As long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to be a leader, an influencer, and a change-agent. I’ve never wanted to simply do a job – I’ve always wanted to be involved in shaping and molding the “why” of every organization that’s been part of my career path. From the start of that journey in my 20s, I’ve taken assessments, attended conferences, and been part of special training sessions – all to become a better leader. In fact, while working in television I learned from experts how to clearly identify the purpose, process, and payoff of every meeting I ran or attended. I could start and finish those meetings in 20 minutes flat, because I had been instructed that anything longer would indicate a lack of efficiency.
Six Sigma, a quality control program that focuses on setting very high goals and then analyzing data to eliminate any and all errors and defects, was part of the lifeblood of the corporation where I worked for years as a marketing executive. The company owned a variety of businesses, and the Six Sigma plan worked extremely well when it came to things like manufacturing and finance.
Predictive response from a machine or an accounting equation made perfect sense. But things fell apart when it came to the type of work I was doing—influencing people to take action. The concept of zero defects didn’t take into account the emotions, life-stage, dreams and aspirations of those people, or what might happen if there was bad traffic and spilled coffee on the way to work.
Processes – like building a jet turbine or filing your income tax return – might be predictable. But, people aren’t always predictable – because life isn’t.
And if you want to be a great leader, your success will be defined by how you tended to what was placed in your charge – including people.
Now, I know that not everyone wants to be a leader of people – nor is everyone cut out to do it well. But you’re likely reading this because you do indeed want to lead well, either now or in the future. Assessments, conferences, and even training tools like Six Sigma aren’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s beneficial to find ways to manage time and resources no matter where you work. But when it comes to people, how we manage relationships with those who count on us—how we invest in the lives of others—will be our true legacy when all is said and done. Volumes have been written on how to manage people well, but here are a few principles that I keep close at hand when I need a gentle reminder of how best to care for the lives that God has entrusted to me. My 25-year old self needed these – and I still need them today.
I want you to be able to care well too. So here are the four things you need to invest in to care for folks well. You don’t have to wait to do them – invest in the lives of the people around you now.
So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s your
basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it.
Let the peace of Christ keep you in tune with each other, in step with each other. None of this going off and doing your own thing. And cultivate thankfulness. Let the Word of Christ—the Message—have the run of the house. Give it plenty of room in your lives. Instruct and direct one another using good common sense. And sing, sing your hearts out to God! Let every detail in your lives—words, actions, whatever—be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way (Colossians 3:12-17 MSG).
INVEST IN THE WHY
Ask someone why they’ve been hired to do a job, and chances are you’ll hear a response that sounds like a resume. But rarely is a person hired simply because of his ability to master a skill. Good organizations look for non-tangibles like character, cultural fit, and how well the person meshes with fellow employees. Take care to cultivate those intangibles in the people around you, even as you encourage excellence in the jobs they do. Remind people often of why they are an asset to not only the organization, but to YOU.
INVEST IN THE HOW
It’s very easy to reduce a person’s purpose to a list of tasks that need to be accomplished within defined windows of time. While it’s important to set clear, focused objectives, you’re missing out if you don’t invite those around you into conversation about new or better ways to accomplish those goals. Let each person actively contribute to the bigger picture of how to make things better.
INVEST IN THE “WHAT’S NEXT”
Create a safe, trusting, and fully confidential environment where dreams can be shared—and then support those dreams even if they don’t include your ministry or organization – or you. Don’t be afraid of losing great people; rather, be the one who encourages the people around you to become leaders of great people.
INVEST IN THE WHO
One of the most difficult things I’ve ever said to a manager who prided himself on leading with great authority but little investment, “If there was ever an emergency, you’d not be on my speed-dial—because you don’t really know me.” Good leaders take time to know the people around them. So, carve out time for conversation. Take the time to listen. Take the time to pray. Don’t be afraid to ask, “How are you doing?” both when things are going well and when there are challenges, and be faithful in affirming and redirecting and celebrating. Be the person worthy of the speed-dial in the lives of the people around you.