Start Small, Lead Big

The leadership journey begins differently for every leader. Some are chosen. Others choose themselves.

One way or another, you’ve begun to lead. And that’s fantastic! We need more people willing to step up and lead.

An issue many young leaders face is the temptation to start big and lead big. Feelings of inadequacy arise once they realize their tribe isn’t as big as they’d hope.

I’ve been in this situation before. There’s been times when our youth group was frustratingly small. Subscribers to my blog grew stagnant and growth wasn’t happening.

Truth is, I was frustrated.

Why I Was Frustrated

My problem, along with many other young leaders, was I had a grand vision and expected it right now. Kind of like the Burger King slogan: Your Way, Right Away.

This kind of attitude grabbed me and threw me to the ground. I’d given into the theology of quick, not great.

Because of the lack of growth, the lack of attention, the lack of learning I grew more and more frustrated. Can you understand where I’m coming from?

In reality, this wasn’t the real reason for my frustration. It was a mask the true frustration wore.

What really frustrated me was that I wanted BIG before I put in the time.

The Solution To The Your Way, Right Away Frustration

As I grew and trudged through the issues I faced with inadequacy and frustration I learned what needed to change. I got into a funk and lost my focus.

My mindset became muddled and I stopped watching my attitude indicator.

I needed to get away from the microwave quick mindset.

When I began to realize this, I took steps to change the way I was thinking and how I was feeling. This changed everything.

The solution was common sense. My ego and ambition were too big for where I was at personally. I hadn’t fully grown into the role of a leader.

I had failed to start small.

Now, had I started small, things would have been different in the early days. I’d have realized leadership had a progression and I’d have to work my way through levels of leadership.

Avoid Early Leadership Frustration

I shared how I had thought my influence and reach needed to be larger than what it was. And how this brought angst and frustration to my life.

The solution had been to start small. Discover your leadership style early on, when your tribe is small. This allows you to make the mistakes without as many eyes on you. There will also be less damage if a bad decision is made.

If you’re looking to start leading, look to lead small at first. You can do this by:

  • Influencing your friends: Learn how to take a leadership role among your friends. One situation you can step up and lead is the dreaded dinner choice. How many times have you been with a group of friends and no one wants to make the decision of where to eat? More times than you care to remember, I bet.

    Be a leader here and offer your suggestion. You may discover others are willing to follow. What a great feeling that is. Or you may see your idea rejected. What a bad feeling this is.

    And yet this is just what you need. You need to gain the experience of making popular and unpopular choices. Who better to be rejected by than your friends? It’s safe because you know they love and care about you. Give them the chance to teach you this

  • Influencing your coworkers: Regardless of whether or not your in a leadership position at your current job, you can still influence and lead others. I’ve written about this in a previous post. Don’t give into the negativity about your job. Decide to be positive. Decide to make a difference. Decide to be a leader.

    When you see something wrong at work, step up and take care of the problem. Clean up the messy break room or the dirty bathroom. Pick up the trash others have thrown around.

    This might not be your job but it’s what a leader does. Leaders see a problem and take action. They don’t wait to be told or asked to do something. They see it and do it. This is what makes a leader.

  • Influencing your family: If your a husband, you’re tossed into a role of leadership here. You’re the head of your household and need to lead your wife and children.

    Many young men fail here. They don’t see the need to lead in their home.

    You’ve been given the responsibility, and the privilege, of leading the most important people in your life. Don’t screw it up and pass your leadership responsibility off to someone else. Because there really isn’t anyone else equipped like you to lead your family.

    As you lead your family, you’ll discover the skills you learn are similar to the ones you’ll need to lead large organizations. There’s negotiations with your wife. There’s the need for proper discipline of children. Along with budgeting, time management, and much more.

When you start small, you begin to build up the necessary tools to lead big. Choose to take your time as you’re growing as a leader. Learn the ins and outs of leadership.

Each small step you take will allow you to become better equipped to handle the big issues of leadership.

