I recently read a quote that said leaders give “equitable treatment for all, but don’t treat anyone the same.” That left a big impression on me and caused me to reflect if and how this showed up in my work as a leader. There is tremendous value of uniquely responding in situations and meeting people where they are.
The reality of most organizations is the leader may not have direct managerial responsibility for all of his or her resources (people). In a matrix environment, project team members are assigned from all corners of an organization. The opportunity to treat each one equitably, yet not the same, requires the leader to invest in getting to know the people who make up the team, identify their strengths and weaknesses and continue to pay attention as life and work happens. This approach to people requires more than just a check box on a to-do list. It requires an underlying commitment to putting people first. Without that, it is too easy to focus on the urgency and fire-fighting of the moment.
The following four practices are practical measures each leader can take to put people first, and how I have experienced them.
- Remove obstacles – in the spirit of my role as “bowling alley bumper,” my job is to either identify an obstacle or create a forum where obstacles can be called out so that I can expedite getting them resolved or at least minimized so the individual or team can move on without any distraction.
- Don’t get hung up on process – so many times I’ve seen people’s momentum and creative juices stymied by process. I’ve been known to instruct a team to NOT follow the process when I could see it would only be a barrier to executing at their best. A leader makes these types of decision, not just for the sake of the project, but for the growth of the team.
- Allow mistakes – No one’s perfect. Mistakes happen. These are two truths of life for all of us. The pivotal detail is how the leader responds to mistakes and if the team is allowed to make them in the first place. A servant leader will create a safe place on the project to experiment and make mistakes, using these as an opportunity to learn and grown. The individual and/or team will grow because they will be stronger in the broken places.
- Trust your people – a junior colleague of mine was astonished when I told her that I don’t go to every meeting related to the project. I told her that it’s important to me that I let them do the work they know how to do. They know their jobs much better than I ever will and that unspoken statement of trust holds them personally accountable to deliver their best.