Written by Kristin Harrington

I was at my son’s school over lunch several days ago. I had parked in the parking lot to run in. When I returned, I saw orange cones, a standard practice, blocking the parking lot so no cars drove in during recess. I checked the clock – I was running seriously late for an important meeting.

I ran to the cones and moved one out of the way, just enough for my car to pass through. As I drove away, I kept checking the clock; I would be late if I stopped to move the cone back into place. So, I went to my meeting and left the cone to the side.

It’s been weighing on my mind for days—I could have, I should have, moved the cone back into place. It’s such a small inaction. Undoubtedly, one of the teachers moved the cone after I left. So, why is it continuing to nag at me?

Here’s what I learned from my missed leadership opportunity:

Lead even when no one is watching. Trust is built in the smallest of moments, and integrity is tested when no one is looking. Leadership isn’t always about grand moments of inspiration; it’s often about little actions that build genuine credibility. I compromised my character in a small moment when no one was looking, and I’m paying a mental price for it now. Don’t just lead when there’s an audience; hold yourself accountable for leading when you’re the only one around.

Small, daily actions matter. Leadership isn’t confined to grand gestures but is often revealed in our daily choices. By holding ourselves responsible for seemingly insignificant moments, we uphold the principles of integrity and consistently reinforce our commitment to leading. Leadership is an ongoing practice that requires our vigilance and attention, whether or not there is an audience.

Consider your impact on others. This incident with the cone highlights the ripple effect of leadership. Every choice we make, regardless of scale, contributes to the larger environment. By leading with integrity, authenticity, and accountability, we shape the world around us. In this case, the small decision to leave the cone to the side may have had minimal immediate consequences. Still, it symbolizes the broader impact of leadership choices on the community. It reinforces the idea that our actions, even in seemingly small and isolated instances, collectively shape the character and culture of our organizations and communities.

The impact of my small inaction echoes the broader idea that our daily choices, no matter how trivial, contribute to the whole of our leadership. Next time I stop by the school, you best believe I’ll move the cone back into place.

Founded in 2004, Lead Star is the company behind New York Times best-sellers SPARKLeading from the Front, and Bet on You. Lead Star supports professionals to reach new levels of success through its innovative coaching programs.