When I was young, I was often told “do not sweat the small stuff.” When I got older, I was often told “it’s the small stuff that makes the big difference.” I have come to the conclusion that both perspectives are correct.
Some days we do “pole vault over mouse droppings”. Oon other days, very small actions can make a major difference. The key is to know what are the small things that we need to pay attention to during a busy day. Here are two that I often have to coach people on when they get busy in management positions.
First, welcome new ideas and perspectives; do not shut them down when they are not yours. The challenge is to be constantly ready and open to listening to new ideas. Marshall Goldsmith in his delightful book, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There: How Successful People Become Even More Successful, Hyperion, 2007, reminds us that many people in management and leadership positions often get caught “adding too much value:, i.e. having the overwhelming desire to add their our two cents to every discussion, plus starting every response to a new idea with with “no”, “but”, or “however.” When we overuse negative qualifiers, we are secretly saying to everyone, “I’m right. You’re wrong.” This does not help you or the organization move forward.
Second, learn to invite feedback, but always clarify non-negotiable issues and the decision-making process. Feedback and constructive criticism are often interchangeable in the literature. I prefer feedback and others prefer constructive criticism. The key when inviting feedback and/or when giving it is to realize that relationships matter. Therefore, speak and listen respectfully. Always share observations rather than judgements. Next consistently review expectations and assumptions. Be prepared and organized in your thoughts, and realize that reactionary comments rarely yield clarity. Finally, check your own intentions for asking for feedback and check your own intentions before giving it.
These two little things do matter. Being conscious of them helps you not loose perspective when the world gets busy and complex.