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Sweat the Small Stuff in Leadership

There are many important concepts in the field of leadership and lots of great leadership programs around. I value so many of them and yet sometimes I feel we miss the very simple things that will make a big difference to our leadership. These qualities and behaviours are just part of everyday activities, not something extra we need to do.


In his TED talk “Sweat the Small Stuff” Rory Sutherland explains that based on behavioural economics and behaviour change studies, "what changes our behaviours and attitudes are not in proportion to the size of expense and force applied". When it comes to human psychology, small things can have a disproportionate impact. Leadership is pretty much all to do with human psychology!


Here are some examples of the small things that leaders do or not do that impacts whether people want to be led by you.


  • You look (not stare) at me and pay attention when we’re having a conversation
  • You smile more, frown less
  • You tell me why you're frowning (or in a bad mood, grumpy, annoyed) if you are frowning
  • You don’t peek at or pick up your phone when we are in conversation – even better, you put the phone away  (refer to article "Why successful people never bring smart phones into meetings" by Travis Bradberry)
  • You include me when we’re in a conversation as a group
  • There’s fun, not just seriousness in our work
  • You show interest and ask me more about what I’m saying rather than take over the conversation
  • You show up to meetings that you promised to attend
  • You respond to my messages/emails
  • There’s more warmth than cold in your presence, even when you’re challenging me
  • You let me know more about you as a person so there’s connection even if we’re different


The list goes on. None of these little things take much time or money. It’s simply about who you are being with other people.


The reason why these seemingly insignificant acts are significant is that for people who have less power/authority/rank than you, these small acts have a multiplier effect. Think about how much your spirit is lifted when you receive a personal thank you note from the CEO for a job well done. Or how excited you are when you shake hands with your sports idol, especially if they smile and connect with you. Or you have a good laugh with your manager during or after some stressful times. Again, small things, but a huge impact because of the power difference.


The other reason the small stuff is significant is that people are making assumptions about why you are doing what you are doing or not doing all the time. Refer to my recent post Assumptions: The Silent Assassin. What assumptions might people be making about your bad mood or not turning up to meetings?


Just think when you’ve had a great person to work with or just be with. What made it so positive? How does that affect your ability to perform at your best? 


Now put yourself in the shoes of people around you. How are you lifting or dampening the spirits of people around you with the little things you do or don't do?

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