Leadership Is About People and Projects But People Must Always Come First
Have you ever felt this tension? If you take care of your people, you feel like you must ignore some key projects or not meet certain deadlines. Many times there just is not time for both.
I believe that great leaders should give exquisite care to both their people as well as important projects. But if forced to choose only one, we must take care of our people.
Here is what I mean…
Choices Leaders Must Make
Leaders must prioritize what they give their attention to. General Norman Schwarzkopf eloquently discusses another common tension in leadership this way.
Leadership is a potent combination of strategy and character, but if you must be without one, be without strategy. - General Norman Schwarzkopf
It is obvious to anyone in leadership that strategy is imperative to any plan. General Schwarzkopf demonstrated this in his perfectly executed plans during Operation Desert Storm. But this same General, who was a master strategist, valued something else even more: character.
Great leaders figure out how to effectively practice both strategy and character. However, if a leader has to choose between upholding great character or holding fast to great strategy, they must choose character.
It is in this same vein I present a common duel between two foundational components of great leadership that often bloody each other, sometimes to the death. Here is the problem: If I focus on my people, my projects fall short. And if I focus on my projects, my people are not properly cared for.
It must not be this way.
It shouldn’t be that caring for our people demolishes our capacity to succeed with our projects. And vice versa. It’s important that we not allow our focus on excellence in our work dictate mediocrity in how we care for our people. For me, striking the perfect balance is not easy.
What is the solution?
Balance. That may be the first answer that comes to mind when proposed with this problem. But the word balance is dangerous if by balance we mean we must tone down both to make sure they don’t outweigh one another. But why bring down two positive attributes? Why not dial them both up?
If by balance we mean we will aim to increase our capacity for each, where one is not overpowering the other, I am all for that! I want to excel in both of these key areas of leadership. I want to take care of those who come along with me in the most phenomenal way possible. And I want to be the best strategist and executor I can be. That is my goal. As I grow, that is where I aim to go.
But what if there is a day, a week, a month where we cannot do both? Which one do we put on hold? Again, I never want to be there. But the reality is, sometimes we have to choose.
Why do I choose people over projects? There are two main reasons. First, because the ultimate goal of my leadership—and yes my life—is to make a positive impact on people. People always trump projects. So if by succeeding with projects to take care of some people I ignore other people, that is unacceptable in my view. For example, let’s say I finish a project well in order to offer an increase in customer service to my patients. But in the process I disempower my team members by pushing them too hard to do what is needed. I have not done what I should. I must find a way to both increase customer service and empower our staff. And if I can’t, I must neglect the project and care for my people.
Second, when you care for people, the projects will eventually be done, only many times better. Just be patient and lift up those who are traveling the journey with you. Challenge them, build them up, and free them to be who God has called them to be, not who you think they should be.
Actionable Step: It is during busy times or when the deadlines are looming that we tend to forget people. Decide today not to succumb to that. Learn how to do both. You can. But when forced to make a choice, choose people.
The Book I Just Read: Winning Customer Love: The Focus of a Business Makes All the Difference, by Jim Buchanan. This book shares how our goal as business leaders should be for our customers (and employees) to say: “I love them and they love me.” The author says that when he goes for a coffee at Starbucks, he feels this way: “I love Starbucks, and they love me.” He makes the case that this is done by practicing five principles: Beauty, Generosity, Empathy, Gratitude, and Everlasting. By Everlasting he means that we should have a singular focus on these four principles. Buchanan proposes that the great brands of our day all practice these five principles: Apple, Zapps, Google, SAP, Starbucks, and others. I liked his book and recommend it. It is only 93 pages.
For Further Reading: