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Small Things Matter! (#81)

The Confident Leader

What’s the big deal…it’s just a broken window? Criminologists posit that a broken window, never fixed, reveals a level of inactivity in the community that gives rise to greater subsequent crimes. Does this theory apply to leadership? Do the small things matter that much?

Greatness is a lot of small things done well. Day after day, workout after workout, obedience after obedience, day after day.
— Ray Lewis (professional football player)

This Week’s Edition

If a leader’s job is to tackle the biggest challenges, where does that leave the little things? Do the little things really matter in the grand scheme of things? 

Clarify Your Thinking

The Broken Window Theory suggests that serious crime is a result of a lengthier chain of events. The disorder of a broken window leads to more disorder. This causes the community to feel unsafe and begin to withdraw effectively removing the social controls that kept crime in check. Further crime ensues at an increased rate and degree. 

Despite some critics, the theory’s logic may have an interesting application to leadership: serious challenges in your business may be the result of a lengthier chain of events that started with a proverbial broken window.  Here are some hypotheses:

  1. If employee engagement in meetings is low, might you trace it back to the leader chronically starting meetings late? “If the meeting is not a priority for him, it’s not a priority for me. I’ll show up but just respond to email while I’m there.”

  2. If one of your best team members turns in their resignation, might you trace it back to the leader failing to address another team member who is disgruntled and complains making others miserable?

  3. If the board presentation or sales deck is disorganized and less than crisp, might you trace it back to a messy desk, a disorganized conference room or a filthy microwave?

  4. If projects fail to get completed on time, might you trace it back to failing to take time to remedy an inefficient process with a variety of kluge workarounds.

Old Thinking: Why are these serious challenges happening so frequently. I doubt we will ever live without these big surprises.

New Thinking: As the leader, if I neglect signals, even small ones, I might be missing something going on in my organization.

Thoughts Lead to Actions

The most encouraging thing about the Broken Window Theory is that you can do something about it. One member of the community can fix the window and have an outsized impact on the overall neighborhood. Window fixed. Streetlight repaired. Trees planted. Block party hosted.

The same is true for your organization. Leaders: stop walking past the broken window. Start fixing it and empowering your team to do the same.

Constant reminders of disorder (a messy office or clunky process) drain our cognitive resources and reduce our ability to focus. Reclaim your team’s mental cycles and focused attention:

Step 1: Enroll a fix-the-broken-window team who will list all the friction points in the business.

Step 2: Analyze the negative impacts of each item on the list and prioritize them from easiest to hardest to solve.

Step 3: Determine the micro-intervention or simple solution the team can affect. Execute one item at a time. Measure the positive impact of the solution to the organization.

There are enough big challenges coming at leaders from the outside. Don’t make your job harder by failing to address the small internal things potentially preventing the larger more serious issues. 


Boost Your Performance

“Robin, if you are right, the challenge is that I don’t have time. I can barely get to the big things, now you are telling me I need to clean my microwave?”  I get it. This week’s video highlights another viewpoint on how a focus on the small things makes a huge difference. Let me know what you think.

What’s Your Opinion?

What is your small thing you do each day that makes an outsized impact on your leadership? Share it with me at :

Don’t let doubt count you out. Have a confident week!

Robin Pou, Chief Advisor and Strategist

If this was helpful, feel free to share it with another leader who needs to defeat doubt and complete their confidence.

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What is “The Confident Leader”?

During the Covid-19 Pandemic, I began a video series called “Panic or Plan?” It was designed to equip leaders to navigate the doubt they experienced and to rise in the confidence they needed to lead during turbulent times. It took off. I then started this newsletter to equip leaders in the same fashion each week for the doubt that crashes across the bow of their leaderSHIP.

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