People first leadership involves a framework of three interlocking principles:
Products or services cannot be created or delivered without people.
Capital or other benefits cannot be raised, achieved, or earned without the products or services deriving from the efforts of people.
Leaders exist to facilitate and enhance the efforts of people.
Given this framework, the primary focus of successful leadership must be centered on the needs of people. This is a little different than managerial approaches focusing on the products, services, programs, customers, stockholders, or earnings of an organization. True leadership places people, typically employees and other organizational staff, first in line for the leader’s attentions.
Those people needs include knowledge, skills, and abilities required for performing the tasks needed to create or deliver products or services. These needs are typically satisfied by some type of experience or training either previously undertaken or newly delivered to people. Leaders can also set clear goals, provide coaching or direction as needed, and engage people in the planning or review aspects of task execution to further satisfy needs in this area.
The needs of people also include tools, supplies, time, expenditures, or other resources required for performing those tasks. These needs can usually be satisfied using the resource management techniques refined through classical business models and approaches.
Less frequently addressed people needs center around the concepts of personal well-being and motivation. These are the needs that allow a leader and their organization truly stand out from their peers and competitors. Physical and emotional health are prerequisites for all high-performing people including leaders themselves. Doing creative work, learning new things, and feeling fairly treated are good motivators for nearly everyone. Also, people need to believe they are part of a group that is creating something of value to the customers, clients, stockholders, and the world. A leader must build a relationship with individuals or units of people being lead that includes trust, collaboration, and a shared sense of purpose.
There is a lot more to be said about people first leadership. If you feel you need to improve or refresh your leadership skills, try exploring topics such as situational leadership, people centered leadership, and servant leadership. And remember, good leaders derive their power and authority from those they lead, not from their superiors or the innate attributes of their position within the organizational hierarchy.