The New York Times recently reported, “In a magazine article seven years ago, the chief executive of the Journal Register Company, the publicly traded newspaper company, bragged about being such a skinflint that he checked the odometers in reporters’ vehicles to verify expense reports.”

It may be coincidence, but the article states that the company is facing the possibility of bankruptcy.

Folks, 2 things: First, if the best use of a CEO’s time is to check odometers to verify expense reports, then you are in sad need of a new CEO. Yes, I’ve done lots of “deep dives” as Jack Welch likes to call them, where a top-level executive goes to the front line of the organization and gets “the feel of the road” by a brief immersion into the details of an issue, but this is the equivalent of a paper clip audit: meaningless and mean spirited.

The second thing is a company culture issue, an issue of messages and communication. The CEO is being interviewed for publication and this is what he chooses to talk about? Brag about? The lack of trust he has in his employees? This is how you build esprit de corps? This is how he motivates? If ever there was a fantastic example of majoring in minor things, this is it!

Why do people, even smart, well-intentioned people, sometimes major in minor things?

Well, the minor things are often right in front of us, easier to understand, easier to deal with, easier to control. (Of course, that’s also usually what makes them minor.) Dealing with them successfully can give us a sense of accomplishment and completion that can be calming and confidence building. Which in turn can be useful if that positive momentum is used to turn around and tackle the major issues. Many a team leader has used minor victories as a stepping stone to major victories. Alas, many also use minor victories as an excuse to continue to ignore major issues. Of course, if you have no major issues or if you legitimately believe that a major victory can be accomplished by breaking down a major issue into myriad small ones and tackling them one by one, go for it. I’m all for flexibility, adaptability, and out-of-the-cubicle thinking and action.

A classic example of majoring in minor things is choosing to spend your energy re-arranging the deck chairs while the Titanic sinks. Where in your life today are you majoring in minor things?

This is a classic from the NSCBlog archive, originally posted April 14, 2008.