As I write this, we are in the throes of summer. The morning dew is still wet on the grass, which has grown quite a bit after this week of pop up thunderstorms.
We live in the country. Sometimes when we take a stroll in the yard we come upon some anthills. If you’ve ever declared war on ants, you know how it can go. You spread the poison throughout the yard, planting the seeds of death to those little pests. In your mind, you see those poor little creatures gasping for air, choking on thier own vomit, and keeling over backwards.
Doesn’t that bring you peace?
Oh yeah, be sure you don’t poison the dog, too.
Ah, the details.
Here’s the Problem
Our approach to leadership can be like killing ants after they’ve taken over our yards.
You see that huge mound of tossed dirt in front of your doorstep. That makes you think, “Hmm, I need to stop by the hardware store for some ant killer.” It’s the same things firefighters do. Once the fire is blazing out of control, we call them, pleading for them to put that fire out and save our hides and our property.
The preventive measure would be to treat the yard before the ants get there. You would then create a hostile environment for them and they’d seek to set up their town somewhere else.
It’s the details that make the difference.
Maybe you think it’s silly to major in the minors. But trust me, it matters.
One day I was driving along, minding my own business. Suddenly, I heard the awful sound of metal grinding. I had no idea what was going on. But since it got louder the further I drove, it seemed like a good idea to pull over.
When I got out, I noticed that one of my wheels had just about fallen off.
Apparently, the last time someone mounted the wheel, they didn’t take care to tighten the lug nuts all the way.
Ah, the details.
5 Ways the Small Things Make or Break You
Coach John Wooden knew the value of details. Here’s a quote that describes the 6th lesson on leadership quite well.
“Think small. Work hard. Get good.”
Now those are 3 steps you can take to become great.
Wooden’s Leadership Lesson #6 – Little things make big things happen.
1. Start from the ground up.
At the beginning of every season, Coach Wooden told his players how to wear their shoes and socks.
He also told them how to dress and keep their hair.
These weren’t just arbitrary rules for him. There was a solid reason behind everything he did. Wearing your socks properly kept your feet from getting blistered. Tying your shoes properly kept you from tripping over the laces. Short hair kept your hands from getting slippery after wiping away sweat. Tucked in shirts kept you from getting your clothes hung up on anything.
All these details kept players from having to deal with the consequences of not doing them.
Tbink through your processes to see how the way you do things matters.
2. Decide where to place your focus.
Some things are vitally important. Other things are so trivial they’re a waste of time to think about.
So the investment of time spent deciding what’s important and why is time well spent.
Suppose you’ve got a marathon to plan for. How should you spend your time preparing?
You need the right equipment. Your shoes and socks will make the difference in how you perform. Your clothes should help you by breathing as well as you do. You’ll need to practice every day. It’s important to build the endurance you’ll need to finish. To do that, you have to invest a few minutes every day.
But suppose you took all those minutes and practiced for a few hours on Saturday? Would the effect be the same?
You’ll be more tired, more frustrated, and a lot further from your goal.
And you’ll probably just hurt yourself.
Invest in the right small details.
3. Cultivate talent within the right rules.
As a leader, you’ve got something you want to accomplish, don’t you?
If you don’t, you’re not a leader.
When I ran a store, I had expectations of my staff. I would tell them in as much detail as was necessary what I expected. I told them the nonnegotiables. But I also allowed for them to find their own best way to produce that result.
And if they experienced failure, they would be the most motivated to accept my correction. When you sense you need something, you’re the most open to take help, aren’t you?
It’s good to have a structured environment. This allows for uniformity across your organization. But be sure to allow and encourage creativity within that. As I used to say, “Here’s what I want. I don’t care how you get there, so long as it’s legal and ethical and gets the results we want.”
Allow creativity in your focus on the right details.
4. If you’re sloppy, your team will be.
Leaders are role models.
If a team member is ever in doubt about something, she’ll look at how the leader does it. Besides, if the leader does it that way, it must be right.
For those you lead, your actions determine what your team members believe about their work.
Look at your processes to see what matters. Focus on the important things. Allow creativity within the right structure. Do that in front of your team consistently and you won’t have to chase them around and remind them when it’s game time.
5. Aim higher than average.
The leader defines the meaning of average in her organization.
What is the norm for you? The things you do day in and day out send a message about what’s normal. Do you have a culture of just doing enough not to get chewed out? Or is it one where you hope that the people you serve will say, “I’m proud to be a part of this organization”?
Set the bar higher and your players will do what it takes to clear it. We naturally do what seems normal because it’s expected. Maybe you do it to impress others. Or maybe you do it to avoid embarassment. Either way, if it’s expected, we aim to achieve it.
Focus on setting high expectations.
Putting it All Together
By now, you can probably see that all these steps help build a house. If you focus on details but don’t discover why, you won’t really know if it’s important, will you? If you focus on details without seeing the big picture, you can get stuck killing ants.
Do all these things together and you’ll have a solid foundation for success.
You’ll achieve greater things than you imagined were possible.
And whether you win or lose, you can hold your head high, knowing you did your best.
Now go out there and major in the minors like a pro.