Monday, January 26, 2009

Leadership 101: Don't Sweat The Small Stuff (And It's NOT All Small Stuff)

My first Air Force assignment after basic training was technical training school at Keesler AFB in Biloxi/Gulfport, Mississippi. There I joined the Blue Knights Drum and Bugle Corps where I played a bad second horn. (No, I don't mean bad as in wicked good, I mean they were hard up for horns and took me despite my tremendous suckage.) Because we performed for the public, we Blue Knights spent a lot of time keeping our uniforms top-notch. I, as did the other Blue Knights, took immense pride in having a set of boots and shoes that were incredibly well-polished. I kept up this habit through months of other training until I was posted to my first "real" job with the 963rd Airborne Warning and Control Squadron at Tinker AFB in Oklahoma.

Just a couple weeks after I arrived in Oklahoma, the Soviet Union's air force shot down a Korean Air 747 over the seas north of Japan. Things in the world were pretty tense at that point, and we deployed a number of extra aircraft to Okinawa to fly overwatch for the salvage operations. I was on one of those deploying flight crews and was scrambling around to get everything ready. For some reason, instead of focusing on getting my training material and deployment gear gathered up I was fixated more on getting my two pairs of flight boots polished up to my usual high standards.

Master Sergeant George Bishop, one of the most utterly smart, highly experienced, and very respected radar technicians we had, said in a very calm, quiet voice "Don't sweat the small stuff." Nothing more, nothing less. His calm voice snapped me out of my tizzy and reminded me that polishing my boots wasn't going to get me on the plane.

You as a leader need that same view: what's the really important stuff for getting your team's goal accomplished? What are the important things that will help not only your team, but your broader group succeed? Focus on those crucial things, and keep your team from getting lost in minutia which contributes only churn and hinders progress.

Is your team getting constantly interrupted for administrivia tasks? Jump in as the gatekeeper to block those disturbances. Do you find members of your team getting overly focused on small tasks tangential to delivery on your project? Take time during the day to help guide them back on track.

You've also got to have a good filter for deciding what's small stuff and what's not. Everything isn't small stuff. Sorry, but those time cards, while a complete pain in the keester, ensure your team members get paid. Furthermore, those same sucky timecards ensure your company is properly recording your billable hours so you're pulling in your appropriate revenue.

Don't sweat the small things, but keep in mind that it's not just small stuff because it irritates you.

Update: Find links to this series of posts here.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The Master Sergeant George Bishop you refer to may have been my uncle Air Force Master Sergeant George Bishop(1909-1977). He retired in the Atlanta, Georgia area. I never met him but am seeking more information on him for my Bishop family history research. If you think this is the George Bishop you are referring to, please contact me at Thank you!

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