Korean War Monument

Never Really Ready

Dave Kinnear1-On Leadership

The Big Stones:

I’m told that “No combat-ready unit ever passed inspection.” They know they cannot be “fully ready.” The point here is that there is always room for improvement. So once the “big things” are being done to expectations, we move to the smaller tasks to perfect them. Alternatively, perhaps, we set the bar a bit higher for the big things.

There is a continuous improvement at all levels of the organization, and all to achieve the overall mission of the unit.


Korean War Monument

The same is true for business leaders today. We walk the fine line between being seen as a leader who is never satisfied or one who is simply raising the bar on performance.

Leaders relentlessly inspect what they expect. The challenge is to make sure we aren’t sending mixed signals about what’s most important. That is, which are the “big stones” that must be done first before paying too much attention to the smaller stones, gravel, and sand (this analogy comes from the Stephen Covey lesson, Big Rocks, in case you aren’t familiar with the terminology).

If in our attempt to be helpful, we ask our team about the small tasks before completing the big tasks to an acceptable level of perfection, we will inadvertently re-direct them. Timing is everything on this.


Going back to the military analogy, the leaders must make sure that they convey the vision and mission. Before any other detail is addressed, the commander’s intent must be known. Modern soldiers must be able to think and respond to a changing battlefield.

Being trained in all the myriad survival skills and tactical details means we are working on the future big things. After all, no mission will be completed without the soldiers and equipment required for the assignment.

I believe that the big rocks for leaders today are Values, Culture, Vision, and Mission for the organization. Notice that all of those big stones involve working with people first. All the other things we do in the organization amount to gravel, sand, and water.

Never Easy

I find myself asking colleagues, “Who told you it would be easy?” Of course, I say this with a smile, and it is meant to give them a bit of a nudge toward realizing that leadership is hard. Dealing with other human beings, with all their individuality, is always a challenge. Moreover, the folks who hold you accountable feel the same way — you too are human and fallible.

So we must remember that as leaders, we are constantly on parade. People care about what we do more than what we say. They know that what interests their boss should fascinate them. What you pay attention to, spend your time on, and measure will be interpreted as a “big rock.” We have to make sure the commander’s true intent is known.