Qualities of a Leader Worth Following: People First

I have a competitive streak. When I play, I like to win. Sometimes I get pouty when I lose.

In college, a few friends and I played a seven-game basketball series. It was down to the final game, and it was close. My friend, who would later be the best man at my wedding, had a shot for the win, and I was out of position defensively. So, I ran as fast as possible and tackled him on the pavement. 

He made the shot. They won the series, and I felt like a fool because, at that moment, I put winning ahead of my friend’s health. 

I know it’s a silly example, but it illustrates a profound point. All of us face the temptation to get want we want at the expense of others. 

Every business begins because it solves a problem. And while the problem may be related to pets, houses, transportation, or finances, it is ultimately a people problem. (My dog has never paid her vet bill.) 

Over time due to anxiety, busyness or greed, we can drift from seeing our business as solving people’s problems to simply being a source of income or revenue. When this happens, we lose the soul of our business, and people can feel it.

There is a funny story in the Bible about Jesus. In the story, Jesus begins to heal a blind man. When he asks if he can see, the man responds that he can see people walking around, but they look like trees. Jesus touches his eyes again and clears up his sight. 

It has always triggered two questions for me. What’s up with people looking like trees? When have I seen people like trees (objects)? 

The answer is too often. 

Recently, I have been listening to Earl Nightingale’s The Strangest Secret from 1957. It is full of profound insights. One is that “Success is not the result of making money; earning money is the result of success — and success is in direct proportion to our service.” 

Zig Ziglar famously said, “You can have everything in life you want if you will just help other people get what they want.”

Service is always about helping others get what they want. It’s about putting people first.

Someone once said that wisdom is found not in the answers we give but in the questions we ask. Good questions lead to better answers. 

So let’s ask some good questions:

  1. What problem does your business solve? Who does it solve it for? 
  2. Do your customers feel like you are serving them?
  3. Do your employees and vendors ever feel like you are treating them like trees?
  4. What can you do this week to put people first in every aspect of your business?

Thanks for being a leader worth following and putting people first.


Brian Rutherford

Brian Rutherford is Director of Content and Product Strategy for Leadercast. Brian has been telling stories professionally for twenty-five years. Stories that inspire people to see themselves and the world differently. Stories that challenge people to take meaningful action in the world.

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