As leaders, we find ourselves drawn to many things – success, authority, significance, and legacy just to name a few. On their own, these things are good but if mismanaged, can become bad. One such thing is PROGRESS. It’s intoxicating, and every leader is drawn to it like a moth to a flame. We love it when things are quickly moving forward and growing. Finding solutions to challenges seem easy and we begin to feel like we have the Midas touch. Just writing about that sort of progress gets me excited!

Conversely, we have very little patience when things slow down or stall out. It feels like it takes a mile’s worth of effort to move an inch. When things don’t progress the way we want, the temptation is to see people as a means to an end instead of partners passionately working together to change the world. They become chess pieces that we move across the board of our organization. We think that if we just change their role or reshuffle the deck, the pace of progress will pick back up again.

The question is, what happens when we’re so addicted to progress that we end up putting it ahead of people? Don’t get me wrong, there are times that it is necessary to leap frog the needs of your people. For instance, when you have a toxic staff person and they’re holding your team, clients, or vendors back, you must push forward and help them find a different place to wreak havoc. Even in that example, you are choosing what’s best for the team vs. what’s best for the problem child.

When things don’t progress the way we want, the temptation is to see people as a means to an end instead of partners passionately working together to change the world.

What happens though when you have the right team, yet your infatuation with progress causes you to begin resembling an unapproachable bulldozer? A few years ago, I fell into the progress-over-people trap. Up to that point, I had been a leader who made time for people, listened intently and poured into my team so that each person knew I valued them and were in their corner.  I would never have imagined that I’d begin blowing past my direct reports for the sake of getting things done.

Let me be clear. There’s nothing wrong with getting things done. That’s why we’re employed right? My reality was that I had no margin, no time and spent my days sprinting so I could see my task list shrink. Unfortunately, it rarely got smaller as things continued to pile up.

My relationships with my team began to erode as I couldn’t afford to connect at the heart level with them to see how they were really doing. A few even took a chance to share some deep needs, but I simply didn’t have time to follow through. Instead, every conversation was focused on completing a task.

As I reflected on this, here were four lessons I learned when I chose progress over people:

  1. Choose people first! Choose people first! Choose people first! A great team follows their leader because they trust them. Part of the responsibility of a leader is to care for their team. I followed this principle with incredible success for over 13 years, but when I strayed from it, I caused unnecessary damage.

 

  1. If you are the only person that can do 80% or more of your job, the gravitational pull of progress will destroy you. You must be able to delegate.

 

  1. I forgot that the chief job of a leader was to serve – not to be served. When you focus on tasks first, you aren’t serving people; they’re serving you.

 

  1. When people share their deep needs, act! Timely follow through shows people they can follow you.

So what happened? I made the conscious effort to start choosing people first and created environments where I could connect with them. In the end, I was able to rebuild my relationships and get back to leading the right way.

A great team follows their leader because they trust them.
When you focus on tasks first, you aren’t serving people; they’re serving you.
Timely follow through shows people they can follow you.

I may have described where you are right now. Don’t give up! Change is still possible. Start choosing people over progress today and you’ll see your team’s eyes begin to light up as you breathe life into your relationships.

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