I previously reflected on the story of the tortoise and hare, and how incremental progress can accomplish big goals. Just as with the post about small gestures with big impact, I want to be better about making small changes to be more effective and happy.
“Go to work every day and make getting better your North Star. Aim at that every day,” - Jim Collins
Reality vs. Fantasy
It’s fun to look for small things in my life to improve. Why?
Because, in the past, I often thought about big dreams, but realized looking back, I accomplished very little of those dreams. When I was younger, I had no context to evaluate the link between planning and outcomes. Now, looking back over the years, I can see the impact not only in my own life, but in the life of those I know.
More to point, I’d like to harness the power of building on success to continue to grow and develop.
(Fantasy v Reality - These used to popular on Facebook last year)
Two Bios - Bezos and LBJ
There are two stories that come to mind about this. One is of Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon.com. The other is of Lyndon B. Johnson (LBJ).
There is a famous story of an early Amazon days. The young and inexperienced CEO Jeff Bezos asked the famous business author Jim Collins for advice. Bezos admitted in front of his team that he felt was was something “less than a Level 5 Leader.”
(“Level 5 leader” is a leader who has mastered and combined personal humility and will to being a great leader. Jim Collins wrote many business classics like Good to Great and Built to Last.)
Collins advised Bezos: “Go to work everyday and make getting better your North Star: Aim at that every day.”
One can argue, Bezos took the advice to heart, and has been doing better everyday for a long time now.
I came across another interesting example of taking small tasks seriously by another famous figure: LBJ.
While a young man in college, LBJ took a temporary teaching job in Cotulla, Texas to earn money to pay for his tuition at San Marcos. The school was for Mexican students whose parents were mostly workers for the white business owners in that southern corner of Texas. Other teachers took the job with disdain, and treated Mexican children like something less than people who needed education.
Not so Lyndon Johnson. He put his heart and soul into the school, getting to work before anyone and leaving after everyone left. Where the school had no extracurricular activities, he devised new ones and connected with nearby schools to give the kids something to do. Where the children had no transportation to get to events, he’d call on parents with cars (only few had cars) to get the kids to places.
What struck me was that he did all of this not only because he cared about the job and the kids (he did), but because he understood getting a stellar recommendation from this small gig would help him land other positions thereafter.
What You Can Do
You might be working on a boring task right now in a job that feels static. Just as LBJ did, understand that how you approach a small task will define the opportunities you are given later. (In the Bible, there’s a story in the book of Matthew about servants to whom talents are given to invest and grow. In this story, Jesus rebukes the lazy servant who hid the one talent and did nothing with that talent.)
Or, you might be excited about the challenging task you have. But, you’re stressed because the goal seems insurmountable. You understand that this big challenge is like finishing a marathon. You will complete the 26.2 mile-long race one step at a time. One step.
Focus on getting better everyday.
- Level 5 Leadership: The Triumph of Humility and Fierce Resolve. HBR, Jim Collins.
- The Path to Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson. Robert A. Caro.
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