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Putting Your People First

Putting Your People First

Conventional wisdom tells us that we have to put people before profits… that if we look after our people, they will look after our customers, and the business will thrive.

Anyone who has the temerity to disagree with this sentiment exposes themself as an uncaring, self-interested sociopath… which, in turn, serves as a reminder to all of us about the evils of large corporations.

It’s a seductive narrative – but it’s also complete bullsh!t

The problem with conventional wisdom is that, even though there’s always at least some grain of truth to it, it’s also easy to oversimplify, to rationalize, and to misinterpret.

The people before profits mantra is one of the great oversimplifications of leadership. It’s designed to bring a greater consideration of human factors into leadership. But it’s dangerously misleading.

Many leaders use it as a license to be ultra-permissive. To let their people do whatever the hell they want, under the noble banner of “I care for my people, and I’m just putting them ahead of profits”. How convenient for weak leaders who shy away from difficult things.

But, do you really think that level of permissiveness is good for your people? They won’t be challenged, they’ll never grow, and they won’t have an opportunity to develop and progress in their careers. And, over time, this mollycoddling turns into entitlement.

A great leader recognizes their responsibility to help their people achieve success in the long term… and this means they have to demand certain things from them – including a minimum standard of behavior and performance.

If you just give into whatever your employees demand to satisfy their short-term desires – for example, shorter working hours, not having to come into the office, or not placing any expectations on their performance, in case it makes them feel stressed – you’re doing them a huge disservice. From this position, they are unlikely to learn, grow, or develop.

The other problem with the people before profits mantra is that we often neglect to ask the most obvious question: which people are you talking about?

How about your customers? Aren’t they important? Should they be forced to pay more for the products they buy from you, just because you’re unwilling to demand a level of efficiency and productivity from your employees?

How about your investors? Without them, there is no business… and if they choose to take their money elsewhere, your business won’t be able to expand and grow – which is bad for everyone in the long term. Do you really want to risk the goodwill of your investors because you’re a weak leader who lets your people become complacent and entitled?

Nothing is ever as straightforward as it seems. If you really care about your people, you’ll think a little more deeply about the implications of your leadership – on all of the stakeholders you serve, not just the ones close to you, whose approval you desperately crave.

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