Top to Bottom, Big to Small

I have heard it said that if you want to know the health of an organization’s top leadership, you don’t have to look any further than the “lowest” level of the organization. If you want to know how a CEO runs her company, simply ask the janitor how he feels about his job. You might think this is extreme, and many would agree with you. But all culture in an organization has to come from somewhere (or someone), and eventually there’s only one person responsible. As John Maxwell so adequately puts it, “Everything rises and falls on leadership.”

It’s funny how small, seemingly insignificant things are often indicators of the core beliefs and esteemed virtues of even the largest corporations. Culture is contagious, and culture comes directly from the leaders in an organization.

The interesting thing about this principle is that it’s also true in the context of relationships: the small, “insignificant” things are indicators of bigger, more important things. If you want to know the health of a relationship, simply look at the “small stuff” and you’re likely to see evidence of what’s at the core.

A good friend of mine taught me that good marriages are built on the kind words you say to each other, the little acts of service you do for one another, and fighting to keep the tenderness in your interaction with each other. One practice he taught me was to always make physical contact with my wife when passing by her. For example, if we’re sitting in a living room with a group of people and I get up to go into the kitchen and get something, I will put my hand on my wife’s shoulder or arm when I walk by her. This simple act gives her honor, acknowledges her presence and my preference of her, and helps communicate that I am conscious of her presence in the room and any needs she might have. Simple, yes, but also powerful and effective. I haven’t been married for a very long time, but so far my tests of this advice have proven to be successful. My wife loves being loved through small gestures like this.

I know things like saying “please” and “thank you” and offering to refill her coffee cup seem tedious, but I’m believe me they make a huge difference. One of the scariest things about life is that the most important things, many of the things that determine success or failure in any arena, are so simple that a child could understand them. Yet it isn’t the understanding that’s the hard part, rather the consistent performance of the simple things that brings success. Jesus himself said that whoever wants to be great in the Kingdom of God must make himself a servant of all (Mark 9:35). I think he was talking about this principle.

One of my favorite speakers has a quote: “There is simply never any reason to be unkind.” No matter how much time goes by knowing someone or working with them, and no matter the circumstances, kindness communicates something that nothing else can. Much like the complex systems in our bodies are made up of microscopic cells and chemical compounds, all great companies, marriages, families and partnerships are built on the so-called “small” building blocks of kindness, trust, submission and respect.

So don’t neglect them although they seem small. The health of your cells will either kill you or keep you alive.

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