Many first-time leaders are often walking encyclopedias. They know all of the details of their projects and can tell you everything you could possibly know, or want to know, about how it works, the costs, the risks, the opportunities and the challenges. These leaders are on top of their game.
That type of attention to detail is important and their supervisors count on them to know their stuff. However, often times when a senior leader asks them a simple question, they get a book full of information in return. New leaders may feel compelled to tell everything they know about the project when the senior leader is simply looking for an insightful summary. The encounter typically leaves both frustrated.
The answer to this problem is to develop the ability to
» simplify the complex «
This leadership trait differentiates good leaders from the rest of the pack.
Mark Twain once famously said, “I apologize for such a long letter – I didn’t have time to write a short one.” Simplifying the complex is not being simplistic. It’s about getting to the essence of what you are communicating. It’s the ability to take disparate information and distill it down to the main points. It provides clarity and direction because it comes from a strategic versus tactical perspective.
Simplifying the complex can be difficult, but it is a skill that you can learn. Here are three tips that will help you master this important leadership skill.
- Know your audience. The mistake many new leaders make is assuming their supervisor wants a detailed response when they are really looking for a thoughtful summary. Ask yourself:
- What are they really asking?
- Are they just looking for a summary of what I’m working on, a quick status update or an answer to a specific question?
- Summarize rather than exhaust. Understand this is not your opportunity to show everything you know, rather it’s your opportunity to demonstrate that you have a firm grasp of the project or issue. Ask yourself:
- What is the minimum amount of information needed to answer the question or explain the project or issue?
- Remember you can always go deeper if you are asked follow-up questions.
- Create an elevator pitch. This is a short description of the idea, project or problem. The elevator pitch explains it in such a way that any listener could understand it in a short amount of time even if they weren’t familiar with it before. Try it out on a co-worker or family member. If they can understand what you are doing, it’s a good pitch. If they can’t, you might want to keep working on it. Here are some helpful things to think about as you craft your pitch.
- What is the main goal or objective of what you are working on? What are you trying to accomplish?
- What are the one or two issues, obstacles or challenges that you are trying to solve?
- What will be the result when it is accomplished? What difference will it make?
Preparing and rehearsing an elevator pitch in advance will help you think strategically about your work. It will also communicate to your supervisor that you have a firm grasp on your project.
The best leaders simplify the complex. They keep the focus on what they are trying to accomplish and learn how to communicate it in a succinct manner. Developing this skill will help you become a more strategic leader and help you stand out among your peers. How will you practice simplifying the complex this week?
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