Make Molehills

“Don’t make a mountain out of a molehill.”

Unfortunately, too many leaders ignore this wise advice.  Instead, every minor issue becomes a major problem that needs to be addressed and resolved now.


Leaders make mountains out of molehills for two reasons:

  1. It allows us to take action and be the hero that resolves issues to make the company better.  It is very ego-gratifying.
  2. We are susceptible to “present bias.”  Present bias is the tendency to feel that an issue that is being discussed at this time is more important and urgent (and thus must be solved) than it really is. 

The Negative Effects of Mountain-Making

  1. The leader micro-manages and becomes involved in minor issues, re-aligning (at least temporarily) the priorities and focus of our teams
  2. Further, in pursuing the solution to the problem, the leader inevitably side-steps and undermines the processes in place within the company
  3. We increase stress within the business, putting employees on edge just waiting for the next issue that the leader allows to disrupt everyone’s day
  4. We give bad example.  When we make mountains, we create a culture within the company where mountain making is just the way that things get done.

In short, mountain making just makes it more difficult for the whole company to do its work.

Making Molehills

As leaders, we need to make molehills by:

  1. Taking a deep breath and responding thoughtfully rather than reacting when an issue comes across our desk
  2. Avoiding incendiary language and hyperbole in describing the situation or issue
  3. Realizing that more than 50% of such issues do not need to be addressed.  The issue just may need to be ignored (as too low of a priority).  The issue just may need to be watched and evaluated over time.
  4. Overcoming present bias and ensuring that every issue that we do address is first evaluated by its importance and then its urgency
  5. Letting our teams solve the problem in the time and place appropriate for the importance and urgency of the problem
  6. Ensuring that the problems are solved using the processes in the company


By ignoring minor issues and making molehills out of major issues, a good leader ensures that the company is functioning smoothly and is not subject to endless disruption and stress.  This gives employees the time and space to focus on getting their tasks done, continuously improving their processes, and moving our companies forward.

About David Shedd

David has been a President - CEO - COO of an up to $350M group of manufacturing, distribution, specialty retail and services companies, having led 22 different businesses from turnarounds to start-ups to fast growth companies.
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