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Guest view: A fixation on resources can backfire

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Paul Armstrong is founder and partner of eNthusaProve LLC, a consulting firm in Lancaster County.
Paul Armstrong is founder and partner of eNthusaProve LLC, a consulting firm in Lancaster County. - (Photo / )

In these challenging times of finding good people, we often find ourselves complaining that we “don't have enough resources.” But we need to think twice before we use that expression when referring to people, especially our people. Why do I say this?

If we want to be better-serving leaders, leaders who legitimately care about our people, we are not well-served by language that lumps people into the same category as a pile of steel or a fleet of trucks.

Using terms like human resources or resource-loaded schedules steers our thinking away from respecting our people and tends to make us treat them like mus-cular mass or intellectual inventory to do a job. Granted, we have a job to get done, and we need a team to do it. But when our language reinforces the notion that our people’s value to us is only as much as they are a resource, it steers us away from being serving leaders and, quite frankly, tilts us into being served leaders.

Now, if you’re thinking that this is yet another topic on the political correctness agenda, think again. While yes, this is consistent with what we learn as servant leaders, this reality check was refreshed for me by several respected senior-level, highly technical engineering naval officers, not your kumbaya types.

Patrick Lencioni, author of “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team,” talks about leaders needing to love their teams. After you finish rolling your eyes on that com-ment, think about it. It makes sense. Take the romantic perspective out of that word love and keep it to its definition of “caring for someone without expecting any-thing in return.”

You may be saying that we do expect something in return. But is that really the reason that dictates how we lead them? Would you want a plaque above your of-fice door that says: “Remember that you’re only as good as the value you bring to me”? If you are, then you may find yourself wondering why your best people keep quitting.

Am I saying that we need to throw out project management tools such as resource-loaded schedules? No.

Am I saying that we need to run down the hall and take down the sign that says human resources and change it to “people” like Southwest Airlines does? Maybe.

Actually, I’m just offering a way to remind ourselves that leading is first and foremost about people, who deserve to be respected as people, not as resources.

Remember not only that what we think affects what we say, but also that what we say affects the way we think, and, as leaders, affects what our people think. Our words influence what they think of themselves, and we can paint them as valued members or as convenient commodities. If we say “resources” to mean Fred, Wilma, Barney and Betty, well, we and they may end up seeing themselves as faceless sources of man-hours. I personally don’t want to treat people that way. I can only imagine how ugly it’d be if I referred to my mother and father as ‘parenting resources.’

Being a serving leader is based on sincerely respecting each person we lead. It calls us to step away from being the served leader, to being one who raises each person up rather than keeping them down.

Take a look at your team, your project roster or your organizational chart. Are you seeing those names as people or just as ‘resources’? Are you seeing each person as someone with unique talents and experience that you can build into strengths or just as yet another person from whom you can squeeze out eight hours of their day?

This starts with you. When you wake up in the morning, are you telling yourself that you’re just a resource? Are you using phrases to yourself such as ‘another day, another dollar’?

As a leader, you have the opportunity, the calling, to serve those whom you lead and enable joy in their work, and hence, their lives. Thinking of those lives as “resources” may cause you to forget that calling.

Paul Armstrong is founder and partner of eNthusaProve LLC, a consulting firm in Lancaster County.

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