Over a decade ago, Malcolm Gladwell in his fantastic book, The Tipping Point, reminded us of this basic life truth. In almost every area of life, little things do make a big difference. We are fortunate to have people in our life who tell us, “I’m easy to please.” Blessed is the person who has a significant other who says, “It doesn’t take much to make me happy.” Blessed are the leaders who pay attention to the little things that make followers want to follow them. We only get to lead people as far as they choose.
I was on a commercial flight when a man and his companion, who I assume was his wife, sat in the two seats next to me. I always try to get a window seat and make it a habit to “unintentionally” eavesdrop on my seat mates. (This gives me great inspiration for blog posts.) It turns out that he was in the medical field. He said to his wife, “The other day one of my employees, Bob, asked me for a pair of disposable gloves. It was no big deal. I gave him a pair of new disposable gloves. The next day, he came back asking for another pair. I gave him the whole box. Do you know he was thrilled? It’s amazing how doing the little things can make people happy.” My seatmate is right about that.
We can get caught up on the idea that leadership is all about the big things. The huge event. The vision casting. The ramping people up to charge the hill. The motivating them to direct their energy to achieve our goals. Yes, leadership involves those things but sometimes it’s the little things that go a long way.
Suppose the man on the plane said to Bob, “I’m going to put in a standing order for gloves for you. You’ll never have to worry about being without gloves again.” It would have made even more of a difference in Bob’s attitude and his ability to do his job.
This is where we have the opportunity to be creative. Every follower is unique. One test of leadership is figuring out what small act we can do to make a difference for our team members. Sometimes it’s just calling a person by name. Sometimes it’s just asking how their weekend was. Sometimes it’s just sharing a cup of coffee with them. Sometimes it’s just a snack break. Sometimes it’s just a fun diversion that breaks the routine. Sometimes it’s just a hand-written thank you note. Whatever the “just a…” is for our followers, once we find it, they will be more willing to follow us.
Make it easier for people to follow us so that we can lead them where we want them to go.
How easy is it for people to follow us?
Are we missing the little things because we’re too focused on the big things?
What simple solutions are right in front of us?
What’s our box of gloves?