Leading Small Before Leading Big

Leading Small Before Leading Big

Let’s talk about leading people. Specifically employees.

What are you doing right now to train the next crop of managers in your shop? If you are like most business owners, a leadership development program isn’t something that you have ever considered.

“I’ve got managers,” you say. “If I need to replace one, I’ll just hire someone else.”

That’s all fine and dandy until you put that theory to the test. Like right now. When there is a gaping black hole the size of the moon for available, competent managerial staff for your business. You’d have better luck finding a winning lottery ticket.

At least one or two business owners a week email or phone me. “Hey Marshall, do you know any:

  • Art directors
  • Screenprint production managers
  • Embroidery managers
  • Sales managers

…that are looking right now? My person just gave notice and I need someone immediately.”

Good luck.

My Leadership Question

So here’s my question.

Why aren’t there more internal leadership training programs to develop the skill and talent to manage these departments with the crew currently employed?

“Oh. But the people on our crew aren’t cut out to manage or lead.”


Here’s the thing. Nobody is born a manager. This is a learned, and most definitely earned, skill. You have to set people up for success by giving them opportunities to grow.

Leading Small

Here’s what leading small means. It’s about one person’s tiny area of the company. Their sliver. Their “One Thing.”

You can start people on the leadership trail by teaching them that responsibilities start within themselves. They are responsible for their actions. The cleanliness. Quality. Work performed not only on time but early.

Plus, their own advancement and learning. Once they learn their “One Thing” get them interested in the “Next Thing.”

Mastery starts at the beginner level. Can they manage that role?

What Happens Next

Once someone has demonstrated competency and mastery over their first “One Thing”, start them down the path with other opportunities.

Eventually, this can lead to smaller responsibilities for some delegated tasks. Managing a small team of one or two people in their department for a project that is due next Wednesday. Delegate it to them and let them run it. Don’t micro-manage.

How did they do?

Point out their successes and opportunities for growth. Ask them, “What did you learn about the project or yourself?”

Then, give them more.

The Fill-In Role

One day in the not-so-distant future, one of your team leads or assistant managers will be sick or be out on vacation. This is your opportunity for management training.

Elevate and give someone a new “One Thing.” Run this crew today. Manage the department for the afternoon. Make sure this project goes off without a hitch.

Yes, you still have to train them. Don’t shove them into the deep end of the pool and hope they can swim. That’s not fair.

What I’m talking about is the opportunity. Even if they are young. Or don’t seem ready.

The fill-in role isn’t forever. It’s just for this one day. Or maybe a Saturday shift. It could be even a project where they stay late to handle inventory for a big program.


Why do people leave companies?

For a lot of reasons, but a big one is that they feel that they aren’t going anywhere and they don’t have a future in the position they currently have.

When you give people stretch goals and train them, people feel valued. Higher-level training must be an on-purpose and ongoing exercise. All the time.

To put it another way…

There is a reason right now you are looking to import a managerial candidate from another state.

It’s because you failed to hire and train their replacement with the staff you employ now.

If you want someone to lead big, you have to train them first by leading small. That’s how people learn.

Get on it.

“In the long run, your human capital is your main base of competition. Your leading indicator of where you’re going to be 20 years from now is how well you’re doing with your education system.” – Bill Gates

“Being a leader gives you charisma. If you look and study the leaders who have succeeded, that’s where charisma comes from, the leading.” – Seth Godin

“A leader is one that knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.” – John C. Maxwell

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