Why It Is a Big Thing To Take Action On Small Things

This is a guest post by friend and mentor Bruce Rhoades, who retired after having run several companies. He often helps me with strategy. I am delighted that he is a regular contributor.


Take Action On The Small Things

Culture is established by both communication and action. People will listen to what you say, but they will closely watch and emulate what you do. Action on large, highly visible initiatives will certainly make priorities and culture clear in a big way. However, it takes time to formulate and communicate large initiatives, plus it often takes time for the results to be achieved and visible. Action on small initiatives while larger actions are in progress can be very effective.


“Culture is established by communication and action.” -Bruce Rhoades


Good leaders interact with the organization at all levels and with cross-functional teams. Many times during these interactions, opportunities to take action on smaller issues will present themselves. These small opportunities are issues, changes, or decisions that can be addressed by a few of those directly involved without much involvement from the leader. They can solve small customer irritations, eliminate frustrations and inefficiencies in a process or a department, drive a decision or make a localized change. I am a big proponent of taking proper action on selected small opportunities. One of my favorite sayings is, “Never underestimate the effect of taking action on small things.”

Here is why:


“Never underestimate the effect of taking action on small things.”


10 Major Benefits of Taking Action On Small Things

  • Accelerates Empowerment and Learning: Action on small issues will build organizational confidence, get quick results and allow people to learn from mistakes that have smaller consequences and reduced visibility. It helps people cultivate their leadership.
  • Teaches Delegation: When done correctly, implementing action on small changes teaches others how to delegate, how to decide who needs to be involved in developing action and approval, how to form a collaborative team and how to involve and grow others.
  • Improves Accountability and Decisiveness: When a small team is empowered to take action on smaller decisions, they become more comfortable with accountability and find it easier to make decisions. Using smaller initiatives also provides decision-making experience for more people at many levels in the organization.
  • Boosts Career Satisfaction: Since many small actions are localized to specific processes or departments, they can help remove daily irritations that hinder department or operational processes. At the same time, people learn that they can assume more responsibility and make a difference for the organization.
  • Enhances Collaboration and Team Building: With more small actions, a larger number of people are able to participate in collaborative problem solving and work together with a variety of defined roles to implement change. The benefit is that more people in the organization can gain experience, grow and achieve results.


“Taking action on small things rapidly creates an empowered workplace.” -Bruce Rhoades


  • Improves Communication: When a leader is able to initiate many small actions at different levels of the organization, or with various teams, it helps to “flatten” the organization, cut through bureaucracy and allow a larger population to see the leader in action. People become more comfortable communicating with the leader and each other. Additionally, small initiatives to implement change can get more people communicating who normally would not do so.

39 Traits of a Bad Boss

The Officially Bad Boss

All of us have some negative qualities, make mistakes, and mess up. After all, “We’re only human.”

But bad managers seem to collect these traits faster than a hoarder fills a house.  If you are working for someone and find yourself nodding vigorously as you read this list, you officially have a bad boss.

What traits would you add to the list?

  1. Self-centered

Everything is about him. Not the organizational goals, but his bonus. Not about the team, but about his individual performance. “How I look” is more important than anything else.


“Leaders enjoy giving credit to others.” -Skip Prichard


  1. Steals credit

You work all night to get it done. Instead of praising you, you find your name removed and her name prominently at the top. She basks in the light of your success and barely acknowledges your contribution.


“Leaders create results by letting others shine.” -Skip Prichard


  1. Bullies

Threats and intimidation mark the way he manages. You are not asked; you are bullied.

  1. Poor self-awareness

What seems obvious to everyone else, she misses. Her effect on people is something that she completely misses. She never comes back and apologizes or corrects a misunderstanding because she is just not aware of her impact.

  1. Manages up

Sure, everyone needs to manage up. But, he does it exclusively. His boss loves him. Everyone else sees that he sucks up so much that he has little time for anything else.

  1. Always right

You are frequently wrong, but she never is. She can never admit a mistake because it would threaten her self-esteem.


“Freely admitting mistakes is a sign of leadership.” -Skip Prichard


  1. Poor communicator

Information is withheld. Few understand what he means. More time is spent trying to decode the little communication that happens than actually listening to the message.


“A bad boss withholds information in an effort to manipuate.” -Skip Prichard


  1. Unable to get the best from people

People may stay in the job, but they are not motivated. No one tries to do more than the minimum.

  1. Micromanages

She dictates every last detail. There is no room for creativity or deviation from the plan. You are to execute orders and report back. Constantly.

  1. Missing in action

He is never around when you need him to make a decision or weigh in.

