I’ve been talking about the philosophy of putting people first and the ages-old exhortation: “Let no one seek his own, but each one the other’s well-being.” If you missed any of the posts, you can get caught up here, here, and here.
So what should they be teaching in business schools? Adam Grant is teaching it at the Wharton School: we should look to give to one another, rather than take from people or push past them. We should seek to serve one another, rather than to be served. “Let no one seek his own, but each one the other’s well-being.” This is the people first philosophy of servant leadership that has fueled dramatic success stories like those of Southwest Airlines and Wegmans.
And please note that when I say “leadership,” I mean that everyone in the organization should take the lead in building a culture of service and support. People First is not a unilateral philosophy, calling on leaders to serve and employees to sit back and enjoy being served. This is a life-philosophy for all people! Our organizations will grow stronger and more profitable when we seek the welfare of others first—when we all become givers, as Adam Grant suggests.
Business leaders and managers should sit down with the men and women who report to them and initiate a dialogue built around both parties asking and answering this question: “How may I better serve you?” Everyone in the organization, from the CEO to the newest hire in the facilities department, should lead the organization toward a reciprocity of showing honor, providing service, and offering support.
Will we all do this well all the time? Certainly not! No human being is perfect, and we must graciously allow for imperfection and irritation. Many of my clients have distributed T-shirts to all members of their teams which bear the words Under Construction. We’re all still learning and growing, and there will be those times when I thoughtlessly tread on your toes and you tread on mine. But if we are truly focused on building a culture of serving each other, apologies will be sincerely offered and readily accepted. We will frankly acknowledge our own imperfections and freely forgive those that reside in others.
Let me close with this vitally important point: People First is not merely a management system; it is a way of life. If you want to live the best life possible, I encourage you to embrace the concept of “Let no one seek his own, but each one the others well-being.” You won’t merely be building a better workplace; you’ll be building a better life!
Your home is the greatest lab in which to cultivate the economics of people first. There should be no disconnect between your attitudes and actions in the home and your demeanor at work. People First is not like a lab coat that we put on when we enter the workplace in the morning and deposit on a corporate coat rack when we go home at night. To the contrary, the mindset of seeking the well-being of others must begin in our home! Simply put, the personal drives the professional.
Too many of us pour our hearts into our work and then go home and give our loved ones cold leftovers. We must first choose to honor our loved ones; we must communicate our love and appreciation to them; we must consciously work to honor their dignity and worth and joyfully celebrate all their successes. When these behaviors become second nature to us at home, they will become standard operating procedure in the workplace.
The fundamental question business owners should ask is not “How should I run the business?” Instead, we should ponder this: “How shall I live my life?” I choose to put people first . . . at home and at the office. I choose to seek the well-being of others before I seek my own. The years have taught me that this is a philosophy fit to live by, a life fit to live with, and a legacy fit to live for.
“If they were selling underwear, I’d buy it!” my friend said of Southwest’s leadership. The bottom line is, it’s really not about your product or service; sustainable profitability in the primary sense is about the quality of relationships of the people who stand behind those products and services. Therefore, the best way to learn how to be successful in business is to learn from the companies who are successful because they have figured out the ennobling economics of putting people first!