Question: What small steps are you taking so you can lead big? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • DS

    Trying to consistently deliver on commitments. We definitely need to have patience, but it’s not easy. Thanks for the transparency.

    • DS, you’re focusing on a great step to lead big. There are leaders out there who fail to follow through and deliver. If you’re able to nail this one down, you’ll have hit a major milestone!

  • I have found that great family leaders usually make great business leaders. Most people hear that and think I mean that any great family leader can be a CEO…but that is not what I mean. It might mean that they are a great team leader of 5 mechanics. But great family leaders make great leaders everywhere.

    The reverse is not always true though.

    As you say…start small…lead big. Start where you are and where it is most important…at home.

    • Matt, you’re onto something there. Family dynamics are very similar to business dynamics. It’s a mix of personalities coming together for the greater good.

  • I love that you mention the dinner issue, Joe. My young professionals group always goes out to eat after our meetings. Since I’m usually starting and closing the meetings and leading us in prayer, that usually also means I’m the one choosing the place to eat.

    And it really is a good place to start since I’ve made my fair share of unpopular decisions before! This is made worse by everlasting love of breakfast for dinner so I often suggest Village Inn (equivalent to IHOP or Denny’s.)

    I’ve learned that a lot of people are afraid to speak up and that it’s easier for them to respond to a bad idea than to say their idea in the first place.

    Small things really are key. What you said about family has biblical proof too in 1 Timothy 3: 4-5

    “He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive,for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?”

    Great points Joe – thank you.

    • Haha, thanks for sharing your experience with being the leader who has to choose where to eat. It can be a tough and unpopular decision.

  • Carol Peterson

    Excellent points, Joe. This is the advice writers get all the time. Many people start writing with he hope of having the next bestseller with accompanying fame and glory. But to be taken seriously, writers also need credits. The writing advice is also start small (before you) lead big. Get published in free papers; work up to local publications; then national ones. Then you’ve got clips.

    I see it as the parable of the talents. When we have good stewardship over little (small leadership), then God gives us more.

    Great post and terrific reminders, Joe.

    • I can see where it also applies to writing Carol. This is one of those principles that transcends business and enters into all points of our lives.

  • Excellent honesty Joe. I’ve been here too and got just as frustrated. One thing you can do when you’re starting out is connecting with other like minded people who are doing the same things. Too often we want to and try to connect with the “big” leaders in our industry where as I time would be better spent growing with the “smaller” ones.

    • Kimanzi, that’s a great point. Connecting with the smaller leaders lets us, and them, know that they’re not alone. We’re in it together!

  • This is very encouraging for me as I work to grow my blog. I hadn’t thought of the opportunity I have to make my mistakes with fewer eyes on me. Thansk!

    • You’re welcome Tom. I’m glad I was able to give you a new way of thinking about being small. It helps to be able to mess up when there’s not many watching. Take a look at any big blogger who makes a simple spelling mistake or grammar error. There’s someone there to correct even the littlest of things!

  • So many steps…where to start? For me it starts with daily decisions to do things intentionally. I think you’re absolutely right that it takes small steps over and over and over again. One step that I’m taking in my leadership at my job is to establish and execute monthly one-on-ones with my team members. It’s definitely a work in progress.

    • That’s a beginning Jon! Keep at it, even if you don’t see results right away. A lot of times our breakthroughs are stolen from us because we gave up too soon when we didn’t see results right away.

  • I use to try and fail at “starting big.” I thought I would be published, speaking to large crowds, and become a famous over night( Oh, being young and unwise). I had to learn it’s a process that starts with making small steps on a daily basis toward our desired future. Great thoughts!

    • Well, it’s the image we’re given so often through TV and the media. These overnight successes aren’t what they appear. There was a lot of hard work put behind them. Much like we’re both finding out.

      • I agree, most “overnight success” takes years to accoplish. People just see the end result and not everything the person had to go through to obtain that success.