  1. Never praises or encourages

If you read a positive word on your performance review, your heart would stop so long you would need a doctor. You never hear a single positive word.


“A bad boss wallows in the negative. A leader seeks the positive.” -Skip Prichard


  1. Wants only praise and good news

You have a problem, but he will not listen. You lost an account, but you cannot bring it up. Problems must be hidden. Only good news is shared because he cannot seem to handle anything more.

  1. Disingenuous

He may praise you, but he doesn’t mean it. His body language betrays his real emotion.

New Leaders – Decide, Empower and Take Action

This is a guest post by friend and mentor Bruce Rhoades, who retired after having run several companies. He often helps me with strategy. I am delighted that he is a regular contributor.

New Leader Challenges—A Review

Since this is the second post about tips for new leaders, let’s review the challenges. Achieving a new leadership position is both rewarding and challenging. It acknowledges that you are someone who can make a difference, lead others and get things done. On the other hand, it is perhaps another step toward more responsibility and provides greater visibility of your actions and style.

Whether you are new to a department, new to a company or just received a promotion, the challenges are very similar. It is important to establish your style, values and culture effectively and quickly. As the saying goes, you only get one chance to make a first impression. So what are some techniques to quickly establish your leadership style and lead effectively?


“Never underestimate the effect of taking action on small things.” -Bruce Rhoades


Much of my career has been serving in interim executive positions or as interim CEO for various companies, where I often entered the organization as the “new guy” in charge. Here are the fundamental areas that I have found helpful for your initial focus to be an effective leader:

  • First Impressions
  • Information Gathering and Relationship Building
  • Open Communication
  • Decision, Delegation and Empowerment
  • Action and Accountability

In a previous post, I discussed techniques for gathering good information, building relationships and communicating.

In this post, I will discuss techniques for:

Decision, Delegation and Empowerment

Action and Accountability

From a foundation of reliable information, relationships at all levels and open communication, here are some tips to establish a culture of decisiveness, empowerment, action and accountability.

First Impressions—A Reminder

Whether you are in a new leadership role as executive, department manager, product manager, or team leader, people will watch closely to understand your style. A few of the things people will evaluate include:

  • Are you decisive? How do you make decisions?
  • How do you take action?
  • What do you tolerate?
  • Do you hold people accountable?
  • Can you be influenced? Will you listen?
  • Are you approachable?
  • How do you react to bad news?
  • Do you focus on big picture or detail?
  • Can you be put off, pocket-vetoed?
  • How do you deal with good or poor performance?
  • How do you think about customers; how do you treat them?
  • How do you gather information?
  • What are your values?

As the organization’s employees and customers observe these traits, it is important to remember: They will listen to what you say, but it is what you do that counts the most to establish culture.

So, where do you start? I suggest you initially focus on these characteristics as the most important:

  • Gather reliable information
  • Communicate openly
  • Be decisive
  • Delegate and empower others when possible
  • Encourage action
  • Require accountability
  • Satisfy customers

Here are some tips on how to set the tone for decisiveness, empowerment, action and accountability.

Decisions, Delegation and Empowerment

The job of a leader is to make decisions happen—not necessarily make all the decisions, but to ensure they happen. In fact, it is better for the strength of the organization if the leader does NOT make most of the decisions. When others are involved, empowered and delegated the task of making decisions, everyone learns, people are more engaged and the organization begins to have a culture of deciding instead of just identifying problems to discuss endlessly.

One of the best times to establish a decision culture is when you are a new leader. First, you certainly do not know all the answers, and you need input from others. Second, people will be open to helping you. Here are some tips:

  • Look for Small Things: In various interactions within the organization, be alert for small items that are frustrations, inefficiencies or items holding people back. Ask “Who needs to be involved in changing the item?” Then delegate and empower the two or three people named to make the decision and take action. If the people involved cannot agree, then they can come back for guidance, but if they do agree, then it is done. Many times, there are small decisions that do not need senior management involvement. After all, those involved know more about it anyway. Delegating small decisions will set the tone for the organization, encourage others to decide and help establish an empowerment culture. Never underestimate the effect of taking action on small things.


“Delegating small things creates a decision and empowerment culture.” -Bruce Rhoades


  • Take Immediate Action on the Obvious: When you are the new leader, after many discussions you will find that there are some very well-known and recurring issues that have been around a long time. Many times everyone agrees about what needs to be done—so do it! If possible, delegate the responsibility. If delegation is not appropriate, then gather input from many, test your decision with them and decide. These items can be large or small, but deciding quickly will establish your style and send a message to the organization that decisions are encouraged.