Leadership Focus: Balancing Macro vs Micro

Mark Whaley
5 min readOct 24, 2023

Macro understanding and granular activity together form the crux of effective organizational guidance. The macro understanding, deeply embedded with leadership mindset, represents a holistic grasp of an organization’s mission, vision and strategic ambitions. This allows leaders to keep an unwavering focus to anticipate future obstacles and instill a growth-oriented approach. On the flip side, micro activity zeroes in on daily tasks, immediate decisions and actions. But more than just operational mechanics, it emphasizes the manner in which we conduct ourselves: our ethical standards, interpersonal communications and the micro-decisions that define organizational culture on a day-to-day basis. While the macro perspective lays out the vast roadmap for success, the granular perspective ensures that each step on the roadmap is taken with intention, precision and integrity.

Let’s dive further into these definitions and how they impact our approach to leadership:

Micro activity. Our conduct — the way that we enact our principles — when applied diligently, can transform ordinary tasks into exemplary actions that drive organizational success. Basically, as a leader, because everyone is watching you to contextualize their own understanding of the company and their position, even the smallest action has deep impact.

  • Intention: Every action should have a clear purpose. For instance, a team leader who conducts daily briefings not just as a routine, but with the clear intent of aligning the team, addressing concerns and celebrating small wins, ensures that each member feels valued and understands their role. Such a leader doesn’t just go through the motions but creates an environment of purpose and direction.
  • Precision: Accuracy in execution is pivotal. Consider a product manager who meticulously breaks down epics into individual stories, assigns clear priorities and runs efficient weekly ceremonies. Their attention to detail ensures that there are minimal oversights, dev time is utilized efficiently and everyone on the project stays aligned, reducing the chances of last-minute chaos or missed deadlines.
  • Integrity: It’s about doing the right thing even when no one is watching. Imagine a salesperson who, faced with the opportunity to close a deal, chooses to be transparent about a product limitation rather than hiding it for quick gain. Such acts of integrity, though they might seem minor, fortify the trust clients place in an organization or a team and enhance its reputation in the long run.

Through these principles, granular activity becomes more than just a checklist of tasks. It evolves into a connection with our strategic endeavors, setting the foundation for larger organizational achievements.

Macro understanding serves as the guiding star for us and our entire organization, illuminating its mission, vision and strategic ambitions. Rooted in a leadership mindset, this broad perspective ensures that every granular activity aligns with the bigger picture, preventing the organization from drifting aimlessly amidst a sea of tasks. Leaders who embody this mindset do not merely focus on what’s in front of them, but continually ask: “How does this action fit into our broader goals?” Such a perspective prevents siloed efforts and ensures that each decision, no matter how minute, contributes to the overarching objectives.

For example, when launching a new product, instead of focusing solely on immediate sales, a leader with a robust macro understanding would consider how the product aligns with the company’s long-term brand image, its commitment to sustainability or its promise of innovation. This holistic grasp not only ensures consistency in action but fortifies an organization’s ethos, making it resilient in the face of challenges. It’s this unwavering commitment to the macro perspective, even when immersed in daily operations, that differentiates successful leaders (and organizations) from the rest, allowing them to move with purpose and direction.

Balancing the Macro and Micro

The journey from an Individual Contributor (IC) to a leader is a transition that involves shifting perspectives and priorities. It starts with ICs immersing themselves in the details of their roles, gaining expertise in executing tasks and understanding nuances. This patient deep dive into the specifics is crucial, as it lays the groundwork for competence and mastery of tactical capabilities.

As professionals climb the career ladder and aspire to become leaders, they must broaden their perspective in a gradual expansion of their lens to include meta understanding. Yet, in this transition, there is a risk of drifting too far away from the micro. I’ve seen many leaders get carried away by the allure of strategic oversight, completely disconnecting themselves from day-to-day tasks, which (from their POV) seem to have been relegated to a lower level of work. This can create intense dissonance in an organization. The most effective leaders don’t forget the importance of balance. They resist the temptation to get lost in just telling people what to do and instead focus on maintaining a connection between the broad perspective and the tactical execution of their craft. Not only does this keep them from getting rusty in their core competencies, but it also garners deep respect from the people on their teams. Confidence, trust and appreciation are easily earned by bosses who are willing to roll up their sleeves and get to work alongside their teams.

For example, in product management, a leader might oversee the development of a new software feature. They must have a clear understanding of the product’s strategic goals and how the feature aligns with them. At the same time, they should be involved in the specific details of feature development, engaging with the development team, and ensuring that the execution remains on track. When I hire Principal PM’s on their way to leadership roles, I always look for the candidates who are willing to get into the nitty gritty of writing tickets, geeking out on acceptance criteria and creating user flows to conceptualize how a product should work. We should never grow out of our foundational competencies, but continuously hone our skills throughout our career.

Another way to stay connected to the granular is to actively listen to our teams. As their leader, it is our responsibility to figure out what they need in order to accomplish their roles. Asking questions like, “do you have any challenges I can help unblock?” or, “what would be the ideal outcome for you in this situation?” create a strong connection and indication that you understand the realities of their daily challenges. Alongside standard tools such as Outcome Oriented Roadmaps or the Eisenhower Box, this is a powerful way to thoroughly ground yourself in the tangible realities of the granular.

Achieving a harmonious balance between macro understanding and granular activity is crucial for effective leadership. By activating ourselves in this way, we can transform ordinary tasks into exceptional activity, ensuring that our vision is grounded in reality and that we can drive successful outcomes no matter where we are on the leadership journey.

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Mark Whaley

I'm a seasoned product leader with a passion for driving vision, culture and teams; sharing insights, tips, and best practices that have real impact.