Greatness is often in the smallest of details.

The phrase “don’t sweat the small stuff”, is one that has stuck with me for a long time and something that I have honestly worked on a lot as a leader and a person.  The “small stuff” can get to you, and sometimes you have to let it go.

On the other hand though, sometimes you need to sweat the small stuff.

I was talking with a former superintendent, who was also an athlete, and he was discussing the sport of swimming.  He said that swimming was an amazing sport because it is about who can do the movements perfect, fastest.  Every little detail in swimming is crucial to success.

So I started to think about how I present and the slides I create.  There is a consistency in the font.  I prefer using Keynote because it allows me to better manipulate videos on when they start, and how quiet or loud they are.  The design process of creating the keynote is almost as important as the delivery, and it is something that I put a lot of focus on. Does it really matter if one slide is in “Georgia” font and the other is in “Times New Roman”? To me it does.

I love this quote on design from Steve Jobs on the things you might not even see:

“When you’re a carpenter making a beautiful chest of drawers, you’re not going to use a piece of plywood on the back, even though it faces the wall and nobody will ever see it. You’ll know it’s there, so you’re going to use a beautiful piece of wood on the back. For you to sleep well at night, the aesthetic, the quality, has to be carried all the way through.”

Sometimes the small stuff is the difference between “good” and “great”.

So what about the small stuff in the terms of leadership?  At one point, the small stuff could be the thing that keeps you up at night.  You will sometimes have people upset with a decision, but if it is based on the focus of “what is best for kids”, then you will have to let it go, or else those “small things” will get to you.

But the “small stuff”, such as making sure you learn student names, go visit teachers, taking time to get to know your community, might seem like little things, but they are the small things that lead to excellence.  In no educational leadership competencies does it tell you that you need to go out of your way to know the names of all the students of your school.  But that seemingly overlooked idea can be all of the difference in your school.

I truly believe that if you are an educator, whether an administrator or teacher, that every single student or teacher you pass in the hallway, you acknowledge in some way, whether you teach them or not.  Going out of your way to talk to a student, might seem “small” to you, but it could be a world of difference to a student that day.  The “small stuff”, sometimes is the most important stuff we do; we have to learn when focusing on the little things will make all of the difference.

Greatness is often in the smallest of details.

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  1. Erin Murphy said:

    This post resonates with me. I believe character exists in the details. It is almost insulting when someone says, “it’s fine – move on.” Fine is not good enough, in my opinion. I do not believe “pretty” should be used to mask lack of substance, but quality is found in the whole package. I feel similarly about the phrase, “working smarter not harder.” Personally, I believe in working hard. Always.

    August 8, 2015
  2. Greg Neumann said:

    I hope that the things you considered “small stuff” is simply perception – to me those things are ultimately much more important. We work in an ‘industry’ that is all about people and, thus, these should be considered “big stuff”.

    August 10, 2015
  3. Patrick said:

    Agree with Greg. Rule #1: Our job is the people, students and teachers, everything else we do as leaders is about supporting those people. Rule #2: a principal should know everyone on their campus, not always an easy task as student numbers can be quite large (see Rule#1).

    August 10, 2015
  4. Doug Thomas said:

    A nice piece and so important. This little things are big in the lives of others. Something I make a point of, is always stopping by at the sick-bay, never walk by when a student is unwell and feeling miserable.

    August 10, 2015
  5. said:

    People deserve to be known by name, rather they’re one of the 30 students in your class, one of the 160 in your five classes, or one of the 200 teachers in your school district. I’m always disturbed when I see leaders who haven’t gotten to know the others who are serving the kids of the district, from bus drivers to maintenance crews to teachers. The best open door in your policy is the door you’re walking through on your way out on a school campus. @WalkingBobCA

    August 11, 2015

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