Up With People!

No matter what your business is, from making ads to making widgets, there’s one aspect in driving excellence that’s more important than anything else.  It’s not your technology or systems, not the quality of your product, not specific expertise you have. And it’s not having audacious goals, having a bold mission-statement, or a brilliant vision. It’s your focus on developing your internal talent that makes the biggest difference.

The number one role of leaders should be growing and developing new leaders. Period.  As Tom Peters says, it’s “people first, second, third, fourth”. Do you provide inspiration, education, opportunity and support for your employees? Which is why, in a recent Mercer What’s Working global survey of nearly 30,000 people in 17 countries, “being treated with respect” ranked as more important to employees than even salary or benefits.

Jim Collins says that good leadership is empowering employees to do what they’re good at in the service of something bigger than themselves. Do your employees feel they are a part of something? And do they see a role for themselves, beyond the specific output they are creating. Collins also says “the best leaders don’t worry about motivating people, they are careful to not de-motivate them.”  So how do you not de-motivate your most important resource?

Say the following mantra: “my job is making others better”
This means that a leader should worry not at all about getting credit for doing specific things; that he or she succeeds or fails on those on the team getting credit for doing them. This can be tricky for a confident and experienced leader with a healthy ego. Why? Because they have gotten to where they are by getting credit for things.  But a leader needs to let go of ownership and proprietariness and the need for having their name attached to accomplishments. It’s enough to know they led the team and individuals to success.

Engage with your team
Your team needs to know your are connected, in the loop, and not above-it-all. This is why listening is as important as speaking (maybe more important) – they need to feel heard, understood and respected. An approach I endorse comes from early Hewlett-Packard philosophy, but I got from Tom Peters, is the idea of MBWA – “management by wandering around”. Get out of your office and walk the halls amongst your team. It helps you, and it helps them.

Respect and empower
“Don’t tell people how to do things, tell them what you want to do and let them surprise you with their results,” General Patton

Lots of leaders still lead via an out-dated command and control style that de-motivates and disrespects their employees. Your team doesn’t need you to do their work or tell them how to do it. And they want to know that you care about their thoughts and ideas. Thus, the most important thing you can demonstrate is that you don’t know everything – and want to know what they think.  In fact, “what do you think?” may be the most empowering and motivating thing you can say to your team. With the second most being “how can I help?”

Show appreciation
“The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated”, William James

This may be obvious, but it’s the most often forgotten part of the equation. People are the most important part of any business – “lead people, not projects” is the best bit of management advice I’ve ever gotten. However, since it all comes down to delivering projects, accomplishing tasks, getting work done, we tend to forget that it’s our people who do it all. Take the time to acknowledge that, and it won’t be forgotten. According to Herb Kelleher, treating his employees like customers is the #1 secret to his success.


  1. Words of wisdom, definitely. When we started our agency, Craig, the other partner said “You’re only as good as your staff, though a healthy company comes from the top down”. It probably goes along with “Respect”, I would add that “:Fairness” is a big deal. I think that a culture of an empowered and inspired staff comes partially from that feeling that there is a level playing field. I hope that our staff thinks that the future they envision is truly their’s to grab.

  2. I saw Collins on Charlie Rose discussing this and was skeptical. The difficulty with systematizing a humanistic ethic within capitalism is that it is hypocritical in its aim. The focus on profit margins as the barometer of sound humanism within a market-economy contradicts Kantian ethics and turns people into means, rather than ends. It is humanistic rhetoric to cover over a decided inhumane moral philosophy.

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