Tag Archive for people matter

Quotable (Leman & Pentak, on caring about people)

“You have to really care about people. You can go through all the right mechanics, but if you don’t genuinely care about the people who report to you, you’ll never be the kind of leader they’ll drop everything to follow.”

The Way of the Shepherd

Leman, K., and Pentak, W (2004). The Way of the Shepherd: 7 Ancient Secrets to Managing Productive People. Zondervan: Grand Rapids, MI.

Take Care of People

Leadership generally involves two aspects: tasks and people. Often, it seems to be easier for us to give our attention to tasks than it does it people, and it also seems that most leadership books focus more on strategies related to tasks than to people. Maybe that’s because tasks are more definable and more easily organized and planned, while people are more unpredictable and require more emotional investment. But whatever the reason, I believe that a truly effective leader understands the value of people, and knows that people are more important than tasks. It follows then, that a good leader will take care of people.

When I first entered the world of education as a teacher, I was blessed to have both a headmaster and a principal who invested in me and cared about me. And it wasn’t just me; they cared about all of the faculty and staff. I received wonderful support, constructive criticism, and guidance that helped me to develop and flourish. Then there came a time when I experienced some particularly difficult personal circumstances, when the trials of life were overwhelming and I was struggling to manage. During this time, these two individuals – my leaders – lifted me up and walked along side me. Out of these circumstances, and from these leaders, I learned the value and importance of taking care of people.

When I eventually had the opportunity to become an administrator of a school, I carried that experience with me. It became one of my core values, as a headmaster, to take care of the people who worked with and for me. I did it because it had been done for me and had meant so much to me as a teacher, but I soon learned the value of this practice from the leader’s perspective. I learned that when I genuinely cared for and took care of the people who worked for me, the security and significance that resulted for them produced two beneficial responses: 1) they could focus their energy and effort on doing their jobs well, because they were not carrying fear or anxiety from job insecurity, and 2) because they knew I cared, and had tangible evidence to support that belief, they then cared about me and were willing to follow me with enthusiasm.

Kevin Leman and William Pentak communicated this same idea in The Way of the Shepherd, stating clearly, “You have to really care about people. You can go through all the right mechanics, but if you don’t genuinely care about the people who report to you, you’ll never be the kind of leader they’ll drop everything to follow” (2004, p. 27). The point is, people need to know that they matter, and they need to know that you care. And although leadership is about both tasks and people, the mistake that we can easily make is to let tasks and agenda prevent us from caring about people (I spoke about this in a previous post, on the importance of being relational). When we are focusing on ourselves rather than on others, it becomes too easy to think that we must know enough and do enough to lead people effectively, but in reality – as I have frequently heard stated – people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.

Robert Greenleaf, who first developed the modern leadership theory of servant leadership, shared that people “will freely respond only to individuals who are chosen as leaders because they are proven and trusted as servants” (1977, p. 24). He went on to say that a servant-leader is servant first, which “manifests itself in the care taken . . . to make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served” (1977, p. 27). Essentially, “servant leadership emphasizes that leaders be attentive to the concerns of their followers, empathize with them, and nurture them” (Northouse, 2013, p. 219). This is the leader who shows his people that he cares about them, and it’s a genuine care (because they can tell if it is not). And this is the type of leadership that I first experienced as a follower, and learned to appreciate so much that it became a primary characteristic of my own leadership.

So I would say to you: People matter; take care of them. When their needs are not being met, they become insecure because they are now concerned about their own needs. When they are insecure in their jobs, they won’t (and can’t) give you their best efforts, because they can’t give you all of their attention – they are now focused on protecting their own needs. When you haven’t shown them that you care about them, you prevent a mutual relationship and response of trust and support, and they are unwilling to follow you wholeheartedly. It may cost you some sacrifice to genuinely care and to take care of them, but the reward in their response will far exceed the sacrifice you make. So, take care of them. And do it because they matter.

Greenleaf, R. K. (1977). Servant Leadership: A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power & Greatness (25th Anniversary Edition). Paulist Press: Mahwah, NJ.

Leman, K., and Pentak, W. (2004). The Way of the Shepherd: 7 Ancient Secrets to Managing Productive People. Zondervan: Grand Rapids, MI.

Northouse, P. G. (2013). Leadership: Theory and Practice (6th Edition). Sage Publications: Los Angeles, CA.

