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It’s the Little Things That Matter Most – Two Best Practices for Leaders

Unlike any year since 1995, in the past nine months I haven’t been on a single airplane. But I have been in our kitchen. In fact, during this time I’ve gone from being our grocery-store errand-runner and prep chopper to full-blown chef (*with a pretty large disclaimer).

Indeed, one night last week I made “Creamy Pasta and Kale.” In addition to the pasta and kale, my recipe included garlic, rosemary, verjus blanc (BTW: if you have no clue what “verjus blanc” is, join the club: Wikipedia let me know it is the bitter juice from unripe grapes), red pepper flakes, a shallot, several grape tomatoes and two ounces of walnuts along with parmesan and mascarpone cheese.
Kale Pasta
If you’re impressed with my culinary expertise, stop right there. (*here’s the pretty large disclaimer:) Before the Blue Apron meal prep service started delivering meal ingredients to our house a couple of months ago, my expertise stopped shortly after delivery pizza and one-pot mac-and-cheese.

Now, we get all the ingredients for two or three of our meals each week delivered to our front door – and this is the most important part for me – with very detailed instructions on how to turn these ingredients into great meals. Like Creamy Pasta and Kale.

In the last several weeks I’ve graduated from being my wife’s “prep chef” to doing the entire meal prep on my own. And I’ve really enjoyed it!

I’ve also learned a couple of things along the way. Which brings me back to our creamy pasta and kale. The main ingredients of last week’s meal were the pasta and the kale. Which were very bland.

But, following Blue Apron’s detailed instructions, I roughly chopped the handful of walnuts, thinly sliced the small shallot, picked the rosemary leaves off their stems and fried them together in two teaspoons of olive oil, then I added one once of verjus blanc and ¼-teaspoon of red pepper flakes to the pasta.

While these ingredients constituted less than 2% of what I prepared, these little items totally transformed the entire meal from bland to delicious.
Rosemary Sprig
For those of us that carry the mantle of leadership, there are a couple of important principles that come to mind from my work in the kitchen. One is about you. One is about your team.

First: what “little things” can you do that make a big impact in the lives and effectiveness of your followers?

Recently I drove seven hours round-trip to spend 90 minutes with one of our assistant managers at our remote location while her manager was on vacation. An 8.5-hour day for a 90-minute lunch meeting. Was it worth it? Only time will tell, but I firmly believe our assistant manager knows how important she is to me and to our enterprise.

So I’ll ask you again: what “little things” can you do to make a big impact in your organization?

Second: what “little things” about your team members give you big insight into who they are and how they perform?

Early in my career a mentor shared with me, “The big things are often revealed in the little things.” Here’s an example: several years ago we invited a high-level candidate to spend two days with our entire leadership team shortly before he joined our organization. He had already accepted his new position, we were all excited for him to start – he just needed to finish well his prior commitments, then he would join our team.

During our two days together, we all say a different side of him than had come through in the interviews and reference checks. Nothing major, but a number of small things that didn’t add up.

I wish I could tell you that I called a “time-out” right then, but I didn’t. He joined our team – and we spent the next year in frustrating misalignment until he left.

In hindsight, I should have known better from those first seemingly small things. He wasn’t a fit, but I ignored the little things. As a result, we wasted more than a year admitting so.

What little things do you see? How do you need to respond?
On its own, “creamy pasta and kale” is very bland. It was the rosemary, walnuts and other “little things” that made all the difference and turned Blue Apron’s recipe into a delicious meal.

Fellow leader: What little things do you need to pay renewed attention to?