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Attention to detail can set the tone

I’ve thought more about napkins recently than at any other time in my life.

It is because I am working with a nonprofit executive on an upcoming event, and I watched her spend significant time picking out the napkins. She went back and forth between sizes and textures and colors.

Look I’m not a Neanderthal, but napkins really don’t hold much fascination for me. I use mine and crumple it up. Sometimes I crumple it up before I use it.

Seriously, I’m the kind of guy who is fine with a paper towel torn off the roll and 45 minutes of looking at assorted napkins didn’t change my mind.

But it did remind me of a fundamental guideline: Details matter.

This particular executive has an incredible attention to detail. It is probably the hallmark of her leadership style and because of it, she led her organization to record success last year.

And that’s pretty good.

This isn’t micromanagement I’m talking about. Micromanagement is about controlling what others do. Having a personal attention to detail is about inspiration.

It is about setting the tone for everyone around you.

My mother was my supervisor for my first job as a dishwasher at a NJ Turnpike restaurant. Years later when I became a manager she told me, “Never ask your employees to do something you don’t do, or won’t do.”

The message was clear. Employees follow your example faster than your words.

And if you don’t care about the details, they won’t either.

As Emily Dickinson wrote, “If you take care of the small things, the big things take care of themselves.”

And she is someone I believe knew about napkins.

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