Many busy executives these days try to navigate their world by sticking to the 10,000 foot view. They might claim they need to avoid getting lost in details in order to keep a better overview. Perhaps, they will say, “I keep a clearer vision of the landscape when I can rise above the daily grind.”
And yet, there are other leaders who seem to thrive at diving into their customer’s problems and the problems encountered when trying to solve those customer problems. These visionaries often seek out the problems, knowing that in every great problem lies great opportunity.
When you view the world from 10,000 feet or higher, people on the ground look like ants. Tiny ants.
Faceless, hordes; irritating creatures that invade our kitchens sometimes, foraging for bits of food and generally upsetting our easy routine lives. Those pesky ants just won’t leave us alone.
Of course, it isn’t until you get down on your hands and knees in the dirt, that you discover the intricate organization of ants. It isn’t until you study the individual ants that you realize that each ant has a special skill and a very specific role in their society. Each ant might seem interchangeable, but they are not.
Some ants carry food, some carry drops of water, and some simply get dirty and dig deeply for the good of all others. There are rare queens, sacrificing personal freedom to assure the continuation of the village. There are many soldiers to fend off the neighboring groups who might invade and take away the carefully collected harvests needed to sustain a colony through winter.
You have to get close to smell the formic acid ants exude. And you have to get a little dirty to appreciate the beauty and joy of ant-life. You might encounter some downright crazy ants (1). And it is all too easy to forget that the ants keep our food chain alive by sustaining many creatures, including a mammal unsurprisingly called the anteater.
By now you will have figured out my metaphor. Executives that stay at the 10,000 foot level will have no appreciation for the workers who are actually sustaining their village. They will view every worker as interchangeable and every problem as an irritation to be avoided. They will quickly forget that doing, even embracing that low level dirty work, is what keeps your organization alive.
Is your management living at 10,000 feet? Or do they practice management by getting their hands dirty, and frequently reminding themselves of the days that they were workers? Or were they never actually functioning workers?
If your top bosses spend all their time at 10,000 feet, it is probably time to look for a new organization. Your current job is likely to be in great jeopardy anyway.