Small Victories

Image by Gerd Altmann via Pixabay

“We don’t have to engage in grand, heroic actions to participate in the process of change. Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world.”

— Howard Zinn

The pursuit of social change is not always about big wins. When you are in it for the long haul . . .

Sometimes you will point out complexities where people saw only black and white.

Sometimes you will sow seeds of uncertainty.

Sometimes you will point out ambiguities.

Sometimes you will remind people to examine their own competing values.

Sometimes you will meet one new, likeminded ally.

Small victories create the underpinnings for the platforms upon which change is built. Leaders of change need to identify these victories, and articulate their value to your allies. Recognizing the small wins serves to remind us that leadership is a distributed activity that takes place at an interpersonal level. Every person engaged in every small action is demonstrating leadership for change.

Small Accomplishments Are Important

“I long to accomplish a great and noble task, but it is my chief duty to accomplish small tasks as if they were great and noble.”
– Helen Keller

You want to change the world. Your goal is transformative change around important, complex social problems like economic inequality, or human rights. Your line in the sand can seem as big as the Grand Canyon. During those times when things seem to be moving slowly, if at all, it is important to appreciate and celebrate your little victories.

Think back to where you started. Identify small, but important events. Don’t do it for the sake of nostalgia. Use the opportunity to reflect not only on what worked, but why it worked. Can you create that kind of energy and excitement again? It’s like finding out in chapter 27 of a mystery that a throwaway line in chapter 2 turned out to be a critical clue; and then correctly solving the mystery before the author’s reveal.

Seemingly innocuous or unimportant accomplishments add up in ways that we cannot always know. Celebrating small wins keeps us motivated. It reminds us that we are making progress toward a goal. Also, as I have mentioned many times before, it is during those small battles that collaborators build those immeasurable things like trust and passion.

You are in this pursuit for the long haul. Doing and recognizing the everyday efforts of people is important. Member of Congress and civil rights leader John Lewis put it this way:

“I am prepared to take the long, hard road, knowing it may not happen today or tomorrow, but ultimately, eventually, it will happen. That’s what faith is all about. That’s the definition of commitment – patience and persistence.  People who are like fireworks, popping off right and left with lots of sound and sizzle, can capture a crowd, capture a lot of attention for a time, but I always have to ask, where will they be in the end? Some battles are long and hard, and you have to have staying power. Firecrackers go off in a flash, then leave nothing but ashes. I prefer a pilot light – the flame is nothing flashy, but once it is lit, it doesn’t go out. It burns steadily, and it burns forever.” (source)

As a leader, you aren’t always required to provide the fireworks. Your greatest contribution just may be making sure that all the pilot lights remain lit.

(This is a companion piece to an earlier post, Learning and Leadership: the Importance of Reflection)