Let the People Speak

I have discovered that the book of Ezra is chock full of lessons and illustrations on leadership. Back in June of this year, I posted a lesson on team leadership (Ezra’s Model of Team Leadership) from chapters 7 and 8. In my study of the book, I have also found application to many other leadership principles and concepts, like strategic planning, overcoming obstacles, building motivation, and more. One particular lesson, which is illustrated in the events that take place in chapter 10, verses 7 through the end of the chapter, specifically speaks to a leadership principle that I blogged about last week, called Give People a Voice.

If we walk through the passage verse by verse, what we see is a great picture of the importance and value of leaders giving people a voice in the process. Verses 7 and 8 set the stage, describing how Ezra gathers everyone together. A proclamation is sent throughout the area instructing people to come to a central location for what will be an important meeting. They are given three days to arrive and gather, and the proclamation includes a rather severe ultimatum to ensure that people come. The important components that are immediately evident for our understanding of leadership are these: 1) make sure to include those who will be affected, so that the ones who will be impacted have an opportunity to have a voice; 2) provide a time and place for the dialogue to take place, making sure that the availability of those invited is taken into consideration; and 3) provide a motivation that underscores the importance of the meeting, increasing the likelihood of the right people being there.

Once gathered together (v. 9) – and notice that the attendees recognized the importance of this discussion – Ezra stood in front of everyone present and briefly explained the basic issue and the needed outcome (vv. 10-11). In their case, it was the sin of unfaithfulness to God, requiring confession, repentance, obedience, and separation. The example it provides helps us to see that people need to have a clear and understandable idea of what the issue is and what the outcome needs to be. Before people can give input, it is the responsibility of the leader to communicate and summarize so that everyone involved can understand and engage. And clearly, Ezra did this well, because the response of the people (v. 12) was a resounding “Yes! We are on board and we will do it!”

At this point, the people are given the opportunity to speak into the situation (vv. 13), and the discussion that ensues is a wonderful representation of the importance of giving people a voice. They have heard the issue and the needed outcome, they have expressed absolute support, but they also recognized that there are some factors that need to be considered in the process, because those factors will affect their ability to accomplish the goal. In their stituation, they identified the problem of volume – how many and how much (“there are many people,” and “there are many of us who have transgressed”) – and the problem of physical circumstances (“it is the season for heavy rain”). Very often, it is those who are on the ground floor and in the trenches who are best able to understand what is being faced and how it will impact those involved. The leader may be the one who is best able to “zoom out” and see the big picture, but once you “zoom in,” the people who are carrying out the work of the tasks may be best able to see the details and provide input. They will see things that you miss, and so if they are not given the opportunity to speak, you may be creating obstacles that can greatly hinder the likelihood of accomplishing the goals.

But it didn’t end there. The people knew the obstacles that were causing a challenge, so they were able to offer ideas to solve those issues (v. 14). They proposed a solution that addressed the problem of volume and allowed for the disruption caused by the physical circumstances. Because they were empowered to speak, they got behind the leadership and took ownership of the issue and the solution. Their solution, based on their first-hand knowledge of the circumstances, included identifying representative leaders, arranging a schedule and time frame, establishing a process, and clearly communicating the purpose. This provides a great example of the result and benefit of giving people a voice. When they have the opportunity to participate and contribute, they buy in and take ownership. When that happens, you will have their support and involvement and have a much higher probability of accomplishing the tasks. And keep in mind, because they may have the best picture of the details, they can provide valuable input into a workable solution.

Verses 16 through the end of the chapter reveal that the leaders listened to the people and took their input into consideration when determining the action steps. They then followed that established process, completed the plan, and achieved the goals. But before that happened, verse 15 points out an interesting side note: the proposed solution did not have unanimous support. Several leaders of the people opposed the idea, including at least one spiritual leader. One of them, Meshullam, is also mentioned in Nehemiah 3:4 as someone who was helping to repair the wall in Jerusalem, so I don’t think these individuals were opposed to the goal, just to the process that was proposed. This gives us a good picture of how the process operates in organizations (and how the body of Christ operates): there will likely never be full agreement on anything, but giving the people a voice will bring the best ideas, and it is then the responsibility of the leadership to filter the responses, seek God, and determine the direction. As Seth Godin says in Tribes, “Listen, really listen. Then decide and move on” (2008, p. 128).

Ezra’s leadership shows us the value of giving people a voice. If we don’t do the same, we only make our job more difficult. So I say, “Let the people speak.”