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Putting People First - The Path to True Success

Putting People First - The Path to True Success


At Starbucks we always said, “It’s not about the coffee, it’s about the people.” No matter what type of work you do, putting people first – your team, your customers, your partners, your family – will do more for your long-term personal happiness and professional success than any short-term “wins.”

Moments of success are guaranteed not to last. It’s the human cycle to go up and down. But our values do last, and the impact of our actions last, too.

I understand if you’re skeptical. All around us, we see people trying to one-up others, get the better deal, find favor with the boss, or play politics with peers. That’s a mindset focused on winners and losers. Even if you believe with your whole heart that it’s best to put people first, you might struggle to believe this approach works in the real world. But it does.

When we stand for the value of putting people first, we find inspiration in the good times and a lifeline of support and talent when times are hard.

Here are four principles to put the philosophy of putting people first into action.

First, allow and encourage independent thinking. People are not “assets,” (as in the phrase, “people are our biggest asset”). We are all human beings who have the capacity to achieve results beyond what is thought possible. We need to get rid of rules—real and imagined—and encourage the independent thinking of others and ourselves. You can follow this principle by remembering the phrase, “The person who sweeps the floor should choose the broom.” Don’t micromanage. Don’t assume you know what’s best. Don’t project your own way on others.

Second, listen. Listen to others and listen for the truth. I like to say, “the walls talk.” If you quiet your mind, you’ll realize how much you can know and understand by simply absorbing the messages around you. One of my favorite concepts is the idea of “compassionate emptiness.” Compassionate emptiness involves listening with compassion but without preconceived notions. It asks us to be caring, but empty of opinions and advice. As the Western Buddhist teacher Joseph Goldstein explains it, “Compassion is not a stance, but is the simple responsiveness to circumstances from a place of selflessness. The emptier we are of self, the more responsive we are.” When you put time into listening, you’ll know what people are thinking and wanting, you’ll see where the passion lies, you’ll learn solutions to problems that have been sitting there waiting to be picked.

Third, build trust by caring. “Caring” is not a sign of weakness but rather a sign of strength, and it can’t be faked—within an organization, with the people we serve, or in our local or global communities. Without trust and caring we’ll never know what could have been possible. Without freedom from fear, people can’t dream and they can’t reach their potential.

Fourth, be accountable to yourself and others.  Only the truth sounds like the truth. No secrets, no lies of omission, no hedging and dodging. Take responsibility and say what needs to be said, with care and respect.

Whenever you have doubts about how to act in a situation, you are always on safe ground if you ask yourself, “What would I do if I put people first?”

About Howard Behar - Guest Author

Howard Behar is a renowned business leader, author, speaker, and mentor who has influenced the lives of numerous men and women at all stages of their careers and at all levels and roles. Shaped by his experiences working in his parents Seattle market, schooled in operations and management in consumer-oriented retail business, and part of the leadership triumvirate that built the Starbucks brand, Behar is the ultimate “servant leader” who is known for such memorable lessons as “The Person Who Sweeps the Floor Should Choose the Broom” and “Only the Truth Sounds Like the Truth.”

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