Do you put your people first, or the organization?

In my experience, the majority of leaders fall into two categories:

  • the ones that put their people first
  • and the ones that put their unit (organization, department) first.

It’s a chicken and egg situation: should you first take care of the employees (who can then take care of the organization), or of the organization (which can then take care of the employees)?

The first group believes a leader should ensure people are motivated and happy. They can come across as soft. While debating an important decision they might say things like ‘I want people to agree’. Or ‘This decision should impact people in a positive way’. They strongly believe people are at their best when their motivation is intrinsic, and they enjoy coming to work.

It might seem to others they believe the workplace should be a free-for-all just-do-what-you-like happy space. But that is not the case. Their basic believe is that the organization wouldn’t exist without its people, and motivated, fulfilled employees make a better and more profitable organization. In order to achieve this, the organization sometimes has to make sacrifices for the people. With good pay and secondary benefits, but also with molding a job to someone’s strengths, or giving people leeway when they need it. They are convinced that as a result, the organization will benefit as well.

The second group believes the organization and results should come first. Their basic believe is that the people wouldn’t be there if the organization didn’t do well. So instead of the organization having to make sacrifices for the people, they feel employees have to make sacrifices for the organization. They strongly believe the organization needs to thrive and can then take care of its people.

They can come across as tough, because they might say things like ‘X will have to do this job whether he likes it or not, because it is best for the organization’, or ‘We first and foremost need to deliver, no matter what it takes.’ Most of them do not believe results are so important that all other values should take a back seat, but they do believe that the best way to take care of your people is to focus on keeping the organization healthy and doing well.

Although I belong to the first group, I can see where the second group comes from. More importantly, I’m convinced the two groups need each other. People have different perspectives, and we should value that. If one group prevails, it leads to a singular culture and tunnel vision. Marrying the two beliefs often leads to meaningful discussions from a broad perspective, and better outcomes. Yes, you’ll have heated debates and deep-rooted differences of opinion. But it is needed for a well-balanced organization.

For a healthy, balanced approach, ask yourself:

  • Which category do you belong to?
  • And your colleagues?
  • Do you personally allow for others to share their vision, and to ensure a balanced approach in your organization?

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