  • Awesome way to put it. I think we all have that mindset at one point or another. Its important that we keep reminding ourselves that the more we learn, the more we will realize we still have to learn.

    That’s probably the best thing I’ve discovered over time from doing design work to writing and so forth. Amateurs think they know it all. Professionals know how far they still have to go. 😀

    • I love what you’ve learned Jared. It’s amazing how much further we have to go even once we’ve arrived.

  • seannisil

    Thanks for highlighting the need for continued leadership in the home. If you can’t handle your household and lovingly lead your family…how can you expect to take on the leadership burden of a larger organization?

    Great stuff!

    • Thanks for your comment. I really wish more schools and businesses would drive this point home. If you’re unable to influence the ones closest to you, you won’t have a great impact on those you’re not close with.

      How have you worked to build a strong family foundation so you can lead better at work?

  • That’s a difficult battle when the reality hits your expectation, it can knock you sideways!

    Personally I think two of the best ways to lead are to have values and take action

    • Ain’t that true Nick! It happens and you feel like you’re blindsided.

      You’ve got great thoughts on leading and why people will follow you. We should be living our values because they’re the driving force behind our lives. And if we’re unable to take action we’re not fit to lead.

      How have you been taking action in your life? What results have you seen?

      • First thing is starting with a business venture, and at this moment I’m keeping it under covers – and that’s got everybody intrigued!

        I’ll try and keep this story short, but it did amuse me. I’ve been blogging for a while (I had a previous blog too), and at first I was ridiculed for doing so, but hey-ho I pursued. Just today I was asked by one of those if I could help them with blogging, with a not-so humble ‘isn’t it ironic that I took the pee out of you’ statement… I seem to have found some higher ground through perseverance – definitely worth it!

        • Nick, now you’ve got me intrigued! Would love to hear about it once it’s revealed.

  • Great post. Nobody starts leading a large group at first and when they do it usually ends up a train wreck. Leadership isn’t born overnight and most great things in life take time, which is good. It gives you ample amounts of opportunity to hone your skills, learn from others and to grow.

    • Thanks Nate. It’s funny how we miss the fact that leaders who are given everything at the beginning are usually the ones who fail at leadership. Those who have to work at it and build their teams usually see success.

      How are you applying this to your life and leadership?

      • I no longer apply this concept in the small form but how I did apply it was by motivating my family, friends and then on to encouraging and leading my coworkers. This got me to where I am today. Back in my younger football days I had the opportunity to lead 50+ peers as the team capitan chosen by my team members. This was truly the beginning of when I realized the impact someone has on leading a group of people.

  • Matt Maresca

    I like this Joseph. I’ll admit I was a start big, lead big guy for a long time. I always wanted to create the next big thing, which is fine but I learned that most big things start out as small things. I love how you say to lead big no matter your position. You can always be a positive influence on those around you, whether you are in a typical position of leadership or not.

    • Matt, glad you’re starting to see how you can lead big while starting small. The smallest things, like acorns, often become the biggest. Don’t dream small but be willing to start small!

  • Joe,

    What a powerful piece. I think all leaders face the same issue to some degree. To what extent is largely based upon our personality types. I am a powerful choleric/perfect melancholic. Having said that I have experienced this as well.

    When I started BornTwoLead I knew the need existed and I knew we would help a lot of leaders grow. However, I wanted the results now. I wanted to have the influence of Mike Hyatt today. In the process I initially forgot about those closest to me.

    Today the blog is growing and I constantly remind myself growth is growth. To grow you have to put in the work!

    In the Army we start leaders off with small teams, then squads, platoons, companies, battalions etc…

    The bottom line is you have to lead yourself first, then family, friends etc…

    • Haha, who doesn’t want Michael Hyatt’s influence or audience? It’s up there but one thing he’s reminded us is that it didn’t start out like that. He had to grow it to the point it’s at. He started small until he could lead big.

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