliver the feedback as a development tool. Then work to create a plan of action to address the issue(s).
  4. Ask for help along the way, especially from your direct manager. Get their guidance on the plan of action and if temporarily diving deep is the only solution, it should come at the cost of more difficult decisions like hiring people to help or making people moves.

At this point, your action to dive deep or not is a collective decision, not a knee jerk reaction. It seems simple, but remember that as a manager team issues have team solves — it’s not all on you!

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