On C-Levels, and Changing Your Circle of Focus

So I’ve been noticing this thing at various companies that I’ve done work for. So you’ve got a project that’s coming along swimmingly, the team’s cranking out their tasks, and then in comes the person (or people) on top who gives input that completely alters the path of the project, not to mention the timeline. This person’s input has to be listened to, as they’re a CEO/CMO/CTO or an upper-level manager. The project is then derailed – a bunch of work is now wasted, goals become muddled, and the project is suddenly at risk of either missing the deadline or eating employees’ free time.

There’s a lot to be said for being a control freak. It’s great for getting details just right in your work, and ensuring that your work is bug free. If you’re also a control freak for meeting deadlines, you’ve got the golden combination to rise quickly in whatever industry you happen to be in, because others around you will perceive you as a high quality worker who gets the job done. Add in a few other random qualities (the right temperament, decisive, people person) and you can get shoved right up into upper management/C-level areas.

Thing is, it’s not necessarily a good thing to be a control freak once you’re at this point. I’m not sure if this is a small company curse, or is more applicable in a broader sense, but it seems that some management types have a really hard time letting go of the details of the projects they’re in charge of. There’s a level of trust at stake here, too. You likely hired the employees that are managing the project, and intruding on the project at jarring junctions suggests to those employees that you don’t trust them to get the job done themselves. So, you know, keep going this direction and you’re not only likely to get stress/burnout issues from worrying about things now beyond your scope, but you’ll also have higher turnover issues thanks to employees that want to work somewhere where their opinions aren’t second-guessed as much.

I think that, in general, as people move around positions, those of us who desire more control just have a harder time adjusting their circle of focus to the new position. It’s still good to be involved and aware of the work going on around you, but it’s also good to be aware of when your own involvement can damage a timeline as well as completely mess up what was previously a watertight project plan.

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