“Things don't have to change the world to be important.” Steve Jobs
Rowena Crosbie is President of Tero International
Change is scary.
It is easy to make excuses that the risks of failure are too high and reconcile ourselves to the comfort of the familiar (even if we don’t particularly like the familiar and don’t find it all that comfortable.)
Wise leaders know this and know that they will need to start small with recognizable, feasible steps toward the larger goal. Tackling the whole thing at once would be too overwhelming. The small, doable steps are called “small wins” and they are imperative for fueling the positive momentum toward the final goal.
In their seminal leadership text, The Leadership Challenge, authors James Kouzes and Barry Posner provide a good example of a leader who knew about how to use small wins.
Charlie Mae Knight was the new superintendent of a dying school district in California. Fifty percent of the schools in the district were closed. Those that weren’t closed were run-down with broken windows, graffiti on the walls and rats running all over the yard. Worse yet, the teachers were demoralized, the drop-out rate was really high and 98% of the children that remained in school were performing in the lowest percentile for academic achievement in California.
Rather than marching in and suggesting that she was going to improve test scores and reduce drop-out rates, as the leaders she followed did, she started with small, observable wins.
She recruited volunteers to help her repaint the walls and got pellet guns to kill the rats. Soon people started noticing that the place looked nice and they began to believe that a change was taking place.
Eventually, test scores did improve and drop-out rates were reduced. Ms. Knight knew that to bring out positive change, she would have to start with small wins that would give people the hope and encouragement to keep going.
A small win is something a leader can do right away that will represent a baby step in the direction you want