Think Big, Act Small

"What's the magic," I asked the CEO, "that's allowed Sonic to raise its revenues and profits by double digits every year?"

"That's an easy one," she answered without hesitation. "We think big but we act small. When big companies start acting big, they get in trouble."

Those few words absolutely nailed what we'd found inside every company in this book.

Acting Small means keeping in touch, keeping things personal, and making everyone involved feel valuable, from customers to partners: like how small companies do before they become corporate.

Here's the best extracts from the book on how to Act Small.

Only have time for 1? My favourite is 'Keep Your Hands Dirty'...

1. ListenListening

When companies are acting big, big decisions are made by the big bosses. If those bosses need any input, they look to outside experts or bigger competitors.

The best idea doesn't necessarily win in those companies; many times, the best idea isn't even discussed.

Meanwhile, small companies listen to their team (including people on the front line and from other departments) with open minds, and they have the discipline to let the best ideas win regardless of the source.

2. Be HumbleHumble

Each of the leaders we encountered was more modest than the previous.

The unassuming nature of the people who head these companies is central to the enterprise's ability to consistently grow revenues. When an enterprise is headed by a cocky, publicity-seeking egoist, the agenda has already been determined, and eventually the company will come to resemble the leader and take on his psychological and physical traits.

Humble people build humble cultures.

3. Keep Your Hands DirtyDirty Hands

A male administrative assistant in his midforties stood up from behind the reception desk to greet us. "Hello, we're here to see CEO Cliff Hudson," I said, handing him my business card. "Will you please let Mr. Hudson's assistant know we're here?"

He smiled and said, "Well, actually, I'm Mr. Hudson, but you can call me Cliff, and this," he said as he surveyed the reception area, "is my office."

Cliff Hudson's office is the third-floor reception area. It's where he works, takes his phone calls, answers his e-mail, and holds meetings.

"Being out here in the open," Hudson says, "is one of the best decisions I've ever made. It makes me accessible, lets me interact with everyone, and lets me keep my finger on the pulse of the company."

That last one's important - Leaders Get in the Trenches, and Stay There

When leaders and companies keep their hands dirty, they're better able to spot trends; learn and act on what customers really want; and better earn the respect and trust of customers, employees, and suppliers.

By keeping their hands dirty, the senior executives are, in a sense, relinquishing some of their power to the common employee, vendor, or customer. They are favoring a bottom-up management approach as opposed to a top-down one.

A bottom-up approach imbues the team with a sense of ownership, which translates into its taking responsibility and contributing to the bottom line because it wants to, not because it has to.

So Keep Those Hands Dirty

  • Never become too important for customer contact.
  • Turn workers into valued team members - not employees.
  • Turn suppliers into partners.
  • Be available to people who want to do business with you.
  • Give all team members a voice in the decision-making process.
  • Be prepared to be evaluated and graded.
  • Respond to every customer communication.

More on Leading from the Trenches? Here's a 2-minute video from Bob Davids on 'Leading Without Ego' >>

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