Copyright © Dr. Stephen H. Dawson, DSL 2021

March 11, 2021

People or something else?

"You'll never find a better sparring partner than adversity." Golda Meir

I was beaten on as a kid more than once. I was small in stature and not as smart as most kids. The worst of the beatings was the verbal abuse. It took me longer to put on substantial muscles when serving in the infantry, but I caught up and surpassed many in my unit. Later, it took me longer to get through my undergraduate degree from not having a solid academic starting point. I look back and remember those who helped me advance amid abuse. It was, always, someone who was of different skin color than I, or who came from another birthplace, or who had more strength of servant character than I do today. Adversity became livable for me. I owe each of them a debt I will never be able to repay.

I heard these words from them many times: "You need to prepare." Often, I would get a call later from many of them asking me how things went as an outcome of my preparation efforts. Many of these wonderful people were at or below the economic poverty level, but they were wealthy beyond measure in building relationships.

I shared recently we only see if we look, and we only look by choice. I shared last week learning can continue on any topic. I see people, not combinations of demographics or psychographics. There is no...them...in my book. I made the point in past columns that a people problem is not a skills problem. People need to be nameless and faceless to be related to effectively. I hold this position for one simple reason: I was nameless and faceless for years, but people related to me in many healthy ways. No one can thrive without a name, a place, and a purpose. Resolving the people problem effectively consists of more than you looking for your desired destination using your planned strategy. It all comes together by way of the people you need to fulfill the strategy you need to be planned. So, let's talk about some of the options you have to address your people problem.

People or colored objects?

If people are a part of your organization, then you must care for them as a whole person. If this is something you cannot do, then you would do well to either separate them from your organization or stop leading your organization. There is no one-size-fits-all for this decision point. Take the actions to communicate the separation milestone, deliver any severance, handle public relations, handle any litigation, say goodbye, and move on. This recommendation goes for both the person you are separating from your organization and yourself whenever you stop leading.

Let me be clear. I endorse, without hesitation, putting a person into a role by their skills in combination with their espoused morality of their worldview found in their ethics. There is little value in doing anything to meet the demands of anyone who has no interest in you. Yes, there are times when codified mandates exist contrary to your position. However, you are still faced with a whole person to either have or not have as a part of your organization. Let's dig deeper into the reality of having the whole person in your organization.


There is somewhat of a new obstacle in current events claiming there is a recent shortage of microprocessors. Imagine trying to run your organization without all of the resources that use microprocessors. Ford had to cut production of their F-150 recently due to semiconductor chip shortages. The F-150 is noted for sales achievements. Bindiya Vakil and Tom Linton described this situation from the global perspective. Let's use this microprocessor topic to help address the people change problem you have in getting your strategy planned.


Please, stop and read the definitions for diverse and diversity before reading further. Then, take a read through diversity in the context of business. I urge you to step through the historical overview of equal employment opportunity and affirmative action.

People or members of your organization?

David Daniels, a noted diversity and inclusion (D & I) professional I work with during management consulting efforts, told me his initial approach to the people part of our collective work. "There are so many different definitions out there when it comes to D & I, and I always work with each individual organization to frame it around their vision, mission, and values." He shared with me some of his wisdom. "The analogy that has always stuck with me to succinctly describe D & I is this: Diversity = you were invited to the dance; Inclusion means you were asked to dance all night." His analogy makes quite a bit of sense to me. I encourage you to read David's Reflections article to understand more of his insight.

If fame is a skill, then you are staffing a role based on a fleeting skill. How long will such fame last? This question must be answered to assign meaningful present value and calculate the probable future value of the work delivered from this skill. Fame has a bit of energy to it, but it is similar to eating sugar. Sugar is fleeting energy, not lasting energy. If you need quick energy added to your organization, then fame is a way to get it. However, fame pushes those who are not famous aside and disables some of their ability to deliver productive work output to you. Now, let's use the communicating-preparing-pursue plan I experienced as a child to see how it can help you with your identified people problem.


Building the understanding of what another person has going on in their head to know how they can contribute best to your organization is a constant action. These conditions change from what Chesterton shared, so they must be measured frequently. It is the intersection of demographics and psychographics for each person combined with knowing where they fit into your organization based on how the other folks in your organization are doing at the time. It is going from nameless and faceless to a name with an identify to form a purpose, to determine their place in your organization. This purpose and place combination is not static. It is likely to change, knowing people have good and bad times, as do organizations comprised of the people you serve as their leader. The needs and wants combination for everyone will change accordingly. Communicating with your people is the only way to know these answers first hand.


It is unlikely you will be able to resolve the identified people problem with a single decision criterion. I make this statement as people are much more complicated than either a machine or a microprocessor, though both have features and benefits. Preparing has both an exact checklist of actions for the work at hand combined with actions specific to each person. We measure by outcomes, so the preparation matching the outcomes is only varied by the preparation's execution actions. I am talking much more than Monday Morning Quarterbacking. I am talking about measuring outcomes without bias.


The follow-through of planning and doing is then pursuing understanding the outcome of the doing. The phone calls I would receive from loved ones looking out for my best interests had a combination of encouragement, recommendations, and a bit of tough love correction. You as the leader must, I repeat...must...use a similar formula in fixing your people problem. Why must you do this? Because you have a whole person in your organization for now. You are trying to decide if you need to move them to other work assignments in your organization or say goodbye to them as their leader.


Okay, getting back to the microprocessor illustration I spoke of earlier in this writing. Think about small devices as you consider how you select people to be a part of your organization. Think about the diversities combined in the technologies to make a device you use as you think about how you value the diversity of people to do the work you need and want to be accomplished. Then, take some time to watch the following short film.

I saw the film Most about a dozen years ago. It gripped me with the reality I was not viewing people then as I do today. I was limiting my view of people to those who I knew personally. Your selection of people to be a part of your organization most likely will mean you do not know every one of them as well as you do your close friends. Take the time this next week and watch this short film without interruption. It is 32-minutes long. I recommend you prepare your schedule to watch it uninterrupted. I hope it will help you measure your willingness today to see people as a whole, especially the part about them being nameless and faceless, to decide what you need to change about your people seeing willingness going forward. We will talk about how your viewing experience of this short film went for you during our time together next week. I anticipate you will be both shocked and irritated at the realities you experience from this film. I was when I watched it. I remember to this day how I felt at the end of the film: ashamed to find my unknown willingness not to see a whole person, but enabled to change for the better.

So, I ask you: where do you want to go? I hope your answer is to develop the plans necessary to accomplish the strategy you know you need to achieve to arrive at your desired destination. If this is the case, then let's get to work. If not, then I wish you the best of everything.

I hope we will see each other here next week. Email me if you need to talk before then.

Dr. Stephen H. Dawson, DSL
Executive Strategy Consultant

Stephen Dawson is an executive consultant of technology and business strategy, serving significant international organizations by providing leadership consulting, strategic planning, and executive communications. He has more than thirty years of service and consulting experience in delivering successful international business development and program management outcomes in the US and SE Asia. His weekly column, "Where Do You Want To Go?," appears on Thursdays.

Dr. Dawson has served in the technology, banking, and hospitality industries. He is a noted strategic planning visionary. His pursuit of music has been matched with his efforts to lead by service to followers. He holds the clear understanding a leader without followers is a person taking a long walk alone.

Stephen has lived his life in the eastern United States, visiting most of the United States and several countries. He is a graduate of the Regent University School of Business & Leadership. Contact him at service@shdawson.com.