Pay Attention To The Small Things

I can do small things in a great way.

– James Freeman Clarke

Dwight Morrow, the father of Anne Morrow Lindbergh, once held a dinner party to which Calvin Coolidge had been invited. After Coolidge left, Morrow told the remaining guests that Coolidge would make a good president. The others disagreed. They felt Coolidge was too quiet, that he lacked color and personality. No one would like him, they said. Anne, then age six, spoke up: “I like him.” Then she displayed a finger with a small bandage around it. “He was the only one at the party who asked about my sore finger.” “And that’s why he would make a good president,” added Morrow.

The story is a simple reminder about the importance of the little things that make a big difference in leadership. While people measure the worth of a leader by various standards, it was little Anne Lindbergh, who at the age of six, who had the best understanding of it.

It was from John Maxwell a good number of years ago that I learned the leadership principle of walking slowly through the crowd. Too often, leaders are moving so fast and trying to make a good impression that they don’t notice the small things – the small acts of leadership that could be theirs if they just learned to slow down. Walking slowly through the crowd is how Coolidge noticed the sore finger.

How about you? Are you paying attention to the small things? Here are a few things worth considering as you go forward.

Sometimes a small act of kindness is all that’s needed

How many times have you thought it was the big things you do in leadership that made the greatest impact? I think at one time most of us have been there. Let me encourage you today to realize that it’s the small random acts of kindness that can totally change the course of the day for someone else. The truth is, you just don’t know the struggle that others deal with. Your smile or a kind word – while seemingly insignificant to you, goes a long way.

Never underestimate the power of a small act of kindness. It can make a world of difference.

Small things over time turn into great things

“Great things are done by a series of small things brought together,” said Vincent Van Gogh. And I believe it’s true. Paying attention to the small details over time will pay great dividends in the future. It’s as you are faithful in the small things that you move to the big things. This also serves as a great test in your leadership. Can you be patient and trust the maturing process? It’s hard at times for sure. So before you look for the right hand to shake or contact to make, try looking for the sore finger instead.

If you’re not willing to do the small things, you don’t deserve to do big things

I’m a firm believer in servant leadership. Your growth as a leader affords you the opportunity to be in places and positions to better serve others. But if you are not willing to do the small things then you will be ill-equipped to do the big things. Knowing where you are going is important but not forgetting where you came from is essential.

It’s in the doing of the small things that your character is developed. Wherever your leadership journey takes you never forget the small things. It’s what got you there, and it’s what will keep you there.


Doug Dickerson
Doug Dickerson
DOUG has been speaking to audiences in the U.S. and overseas for more than 30 years. Doug knows how to spin a story, make you laugh, and how to challenge your traditional ways of thinking about leadership. Most of all, Doug is committed to helping you grow as a leader. Doug is a graduate of Southeastern University in Lakeland, Florida and studied Clinical Pastoral Education at Palmetto Baptist Medical Center in Columbia, South Carolina. While his leadership expertise has its roots in ministry and teaching. His background also includes public relations and business. Doug understands the necessity of leadership development and why creating a leadership culture in your organization is critical to your success. He is the author of four leadership books including: Leaders Without Borders, 9 Essentials for Everyday Leaders, Great Leaders Wanted, It Only Takes a Minute: Daily Inspiration for Leaders on the Move, and Leadership by the Numbers. As a speaker, Doug delivers practical and applicable leadership insights with a dose of humor and authenticity that endears him to a wide range of audiences. Doug is a John Maxwell Team member.

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  1. Doug — A nice piece, which every MBA student should read. It encourages leaders to focus as much or more on the people doing the work than on the work alone.

    Now, as a former high school history teacher, I had to laugh out loud when reading the story about Coolidge. Anne’s bandage aside, few historians have ever graced him with the title of “good president.” But it doesn’t detract from your fine message.

  2. Doug, thank you for reminding us of simple but most effective ways to make our lives meaningful and I specifically liked your wake-up call,

    “If you’re not willing to do the small things, you don’t deserve to do big things.”

    It is only through compassion, love and care that we are somehow ‘compelled’ to do ‘random acts of kindness’.