One day, when our daughter was about eight, she came home from a church summer camp wearing a tee shirt with the phrase “I’m third” printed on it.
When I asked what it meant she explained that God came first, other people second and, “I’m third.” I can’t think of a better guiding principal for one’s personal life.
Could an organization have such a guiding principle? What if each employee put the customers first and their co-workers second? What if they, working together, were determined to create the best possible customer experience. What if the leader believed that the customers came first, the employees second, and he or she, the leader, third?
Would such a company be gaining or losing customers? Would it have trouble attracting good employees or would it be the employer of choice? Would leading such a company be a grind or would it be fulfilling?
Viktor Frankl, the famed author, holocaust survivor, and psychiatrist, wrote that the path toward self-actualization was paved with the bricks of self-transcendence. The less we prioritize ourselves, the greater fulfillment life holds for us.
As leaders, we choose the priorities of our organization. The leader sets the values and defines the focus. When a leader puts the customers first and themselves third they create an outwardly focused organization. Such an organization is customer centered and competitively alert. It’s magnetic. Customers want to do business with it and employees want to be a part of it. Culturally, it’s a winner, with high performance driven by high standards.
Sometimes, when things aren’t going right, I ask myself where my priorities are? I’m not always happy with the answer. The self often seems to worm itself in there. My consolation is that, if I’m asking the right questions, I believe I’ll eventually get it right.
Leadership wisdom begins with the understanding that, while it starts with the leader, it’s not about them.