A brief backstory….
About twenty-one years ago, I decided that, for a Christmas gift for my wife, I would carve her a nativity set. Now, it is important to note that my artistic ability has never been a stellar part of my repertoire of personal skills. Not sure what possessed me to start that, but over the ensuing years it has been an incredible learning process regarding the power of small and repetitive movements.
One of my great medical colleagues, who teaches in many places throughout the world, was kind enough to send me photographs of some of the phenomenal carvings done in European cathedrals.
The details are breathtaking. The overall impact these three dimensional figures and forms coming out of a very two dimensional piece of wood is stunning.
And, since it is all done by hand- no machinery involved- such masterpieces literally are done one stroke at a time.
Another intriguing example on this concept of great thing coming from small acts is taken from The One Thing, a book by Gary Keller, founder of the international real estate conglomerate of Keller-Williams.
Consider the average domino. It is two inches high. When placed next to another domino of twice that height, it can, when pushed, knock over the next domino, even though it is only half as high.
This becomes more interesting when we look at the exponential growth of this principle:
1. The first domino is just two inches tall
2. The eighth is three feet tall
3. The tenth is taller than Peyton Manning, Hall of Fame professional quarterback
4. The eighteenth is as tall as the Leaning Tower of Pisa
5. The twenty-third is as tall as the Eifel Tower
6. The thirty-first is 3,000 feet above Mt. Everest
7. The fifty-seventh is almost the distance to the moon
Great! So again, what is my point with the carving and the dominoe story?
Small acts are vital, and while seemingly insignificant, can render powerful results in a surprisingly short amount of time.
The leadership lesson here?
Consider the words from Dan Coates, former US Senator from Indiana:
“The only preparation for that one profound decision which can change a life, or even a nation, is those hundreds and thousands of half-conscious, self-defining, seemingly insignificant decisions made in private.”
I was watching a surgeon do an outpatient procedure on my wife. He was masterfully doing delicate sutures to close a wound. When I marveled at the rapid, yet precise, procedure, he noted, humbly, the years of practice, the thousands of procedures, that allowed him to work at that level.
So when you, as a leader, describe to a team what is needed for the goal you have in mind to be accomplished, make sure that the details, the small-strokes, are well understood. Not to the point of you micromanaging, but to the point of them understanding what it will take.
This step is regularly overlooked for some of the following reasons:
1. “Oh, they know”
2. “I shouldn’t have to explain to people who are at this level”
3. “She is a surgeon. She understands this”.
4. “We have gone over this a thousand times”…..
Rarely are those statements accurate. They are usually just the erroneous perception of the person stating them.
Masterpieces, whether an artistic carving, an invisible incision, or an inspiring leader who has superb success due to privately held, consistenly strong decisions, are the results of multiple actions that cannot be invented in the moment, but were honed over time, as Longfellow eloquently stated:
The heights by great men (and here I add women) and women reached and kept were not attained by sudden flight, but they, while their companions slept, were toiling upward in the night.
The question for you, in conclusion would be, what will be your masterpiece this week, and what small actions do you need to take to start it, or continue it?