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Leadership Philosophy

It’s the Little Things That Count!

If you were asked to consider a basic leadership philosophy, what immediately springs to mind?

– Lead with vision?

– Focus on the bigger picture?

– Learn how to communicate and inspire?

These are all important elements of leadership but we should never forget that in leadership, as in life, it’s often the little things that count.

This short story, from our growing collection of leadership stories, powerfully illustrates the big impact of small actions.

Going the extra mile with people often creates defining moments that shape a leader, and as Desmond Tutu’s story shows, they can be a turning point in someone else’s life.

A Defining Moment

Desmond Tutu, the former Archbishop of Cape Town and a leading anti-apartheid campaigner, was once asked to describe a turning point in his life. He replied with this inspirational story:

“The biggest defining moment in my life was when I saw Trevor Huddleston (the former president of the anti-apartheid movement), and I was maybe nine or so.

Leadership philosophy

I didn’t know it was Trevor Huddelston, but I saw this tall, white priest in a black cassock doff his hat to my mother who was a black domestic worker.

I didn’t know then that it would affect me so much, but it blew your mind that a white man would doff his hat to a black domestic worker.

And subsequently I discovered, of course, that this was quite consistent with his theology that every person is of significance, of infinite value, because they are created in the image of God.

And the passion with which he opposed apartheid and any other injustice is something that I sought then to emulate.”

It’s not uncommon to think that life’s defining moments come from major events. However, sociology professor Frank Furedi, suggests that it’s more likely to be the small and personal moments that really shape our lives:

“Sometimes very minor personal events, that you don’t notice at the time, sneak up on you and a week later, or a month or a year later, you realise you’re never the same person again.” He goes on to explain:

“The key element here is that it is always something that goes against the grain of your life, something that you’ve never really experienced before, that opens your eyes to new possibilities – and life is never the same after that.”

Leadership Philosophy: The Golden Rule

If this is true, that we’re more often shaped by the small things that happen to us, what is the lesson to be learned by managers and leaders? It’s the little things that count and it’s in the small things that we’re often defined. To illustrate this leadership philosophy, we’ve quoted Tom Peters from our article: define leadership.

“The definition of excellence in leadership is the person who is completely there for you.”

Peters asks you to imagine having waited six months for that meeting with Mr/Ms Big. You finally get into the room for the five minutes you’ve been given, and…

… “he/she looks at you but doesn’t see you.”

He drove home the point by quoting Harvard professor, Sarah Lawrence Lightfoot from her book “Respect”.

“It was much later that I realized Dad’s secret. He gained respect by giving it. He talked and listened to the fourth-grade kids in Spring Valley who shined shoes the same way he talked to a bishop or a college president. He was seriously interested in who you were and what you had to say.

Trevor Huddleston not only saw Tutu’s mother, but he also showed her great respect in a context where respect between white and black was never shown. This application of the golden rule is the basis of our leadership philosophy, again well illustrated by Tom Peters when he quoted Dee Hock:

“Make a list of all the things done to you that you abhorred. Don’t do them to others. Ever. Make another list of things done to you that you loved. Do them to others. Always.”

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