Big picture vs the detail for leaders

Big Picture Versus the Details: What’s More Important for a Leader To See?

A lot of top leaders and executives always seem to have a lot of big plans to talk about and visions to share about the company, but how often do we see them laying out a step by step plan about how those visions will come about?

Is it better to be able to create grand visions of what success looks like or to be able to map your way to success from where you are now?

Big picture vs the detail for leaders

There are two general types of thinkers in the world: those that think about the large themes and systems of life and those who focus on the smaller details about how everything works together. Which one is a better fit for a successful business leader?

To find the answer to this question we first have to understand more about the types of thinking.

What does it mean to be a detailed thinker?

Some people use the forest and trees analogy. Detailed thinkers look at a collection of trees and see the individual trees themselves. What type they are, how close together they are, etc. Some people, possibly even you, can focus on the smaller details more easily than on large themes and vague ideas.

Most detail thinkers like facts, figures, and concrete answers to problems. They don’t think about where the end result will take them, but think more about what steps need to be taken immediately and how exactly they should be done.

What is a Big Picture Thinker?

Thinking big picture is the opposite of thinking about the details. You are looking at a collection of trees and seeing a forest rather than seeing the individual parts of that forest. How large is the forest, are there other forests nearby, who is looking for a forest to buy, etc. Essentially, big picture thinkers can grasp concepts more easily without having solid information about what to do next.

This thinking style leads you to develop goals and visions, whether you can exactly map out how to reach them or not. You will more than likely have an idea about how things should be done, but you might not be able to list to minute details that would need to happen for you plan to come to fruition.

Which of These Thinking Styles is More Compatible with Business Leadership?

There’s no easy answer to this question. Most people would consider it more useful to be a big picture thinker in business, as you will be able to observe outside trends, give your company a vision and mission, and contribute towards making the company meet those goals.

Many CEOs are most likely big picture thinkers, as this is a good way to be when you have an entire company under your leadership. It’s important to know what’s involved in reaching those goals, but it can also be important to see how you and your employees should be proceeding and what smaller steps should be happening.

Detail thinking tends to be more vital for lower management and leadership positions within the company. While a top official may have more circumstances where he’s required to find and maintain a vision for the company, anyone under him (that includes the CFOs and COOs) needs to be able to plan out exactly how that vision will be reached.

The Advantage of Learning to Think in a New Way

The good news is that if you think a certain way you are not stuck thinking that way forever. There are certain ways to practice being more detail-oriented or seeing the big picture. In fact, it’s highly recommended that you attempt to see things from a different point of view, as this will help you to become more knowledgeable and to understand the work that needs to be done more easily.

Filling Your Skills Gap

However, even if you can learn to think in the opposite way as you normally would, you will most likely never be natural at it. This means that it’s essential for you to hire someone to fill that particular skills gap if you are in a position of significant leadership.

A big picture thinker and a detail-oriented thinker can complement each other famously and bring about a greater overall plan, vision, and understanding within the company.


Thinking is something that can be difficult to control. If you know which type of thinker you are already, see if you can polish up your skills in thinking the other way as well. If you don’t know, take a simple online test to figure it out for yourself!

No matter which type of thinker you are, learn to play to your strengths and use that thought process for the best in your leadership.

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