How to Get Big by Staying Small

Hey gang, here’s something I’ve been struggling with for a while and want to run by you. Let me know if you agree…

A Small Tugboat Pushes a Large FreighterWhat is Staying Small?

Staying small, in leadership, means staying in the details. It means remembering the little gals and guys.

Staying small means keeping your humility. It’s about not thinking too highly of yourself.

Staying small means remembering your role is to serve, first.

Staying small is about a mental approach, not a physical size.

A Story About Staying Small

He was a Vice President, accountable for hundreds or people. I was at the bottom of the totem pole, a recent college graduate and I would be happy if he remembered my name. Yet every time I emailed him, he responded within hours. His message seemed genuine and often, also included a note of personal interest.

I was amazed, honored and humbled. When he said jump, I didn’t ask, “how high?”, I jumped and then asked, “was that high enough?”

He stayed small and drove the greatest results from me and my peers. His results were greater the smaller he was.

Seeming Big Hurts

In contrast, how many examples do you have of bad bosses that seemed too busy to hear you out? You know the symptoms: reading email while you’re speaking, keeping the door closed – all the time, declining and / or delegating all your requests. The list goes on. I bet you could add a few yourself.

The results from these “Big” leaders seems a greater degree of disengagement. Less commitment. Less understanding. Overall, lower return on investment.

How to Stay Small

1. Listen.

2. Serve, first.

3. Lead, second.

4. Stay humble.

5. Remember and reiterate names.

6. Have a personal interest in everyone that follows you.

7. Care more about the results of those you’re accountable for than your own direct contributions.

Most of us want to grow our organization, audience or community. Whether it’s your revenues, physical capacity or online subscribers. I think the key to greatest growth is really, staying small. It’s a paradox to be sure. What do you think?


Picture of Ben Lichtenwalner

Ben Lichtenwalner

Ben Lichtenwalner is the founder and principal of Modern Servant Leader and Radiant Forest, LLC. He has studied and promoted servant leadership awareness and adoption for over 20 years. He is the author of 2 leadership books and has 2 decades of corporate management and leadership experience. His corporate experience spans CIO, VP, Director, and many management roles at Fortune 500, INC 500, and Nonprofits. Ben’s education includes a B.S. in Management Science & Information Systems from Penn State University and an MBA from Lehigh University. Ben's Full Profile Here: About Ben Lichtenwalner

6 thoughts on “How to Get Big by Staying Small”

  1. Ben, this is spot-on. Leadership — it’s not about me, it is about others.  Yes, it takes discipline, practice and a humble-heart to accomplish.  However, I have found that my focus has to be on those I lead and not my individual accomplishments. Great article, thanks.

  2. Great post Ben! I have definitely noticed a direct correlation between staying small and increased success in both professional and personal life.  

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