Leadership 101: People First, Task At Hand Second.


This article for goldfish:

  • When doers become leaders, they tend to focus on the task at hand.
  • It’s often much more effective to focus on the people in your team, in order to make sure they are empowered to handle the task at hand. This is what being a team lead is about.

This article for humans:

When I was leading a team of 12 in South Africa, I’d often do something called ‘caring by wandering around’. I’d walk the floor and sit with someone in the team, always asking them the same questions:

What are you working on?

How will it help the company?

Is there anything slowing you down?

The second question (‘How will it help the company?’) forced the team to always keep the company’s Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s) in mind while they’re working on something. This ensured a clear focus on what we were trying to achieve and helped the team prioritize their projects accordingly.

The third and final question (‘What is slowing you down?’) was there to identify obstacles. It kept the focus of the team on getting things done and gave me the opportunity to help them where they needed me the most.

Do it with KIM. After hiring the people I needed for the team, I printed out a picture of Kim Kardashian. I framed it and hung it on the wall near our workplace. I explained to the team that whatever they work on, they need to do it with ‘KPI’s In Mind’ (KIM). If someone was working on a new project, their peers would point at the picture and ask them ‘Are you doing it with KIM though?’, it kept the main objective front and center.

When doers become leaders.

One day I was on one of my ‘caring by wandering around’ missions, when another team lead (different team) interrupted me as I passed by.

‘Why are you wandering around, why are you not working?’

‘This is me working. This is my job.’ I replied.

‘If I can do anything to make everyone in the team 10% more productive, that’ll outweigh any work I could possibly do myself.’

She walked off and mumbled something about me being lazy, letting my team do all the work. Which was far from the truth, and my team would confirm that I worked the hardest of them all.

I understand where she was coming from. 

Like most team leads, she was promoted into a leading role by working hard on the tasks at hand. So when she’d see another team lead just wandering around, seemingly ‘doing nothing’, it looks like that person doesn’t deserve to be in that position, right?

However, especially when leading a large team, managing people should become your main focus and first priority.

If you take care of the team, the team will take care of the task at hand in a much more effective manner than if you’d do it yourself.

If you can’t trust the team to complete the task at hand themselves, that’s a team lead’s failure as well. It means the team doesn’t have the right people in the right positions. It’s time to shuffle things around and perhaps rehire.

It means there’s work to do for the team lead. 

But doing the tasks yourself won’t get you there. It won’t scale.

People first, task at hand second.

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About the author

Wesley van der Hoop

Dutchman living in The Bahamas. I get excited about digital marketing, writing, traveling, surfing and learning new things.

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