People and Things

People and Things by Dr. Robert Gerwig

Photo by Author

Ever have one of “those” moments? … You know, the kind where you’re minding your own business and all of a sudden, bang!, something jumps into your brain out of nowhere? It happens to me quite often, but usually when I’m relaxed (after pressing hard for weeks or months). Taking a hike (literally!). In a hot tub. Mountain biking. Scuba diving. Having a quiet cup of espresso in the morning.

For years, I have enjoyed hiking up the various trails in Snow Mountain Ranch in Granby, Colorado during family vacations. Summer or winter. Shorts or snowshoes. It is a great place to “get away” from the hectic pace of life (at least MY life, maybe yours runs at a slower pace).

As I was walking up the trail, I noticed some Columbine (state flower of Colorado) basking in the sun at the base of an aspen tree. The colors were stunning and the contrast with the “plain” bark of the aspen highlighted by the morning rays of sunshine had caught my attention. I stopped for a couple minutes, took a few pictures, and started back up the trail.

Bang! Colored flowers or plain bark? … Bang! Soft petals or hard wood? … Bang! People or things? … What? Where’d THAT come from? People or things? Huh?

I laughed out loud. This was not the first time, nor the last, that weird, seemingly random thoughts had popped (banged!) into my head. Yet, upon reflection, rarely are these thoughts truly random or weird. Quite the opposite. Some of my best thoughts, most practical actions, and deepest revelations have come when I least expect it.

“People or things” I wondered. What a terrible question. Why not people AND things? Yes, much better. … As thought back over a lifetime of leaders (good and bad), it was clear that great leaders focus on people AND things. Lead people. Manage things. It also struck me that PEOPLE Create, Design, Build. Make, Repair, Maintain, & Manufacture THINGS. Yes, people and things are intimately integrated.

With the exception of nature itself, the THINGS we see, touch, and use daily are tied in some way to PEOPLE. Whether electronics, cars, software, clothing, sporting equipment, production/assembly lines, beauty products, or my new iPad2, PEOPLE are linked with it in some way.

We deal with things from major capital equipment to office supplies, facilities to finished good. Things are important. Great leaders understand things, give a proper accounting for them and manage them well. In fact, great business results are closely tied to how well THINGS are managed. And PEOPLE manage things. They go together. People design the product, buy the raw materials, convert them into finished goods, sell the products, maintain the equipment, and so on.

Many organizations and their leaders appear to be focused more on things than people. The focus is on inventory, buildings, servers, processes, cash! The world-class leader knows these THINGS are critically important and manages them well. The world-class leader also knows that building, developing, coaching, nurturing, growing, and leading PEOPLE is the key to managing things better. The world-class leader knows people are the key to sustainable excellence.

Columbine or aspen? What a silly question! … Columbine AND aspen. … People AND things!

In your experience, do leaders demonstrate a proper balance between people and things?

I’d love to hear your thoughts. The floor is ALWAYS open.

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