Rudy Giuliani explains in Leadership how whenever he took on a new role he would seek to make a few small but noticeable changes very early on. The purpose of this was not just to throw his weight around, show everyone who’s boss, make his mark etc. It was much more practical.
He wanted to inspire the people working for him, and let them know he was not just all talk. If they saw him fix two or three small problems, it gave them confidence that he was capable of getting things done. If they could trust him with the small things, there was every reason to expect they could trust him with the big ones, too.
The same principle underpinned another key part of his philosophy, that which has been dubbed the ‘Broken Windows Theory’.
New York, when Giuliani first took on its mayorship, was a rough, dirty, run-down, dangerous place to live and visit. It had huge problems, including an incredibly high murder rate. Giuliani started to tackle the murder rate by… fixing broken windows in the city’s apartment blocks.
He inspired and encouraged people to care for their little patch of the city, and to take pride in it. If you live in a run-down, dirty, miserable place, you pretty soon stop caring about what it looks like, and if one window in a building is broken, bored young people have fewer inhibitions about throwing a rock through another, and another, and another.
By taking care of the small things, and getting lots of people to do the small things they were capable of, Giuliani slowly began to transform the city.
By the end of his mayorship it had the lowest crime rate of any city of its size, and about the lowest murder rate it had ever had. It took a lot of work, and required fixing a lot more than windows, but by starting small he showed people that they could make a big difference.
What do you want to change? Does it seem too big? A giant mountain that you could never move? Start by moving the rocks at the edge. Get the people around you to move the rocks beside them.
This was how Nehemiah got the Jews to rebuild the walls all around Jerusalem. He assigned each family to rebuild the bit near their own homes, knowing that they would have extra motivation to do it, and do it well, if it was the part keeping them safe. Nehemiah chapter 3 works its way around the wall listing each section and who was responsible for repairing it.
If you break down a task into manageable chunks, it is much easier to get it done, and people will be inspired by the progress and will be more willing to help.