When to Stop Investing in People

I frequently speak with groups on the topic of leadership. Sometimes the groups are just too large to have a real two-way conversation but once in a while they are small enough to allow for a real dialogue to take place. Those are my favorite presentations.

Last week was one of those smaller interactions. One of the questions I received was as serious, challenging and complicated as a question can get. 

The question came during a segment in which I was speaking about the difference between a management mindset and the mindset of a leader. A management mindset thinks “I have a person working for me who isn’t getting the job done. I better spend some time on them.” A leadership mindset thinks, “I have a person working with me who isn’t getting the job done, I better invest some time with them.”

Leaders see people as an investment, not an expense.

Let’s be clear on this, leadership is about people. We don’t lead companies, we don’t lead budgets, we don’t lead buildings or inventories, we manage them. We lead people!

People don’t want to be managed, they want leadership. You’ll hear people complain every single day about being micro-managed but you’ve probably never heard a person say the word, micro-led. 

Leaders invest their time, experience, knowledge and even a piece of themselves in the development of their people. The success of their people is as important to them as their own success. If their people fail they take at least partial ownership in that failure.

But…

There does come a time when a leader has done all that they can do and still one of their people is just not progressing. Investing in people is much more complicated than any other investment, there is much more at stake. But just like any other investment that doesn’t work out, at some point in time you just have to cut your losses. 

The question I was asked was, “When is it time to stop investing in a person and let them go?”

THAT is one big question. I hate failing at anything, I hate failing with people development even more. I’m supposed to be good at it, I’m supposed to help people perform better. When I don’t then I’ve failed. So the decision to stop investing is a big one… but it’s not a hard one.

Here’s how I answered the question.

I stop investing when the good of the one begins to outweigh the good of the many. Simply stated, when the time required to help just one person grow begins to negatively impact and limit the amount of time I can invest with the rest of the team, I have to stop investing in the “one.”

This is particularly true when there seems to be little or no return on that investment. No leader can sacrifice the “many” for the “one.” 

Letting someone go, demoting them or reassigning them is a terrible decision to have to make, but leaders make that decision. Leaders do not let their ego get in the way, they admit, that for whatever reason, this is “one” they just can’t help develop. 

Leaders do what needs to be done, that’s one way, one very big way, that you can tell they are a leader.

 

2 thoughts on “When to Stop Investing in People

  1. I like the distinction between the management vs. leadership mindset.

    I’m a fan of words. It’s interesting how the words working for me vs. working with me and spending time vs. investing time have a completely different outlook.

    • Thanks Steve, it took me a while to figure out that how I said something was perhaps even more important than the something I said. Words make a huge difference – they show our true thoughts.

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