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How to Work with a Leader Who Doesn’t Care About Details

This article originally appeared on hbr.org.

It’s not uncommon to work with a leader who has big, creative ideas but doesn’t really understand operations or implementation. These people aren’t interested in hearing the countless details that go into making initiatives successful or worrying about complications that can occur: they assume success is inevitable and that their team members will handle any snags or obstacles. While it’s good to feel trusted, this lack of understanding from a leader can leave employees feeling frustrated or abandoned when they face tricky situations or encounter barriers when implementing the boss’s ideas.

Rather than challenging visionary leaders upfront, and possibly triggering anger or defensiveness, here are three ways to get their support.

Hear them out completely and reflect their enthusiasm back to them.

At one organization I worked with, the chief of staff was deeply frustrated by her CEO’s passionate commitment to his own ideas and his unwillingness to recognize or wrestle with the particulars of the new initiatives he was asking the organization to launch. Even worse, he habitually ignored the turmoil he caused by switching his focus and intensity from one initiative to another, seemingly on a whim. And when the chief of staff tried to explain the problems they would confront while carrying out his visions, the CEO thought she lacked insight and was being negative and timid. So I encouraged her not to point out problems, but rather to begin the discussion with a demonstration of her commitment to the results the CEO wanted by asking affirmative questions like, “That sounds exciting! Tell me how you see that working,” and “What would you like the outcomes to be so we can get the best results possible?” These prompts encouraged the CEO to expand on his ideas in greater detail and often allowed the chief of staff to raise relevant points about other initiatives so she could elicit more thoughtful responses from the CEO.

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Onward and upward —

LK

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