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Mission First is Truly Putting Your People First

“The good Lord will see your heart, not the braid on your jacket; before Him we are all in our birthday suits, generals and common men alike.”

Thomas Mann, German novelist & essayist

Putting People First

Putting people first is warm and fluffy talk, and we all have a moral inclination to think in these terms. It is not cold or callous to state that if people are always first, there is never a goal worth extending yourself or your resources, and there is never a risk to “our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor” as was espoused by our Founding Fathers. One could say that Mother Teresa didn’t put people first. She did everything for the glory of God, first and foremost. She stayed on mission.

If the mission, the goal, is not first and foremost, you will fail.

The Marine Corps is proud of its heritage of mission accomplishment in the face of overwhelmingly poor odds of success. Realistically, the USMC model is the extreme, as we do not have to risk our lives every day to sell cars, produce accounting summaries, arrange for logistical support, or to serve a good cheeseburger.

But if you do not provide a service or product that someone is willing to pay for, or if you do not keep the customer (the mission) first, the people definitely will not have their welfare provided for. Ironically, they may become clients of welfare itself.

Two quick asides of contrasting leadership styles.

Fred Smith, the hugely popular founder and chairman of Fedex, makes a point to say his people come first when in conflict with external forces. This is noble, and is a message to employees that the company will take the worker’s word to account initially. But facts are funny things, and no one has ever accused Fred of being soft on accountability toward his employees.

The second is Marissa Mayer, the former (and very successful) president and CEO of Yahoo! She created a firestorm and media buzz a few years back when she insisted that employees actually show up at the office, rather than telecommute all the time. The world is becoming apocalyptic when a boss cannot require a minimum standard of attendance and employees lose their priorities. Marissa stuck to her guns, the bad element was quietly let go, and Yahoo! came on like gangbusters in an intensely competitive field. You cannot put people first if you’re out of business.

The best way to care for your people is to keep their eye on the prize – mission accomplishment.

Putting people first is the sum of little things that are ensured by being goal oriented.

In the Marine Corps, Staff NCOs teach new leaders, both officers and enlisted. One of the less salty axioms ever established is from time immemorial (at least the last century).

Make sure your marine:

· Gets his pay,

· Gets his mail,

· Gets one hot meal a day, and

· Gets a dry place to sleep.

Do these things, we were told, and your marine will kill for you (figuratively, we are in an office environment, please!).

Killing the enemy doesn’t sell cars or fix widgets, but you get the general idea. Take care of the little comforts, the small but vital expectations that you will care about an individual’s priorities, and the loyalty you get in return will astound you.

Your personal leadership philosophy is all yours, a compilation of the good and the bad you have experienced and witnessed over a lifetime.

Don’t be afraid to adjust your philosophy in the face of informed, constructive advice.

Don’t be afraid to hold fast to your most crucial tenets. In the interest of brevity, two things should be part of the foundation of any leadership philosophy.


Leading by Example.

These two mainstays should be the most positive influences as you develop your own personal leadership philosophy.

Edited and reprinted from 2016.

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