The Primary Focus of Leaders

As a leader, what do you love?  On what factors of your work does your mind most freely gravitate?   On what issues do you most enjoy working?  The answers to these questions, taken together, will serve as a strong predictor of your success as a leader.  And, if your answer to each is not “the staff in my care,” you may wish to pause and rethink your approach.

The success of your organization rests overwhelmingly with people.  Most will agree with that.  It’s easily understood.  A huge part of Jim Collin’s Good to Great book stated that we need to “get the right people on the bus and in the right seats.”  But if you look at how some leaders act, you will find many struggle to put this truism into practice.  There are two primary ways I see leaders fail to implement this “people first” principle:

  1. Helping a staff member find the next step in their professional life if they are not working out in your area or organization.  Many leaders are reluctant to move someone out of their current position.  I have heard the following more than I care to recall: “We can’t just move him, it would be a huge PR nightmare if we did that!”  Guess what?  After a move was made, I’ve never seen the actual response be anywhere close to a nightmare.   Employees know when they are not meeting goals. In such circumstances, the caring and effective leader thoughtfully addresses the performance or other problems and discusses alternatives with the employee.  Ask about the employee’s other talents, passions, and professional goals.  If it is clear that he is not serving your organization well currently, what else could he be doing – either in or outside of your organization – and how can you help him achieve that?  I have personally witnessed how powerful and positive such candid conversations can be for all involved.
  2. Focusing more on systems than staff.  Much is expected of leaders.  Budgets need to be met, efficiencies need to be improved, and processes need to run smoothly.  It is understandable then, that some leaders can focus on the systems and the processes to the detriment of their most valuable resource and asset – the individuals on their team. This is a huge mistake, of course.  But it happens — alot.  I have seen leaders who on the slow Wednesday before Thanksgiving, struggle to “find the time” to informally stop by the offices of those on their team.   Having concern for those in our care (and showing it) should always be the primary focus of leadership.

Leadership can pose complex questions.  But the answers almost always come back to people.  Attracting the best possible team is what enables an organization to be creative and successful.  Maintaining such a team means that leaders should always put people first.  There is an old saying that is clarifying:  “Love people, use things.”  As a leader, you can’t afford to allow your behavior, even inadvertently, to suggest the opposite.

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