At a meeting I heard a COO of a strong Agribusiness saying: “I don’t farm with fruit. I farm with People. They are my most important focus and concern.” The others around the table nodded their heads, recognising the noble truth in the statement. And yet we all deep down sensed that it is a bit reactionary, and part of a far more complex matter.
As you read the statements below, be honest. What is your most natural inclination? Maybe you have also heard people saying:
- We are here to run a business, to produce a product, to make money. The airy fairy people stuff must wait untill we have time and money for it.
- Or the opposite: We don’t build products. We are building people. So in our organisation people always come first, the product second.
- The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing. And the main thing for a business is to be profitable. That’s the only botomline that really counts.
- Or: Relationships always precede Results. Without a strong and happy team of happy people trusting each other, everything is one big struggle.
- If you serve the company well, the company will serve you well.
- Or: If the company cares for people, people will care for the company.
- Decide and define what you want to achieve. Then, choose the right people that will get you there.
- Or: People are your most important asset. Engage everybody and figure out the way ahead together.
So, as you might have noticed, once more we are facing a healthy tension here – a tension where we have to navigate polarities. In a research study Jim Collins and his team found that the most successful leaders “first got the right people on the bus, the wrong people of the bus, and the right people in the right seats – and then they figured out where to drive it”. (Good to Great). Can you read between the lines how neatly they cut the line between the different polarities? Unfortunately, business is usually far messier…
So, how do we deal with this kind of tension?
Firstly, realise and embrace the fact that the tension exists. It is there whether you acknowledge it or not. Then, make friends with it.
Secondly, don’t try to solve or resolve it. Rather, learn how to navigate it, use the tension to your advantage, remembering that you are running a marathon, not a sprint. Trying to resolve it in the short term, will get you into far deeper complexities and very difficult challenges on the long run.
Thirdly, know your timing and read the context. Horses for courses. In a crisis, when the building is on fire, strongly give direction and do what you need to – whether people like it or not. When you know what is right and true and you urgently have to make a call, do it… lovingly but with authority. As they say: “Leadership is not a popularity contest.” The hardest part of this is when you need to discipline or fire someone.
At some times, you take a more participatory approach. You listen to your people’s inputs and needs, and get their buy-in and co-ownership. The more heads, hearts and hands you have on board the stronger you are. Business is not a solo endeaver. As the saying goes: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together”.
On other occasions, you may let the people decide for themselves and make their own choices.
Leadership with direction but without a real love becomes abrasive, cold and destructive. Leadership with love but without strong direction, authority and a healthy hunger for success, causes people to feel unfulfilled, confused, frustrated, and without focus. Both approaches might kill the business. We need both direction and love, while the one will at times be more prominent while the other one takes a backseat for a while.
Know what your people need AND know what the businness needs, and then intentionally do your best! In all of this we really need practical logic and supernatural wisdom. That’s why many business people claim “we need more faith and prayer than any pastor”.