“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”
To be a great leader doesn’t mean one has to take the flag and charge into cannon fire or make a drastic change in the organization. Those leaders do tend to get all the fame, but the ones that can make a real difference in peoples’ lives are the ones who constantly set a good example, reward positive performance and steer their team to success. The Colorado River carved the Grand Canyon over time; the constant gradual pressure produced breath-taking results. Similarly, leaders can make a large impact with slow, steady inputs to their organization or people.
Daily leadership involves hundreds of interactions; some intentional, some unintentional. Just as your children watch your every move and imitate your actions instead of your words, your team members do the same thing.
- If you stay late every night, the message to your team is that long hours are valued.
- If you fudge on your travel expense report, the message to your team is that integrity is not important.
- If you do away with your personal parking space, the message to your team is that everyone is equally important to the organization.
Leadership can be as small as a smile or a kind word. Saying hello to the janitor and stopping for a short conversation makes that individual feel valued. Feeling valued leads to, loyalty, dedication and team cohesion. Leadership can be as small as caring about a single individual enough to remember a spouse’s name or helping with a domestic issue. Asking about the condition of a mailroom attendant’s sick mother makes a small positive input into your organization that may reap amazing results sometime in the future. Leadership can be as small as a decision to track new metrics, guiding the organization down a new path. How you spend your time illuminates your priorities to those around you. If your priority is your people, it will show in your daily interactions.
As a leader, one of your jobs is to establish the vision and set the lofty goals for the organization. Once a team has clearly defined vision and direction, a leader’s job transitions to ensuring the organization does not stray from the path to success. This takes daily small inputs or decisions that align with the overall goal. Just as the Captain of a ship makes millions of tiny heading corrections while crossing the Pacific Ocean, his or her overall course stays true towards the destination.
Make it a habit to routinely shift your gaze from the daily interactions to look back at the horizon and the goal. Are you still on track? Is the goal still valid? Is a new vision required? If so, make the small inputs to change the course of the team towards the new goal. As Muhammed Ali said, “Don’t count the days- make the days count.” Make every day count with small course corrections in the direction of the goal.
The next time you feel yourself less of a leader because you have yet to charge headlong into battle under the waving standard, remember that you will have more impact with small, daily interactions with your team. The loyalty you engender by focusing on your people in turn will accelerate the organization’s progress towards the goal and ultimately produce more through small inputs than dramatic changes. As an old Chinese proverb says, “It is better to take many small steps in the right direction than to make a great leap forward only to stumble backward.” Be the Colorado River and carve your mark in the world!