Small Behaviors Can Lead to Big Changes

While the foundation of one of my leadership programs includes the idea that small behavioral changes can have big impact in a variety of ways, I didn’t truly see it personally until recently. I took notice when I started to think more about delegation as the right of the leader. Not only are there things I outright shouldn’t be doing on a day-to-day basis if I am going to reach my personal goals and helping my reports do the same, the list gets very long when I add the things that in an ideal situation I would actively choose not to be doing. I have written about it extensively in my leadership series, but that is just one aspect of the small personal shifts that have led to daily dividends for me and my team, even in a climate where everyone is understaffed, overwhelmed with current work, and still interested in growth and new opportunities.

Before I start listing small changes that have had an impact for me, I feel like some background is necessary. I lead a small team of IT professionals within the UW-Madison Libraries, who provide services from desks across campus that range from library technology support (think staff desktop support and staff and patron access provisioning) to computer lab operations (think technology circulation and poster printing). The services and needs are varied and a ground up rethinking of how we provide these services is on the horizon (more on that another day). Contextually, a small team dynamic often manifests in operational needs permeating the entire org chart, meaning I am the doer much more frequently than I would like. However, the program has allowed me to shift from viewing everything as of equal importance” to a tiered system of immediate versus important within a delegation flowchart with a strategic focus. One must have a strategy to engage in the tiered system; that is where the small changes come in.

The following small changes are a mix of current practices (marked as CP) and future aspirations (marked as FA) that form the foundation of my personal shift over the course of the program. The FA items are behaviors I am in the process of forming.

Mornings are for settling into the day/week (CP)

My computer is a focus tool (CP)

Email is not my to-do list (CP)

Intentional preparation time for meetings (FA)

Scheduled (and unscheduled) thinking time” (FA)

Notes are largely hand-written (CP)

Consistent reviews of progress and goals (FA)

As I reflect more, I write more (CP)

I will admit that the above list is a lot, but as small behaviors take root, they become part of a standard approach; it took more time to write it all out than it takes to enact something that has become habit for me. I will also admit that it took me awhile to think through all the changes I had made (I may have even missed a few); one pitfall of behavioral change is that ingrained approaches become less tangible as they become normalized and internalized.

The reason the title reads, Small Behaviors Can Lead to Big Changes” is that in the end, one of these changes taken on its own might have amounted to very little, but when taken as a whole these changes affect a large number of people and initiatives and the effective changes are greater than the sum of the behavioral parts.

Related writings (in chronological order):

Posted: July 27, 2022

In 2022, I am participating in two leadership training programs. This should be a social experience, so I am writing about it. Check out the full list of posts in the series here.

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