One of the most useful pieces of advice that I got when I started at eBay was to know the details… in great detail. I was told that the head of the US business, Jeff, knew the details of the product and the business and if I went into a meeting with him without knowing those details, I wouldn’t be able to represent myself or the product org well.
Because of that advice, I spent my early weeks learning how the codebase worked, how the database tables were structured, what was hard to code (and why), and what was easy. I was glad I did because Jeff knew the details in a way that allowed him to understand how hard or easy things were to build. And he would constantly push us to move faster, launch sooner. In high-stakes conversation, instead of responding with a tepid, “I’ll have to get back to you,” I could confidently state whether something was doable or not, how hard it would be, and brainstorm solutions and alternatives on the spot.
Over and over, I’ve seen leaders who know the details push back when an engineering lead says, “Oh, that’s going to take six months,” or when a board member says, “You should be able to do this in six weeks.” A good CEO should know the details in any part of the organization that can have an impact on the company, whether that’s product, engineering, sales, finance, operations, etc.
I am not recommending a CEO micromanage — that is hellish and disempowering for everyone else. However, as a company grows, the number of people, processes, and checks and balances slow it down. Only a leader who knows the details can make sure that strategic priorities are getting done as fast as possible so the team can win.
This past weekend the world lost one of the greats: Kobe Bryant. Beyond the realm of basketball, he will go down as one of the most competitive people of all time. No matter what he was doing, he had to win — and he put in the extra effort to get there. In an interview on Jimmy Kimmel Live, Bryant shared a confession:
“I read [the referee’s handbook] to understand where they need to be in certain moments of time so if I needed to get away with a foul… That ref back there… is not gonna see this little hold right here.”
If you want to excel, Bryant showed the way — it pays to know the details.