colorful flags in the sky with a rainbow design

That statement was shared with me by a client who is a senior officer in the Army Special Forces. Since hearing it, I have pondered what it means. This is coming from the truly 1% crowd. Special Forces in all military branches make up less than 1% of our force. They are called upon to do extremely difficult and demanding missions requiring a high level of training and proficiency. It is important that they do the little things well.

What does that mean for us regular folks? I think there are two big lessons. First, when you do something over and over it becomes a habit and therefore automatic without thinking.  Second, lots of little things make big things happen. Let’s briefly explore each and see how the rest of us 99 percenters can apply the principles.

The Habit

Remember when you started learning to drive? You had to think about everything, from turning the key, to closing the garage door, and using your mirrors. I will bet on your last drive you did not think about any of those things. Why, because they are a habit. Hopefully the standard of your driving is high. Because every day we experience scary drivers with low standards.

How does a habit like driving benefit you? It takes a task and completes it to a standard without thinking. It frees up your mental capacity to do other things. You probably do some of your best thinking when you are executing a habit; driving, taking a shower, or making your morning coffee. A key is the level of performance of the task.

You may think, well I have routines, is that what you are talking about? No. Routines are a series of steps you repeat regularly, they are not automatic and you still have to think. Some routines have habits. Are your morning rituals a habit, a routine, or a routine that has some habits? The discriminator; if you have to think about the task it is probably not a habit.

Let’s relate this concept to your professional/leadership life. Do you have tasks that have developed into habits? Those tasks you complete to the same standard without any thought. Some possibilities may be, setting your calendar for the week on Sunday night, how you open/close your business or start your day. How you begin a meeting or end a meeting recapping actions. What are habits that serve you well? What gets performed to a high standard without you having to think about it?

Possible Action

What is one new habit you want to create? What do you want to turn into “a little thing that gets done well without thinking”? Pick the task and begin your journey of performing that important task consistently well until you no long have to think about it.

Lots of Little Things Make Big Things Happen

Maybe a better statement is: Lots of little things done well make big things happen. This is what my client was talking about. Whether they are habits or not, the standard of performance of the smallest task is high. There are little things that need a lot of attention and use mental and physical capacity. This is different than a habit – tasks being done automatically to a high standard. Capacity is used in establishing and maintaining the high standard of performance. When done consistently it differentiates you and your organization.

Think about your favorite restaurant, hotel, or event you attend. What makes that favorite thing – your favorite. Commonly it is because the details are done well every time.

Relate this principle to your professional/leadership life. Daily what little things if done to an excellent level would differentiate you? Is it ensuring you genuinely connect with your direct reports every day? How you and your team present data? Starting and finishing meetings on time?

Possible Action

What should be on the list of little things that will create one big mountain of excellence for you and your organization?


Doing little things well has two components:

  1. Creating habits that complete small routine tasks to a high standard without using a lot of physical and mental capacity
  2. Expending physical and mental capacity on the right small tasks to consistently produce excellent results.

Your guiding question should be. What will make friends, allies, and competitors say: “They are good because they do the little things well.”

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