Friday, December 5, 2008

the problem with caring for people

Everyone has always told me to care for people - "if you take care of your people, they will take care of you"..."people are your most important asset." You have probably all heard the phrases and, like me, would find it hard to argue against these adages of leadership. But let's consider the dark side of caring for people.

As a leader, who/what am I most reponsible to/for? Is it the employees? Is it the customer? Is it the stakeholder? OR - is it the institution itself? Consider the fact the one is hired to lead an institution - not people. People come and go - people disapoint - people are people. And yet, the institution remains. It is the institution that people connect is the institution that is held up as the standard of is the institution that is maligned when people do stupid things...and it is the institution that will remain when the employees, the customers and the leaders are all long gone.

As leaders, it is easy to get wrapped up in our people, especially when their personal issues begin to overwhelm them . The employee who is going through a tough time at home...the employee who is suffering from illness or addiction...the customer who is having trouuble paying their bills...the stakeholder of influence who has become an embarrasment. All of these issues demand our time and energy - and when we focus on these people, the institution can suffer. Let's face it, how much time and energy do we spend on those people who do their jobs well, go above and beyond the call of duty, and are never in our offices complaining? Do we ever wake up in the middle of the night thinking about them? Do we sit in meetings considering our next moves for our BEST people? Imagine for a moment if we, as leaders, devoted as much time and energy to those people who positively contribute to the institution as we do on those who negatively affect the institution?

Are people important? ABSOLUTELY! But our role as leaders is to care for the institution - its growth and its future. We cannot allow people (and all of their issues) to get in the way of that calling. When they do, measures need to be taken to minimize those distractions and work to change their behavior. If those measures fail, then our role as leaders is to help those people move on so that the institution can once again focus on its mission - and not solely on its people.

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