Odds are that if you are reading this, you are familiar with the term Big Rocks. If you are not, I recommend you watch this video from Stephen Covey. Dr. Covey does a great job of reminding us that it’s important to ensure we make time for what is most important, or the Big Rocks, before we spend time on the other, smaller rocks. Naturally, the first step in this process is to decide what those Big Rocks actually are. When it comes to our overarching life, I think it’s pretty easy for us to assess the size of each rock. They won’t and shouldn’t be the same for everyone and their relative size will undoubtedly change over time, just as the priorities they represent do. The challenge is living in a way that aligns to rock size.

Building on that analogy in the work environment, I have been reminded by a few teammates of late about the importance of acknowledging the size of the rocks we are moving, both individually and as a collective. Fundamental to any team is the distribution of responsibility across a shared mission. If we equate each responsibility to a rock we can quickly see that though not all are of equal importance, each is important. At the same time, we can all look at the same rock and see its size differently, as what is most important through the lens of an individual may not be as important when looking at priorities through the lens of the collective, and vice versa. Each person on the team must move their respective rocks, biggest to smallest. The leader must use the lens of the collective to ensure the team is doing the same, moving what only they have the authority/responsibility/expertise to move.

This all makes perfect sense and is critical to effective mission accomplishment. One of the challenges is when we allow a Little Rock to result in broken windows. That segue may be a reach but play along. The Broken Window Theory was an idea first developed by criminologists. The premise is that when petty crimes are not addressed, we give the impression that we will also tolerate more serious crime. There will be times when we stumble across what may appear to be a Little Rock, a rock so small that we shouldn’t be the one who decides to move it. Much like a piece of trash blowing through the courtyard, there are consequences to choosing not to pick it up. People who may see you acknowledge the trash and then do nothing about it may very well do the same even if they were the one who is responsible for picking it up. If it’s not important to him, why should it be important to me? In essence, when we don’t acknowledge an area for improvement we sanction that behavior and will likely not only find ourselves with more broken windows but also with more egregious behavior. Litte Rocks can also break windows.

The challenge of a leader and something I struggle with at times, is identifying a rock that needs to be moved and choosing to move it myself regardless of its size. I also find myself seeing some fundamental issues as being bigger rocks than the individuals responsible for moving them do. One of the things I am focusing on right now is helping others see the broken windows in our proximity so they can address them, while personally focusing my attention on the rocks that are uniquely my responsibility. It’s a challenge for me to not pick up that piece of trash, and instead, point it out to someone else who has the responsibility of picking it up. Whether it be at the division, department, squad, platoon, company, brigade, etc., level, it is the leader of the team that is ultimately accountable for the performance across the team. Fortunately, I continue to be a part of an amazing team. And like any team, there are Big Rocks, Little Rocks, and Broken Windows that we continue to move and repair.

  • How might you better focus you and your team on the Big Rocks?
  • How distracted are you by Little Rocks?
  • Are you ignoring Broken Windows?