Handle little things before they become big things

September 26th, 2016

Cheryl and I were in a grocery store out of town some time ago. We turned the corner from one aisle into a main aisle and instantly saw a gentleman slip and fall. He wasn’t injured — or at least he said he wasn’t — but it shook him up quite a bit before he scrambled to his feet. We then noticed he had slipped on something liquid on the floor. Someone standing around said the spill had been there a while. As I expected, within minutes every manager in the store, easily identified by their store shirts and badges, were on the scene making sure the man was okay and the spill was throughly handled.

As I left the store, I saw managers roaming the store, picking up everything they could find on the floor. There was plenty to find. The store was dirty from what appeared to be a very busy day of shopping and trash was everywhere. I had noticed it as we walked around the store, but it was even more obvious now.

It was a good reminder of a leadership principle.

Good leaders take care of little things before they become big things.

I’m not suggesting that a leader be a micromanager. To the contrary, I’ve written plenty to indicate otherwise. I'm suggesting that a leader needs to always be observant of the things others can’t see or aren’t looking for, which can impact the success of the overall vision.

I started working in the grocery store when I was 12 years old. The store’s owner seemed to always know what was going on in the store, often pointing out things needing attention that neither I nor other employees had noticed and, in our opinion, didn’t matter. It was sometimes aggravating to this teenager, but years later, when I worked in retail management, reflecting back it began to make sense to me why my boss had responded as he did. I began to copy his intentionality. I refused to do any paperwork on Saturdays, for example. The busiest shopping day was reserved solely for customers. I made sure I was roaming the store constantly, looking for anything that might be a problem or an opportunity. I was usually the first to recognize a customer looking for an open register or if the store’s temperature was too hot or too cold.

As a pastor, I had an intern who shadowed me for the summer. His initial observation was that I paid attention to details. I remember explaining to him part of my job was to look for things others didn’t see. I can’t catch everything, but as the leader I certainly need to be looking for anything that could make or break a successful day in the experience of a visitor. This could be the spill on the floor, a long line at children’s check-in, the missing volunteer or the visitor who looks like they're struggling to find their way in our building.

A couple of years ago my younger son was preaching for me one Sunday. We arrived at the church and I instantly spotted a trash can overflowing with garbage. I quickly began to address the issue. My son said, “Dad, I thought you weren’t a detail person. How did you notice the trash can was full?”

I assured him I'm not a detail person — unless the detail has an impact on the people who may walk on our campus each Sunday. That is a detail that matters. I want to take care of little things before they become big things.

I've learned it well. It could be with spills on the floor or with people on the team. Big things often start small — so pay attention to the little things that matter.

One way I do this is to simply ask myself a question, such as: If this continues — and gets bigger — how much of a problem is it going to be? Things are almost always easier to deal with when they're smaller than when we let them become “big things.”

By the way, this principle applies in other areas of your life also — such as in your marriage, your parenting or your personal disciplines.

Leader, what seemingly little things do you need to address before they become the big things?

 Ron Edmondson blogs at RonEdmondson.com.

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