Are You Investing Your Best Resources in the Wrong People?

It is easy to see other people making this mistake. It is more difficult to catch yourself doing it. I’ve been guilty plenty of times.

Two Trees: One Alive and One Dead - Photo courtesy of ©, Image #2311331

Photo courtesy of ©

For example, a few years ago, while I was still CEO of Thomas Nelson, I met with an important author. In the course of the meeting, I learned he was unhappy with the cover design we had done for his previous book.

Being the people-pleaser I am, I thought I could fix his problem. “I will take personal responsibility for this next cover,” I announced. “I will work with you directly to make sure we get a cover you love.”

I then hired a designer I knew who had delivered stellar results for another one of our authors. In a few weeks, the designer delivered six superb cover comps. I made a few suggestions, the designer revised his work, then I submitted them to the author.

He didn’t like any of them.

I spent an hour on the phone with him, as he berated the designer. Undaunted, I rolled up my sleeves and spent the afternoon personally searching through a stock photo library, trying to find just the right image—not exactly the best use of my time as a CEO.

But finally I found a photo I loved. This is it, I thought. Perfect!

I went back to the designer and had him create several more comps based on the new photo. I submitted the new batch to the author, confident he would love one of the options. I followed up with a phone call.

He hated them all.

Again, he criticized the designer. He then came after me. “If you would just spend the money and hire a decent designer, we could get onto more important things.” He lectured me like this was the first time I had ever done this.

Silly me. I hired another designer and went through one more round with him. We produced twenty-one cover comps in all. He didn’t like any of them.

Finally, we acquiesced and used a cover designed by his team. I wish I could show it to you, especially compared to the others.

With that, I woke up to the fact that I had invested all this time, money, and emotional energy and had not moved the needle one bit. It was a total waste. He was incorrigible.

The resources I wasted on him would have been better spent elsewhere.

We finished out our contract with him but passed on offering him another one. We had had enough. We let him go to another publisher.

Leaders often make this same mistake in various areas of their lives. For example,

  • A mother invests all of her emotional energy in a difficult child to the neglect of the quiet, compliant one. The difficult child gets worse and the compliant one begins acting up to get attention.
  • A corporate executive spends most of her time helping under-performing salespeople rather than provide leadership and inspiration to her top producers. She then wonders why she can’t keep her best people.
  • A pastor expends so much of his time trying to fix broken people that he doesn’t have the energy to develop the leaders who could help shoulder the burden. He constantly grumbles about his workload.

What can you do if you are in this situation?

Make sure you are investing your best resources—including your time and energy—in your best people. Here’s how:

  1. Acknowledge that your resources are limited. Your time, money, and energy are finite resources. It’s easy to forget this and overcommit. But it’s a zero-sum game. Every time you say “yes” to one person, you are saying “no” to others.
  2. Become aware of where your resources are going. It’s easy to think the situation is temporary or an exception. But is it? This is the little lie that keeps us stuck if we aren’t careful. Look back over your calendar and make an honest assessment. It will reveal the truth.
  3. End unproductive or unhealthy relationships. This is the hard part. If you can’t end them, then at least establish boundaries. If you need inspiration or moral support, read Henry Cloud’s excellent book, Necessary Endings: The Employees, Businesses, and Relationships That All of Us Have to Give Up in Order to Move Forward.
  4. Identify the people you should be investing in. This is the most important step. Change your focus. Who are the individuals you have overlooked? Who are the people who should be getting the bulk (or at least more) of your resources? Who are the ones who represent the future?
  5. Schedule time on your calendar to serve these people. Good intentions are important, but they are not enough. Like the old adage says, “What gets scheduled gets done." The opposite is also true, “What doesn’t get scheduled doesn’t get done.”

Yes, Jesus spent time with broken people. He healed the sick. He comforted the broken-hearted. He ministered to the outcasts.

But he spent the bulk of his resources on just twelve people. He proactively invested in them, knowing that his mission was, humanly speaking, dependent on their success.

Question: Where do you need to shift your focus and allocate your resources differently? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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  • Steve Swann Jr

    Being a pastor who is trying to love people like Jesus… and also being with people who are draining… if I ‘redistribute’ these draining people on other faith disciples, aren’t I just dumping on them instead?

    • Jim Martin

      Steve, as a pastor also, I have had to deal with this issue.  For years, I functioned (as a minister) like a Dr. in an emergency room.  I was there for whoever was in crisis, dysfunctional, broken, etc.  What was missing in my work was any sense of building up a core group of healthy people to do ministry themselves.  I finally had to change the way I functioned because it was impacting the rest of the church.

  • Cj

    Amazing piece, as always!

  • Dave Arnold

    This is a very encouraging post, Michael.  Thank you.  In fact, I just did a blog post this week on a similar topic.  I even quoted Henry Cloud and Townsend in thier book “Boundaries.”
    Thanks for the encouragement!

  • Annette Skarin

    Great post as always Michael. I am so blessed to have your posts as a balanced resource to grow by.  Also, great lesson in boundary setting. I have a son who’s technologically intelligent, so he helps me with things that are over my head. Thanks again. Look forward to more…

  • kimanzi constable

    Great post Michael and your use of this story really brings your points to life. For me as a leader I’m coaching several people and one of them reminds me of that author. There’s always an excuse and reason for not completely something we talked about, there’s not really a desire to move forward, I think it’s time to move on. Thanks for the tips, have to think about this one for a minute.

  • Ian

    I needed this right now. Thanks!

  • Drakehunter

    Thank you for your insights and instructions.  A good reminder to wrap my mind, body, heart and spirit around some of my life principles.

    1. Love people, use resources to develop self and others

    2. What ever I focus on magnifies, so choose to focus on the best (God’s ways) things in life.

    3. Spend 2 minutes with some people, but not 4 minutes. Spend 30 minutes with others, but not and hour, etc… 

    Thanks for the reminder!

    Grace and peace!

  • Matthew Reed

    I recently had a coaching client who was frustrated by one of his customers. As a result I helped him create ‘this is my dream client’ and ‘this is my nightmare client’ profiles. I was so impressed by it, I made one for my own company too!

  • Randy Crane

    This is great advice. I’ve definitely been putting some of my time into the wrong people, and the wrong activities. I’ve seen which ones (of each) provide the greatest return on my time and energy, but I, too, am a people-pleaser so it’s hard to say no. not impossible, but difficult.

    I’ve found that the more I clarified my priorities, and the more I invested in people who valued it in ways that bring the most value to them I can, the less inclined I am to waste that time and effort in other areas.

  • Cherry Odelberg

    What important information.  Thanks for the reminder – and the clear examples.

  • Juanita Brooks

    “But he spent the bulk of his resources on just twelve people. He
    proactively invested in them, knowing that his mission was, humanly speaking,
    dependent on their success”      Quote- Michael Hyatt

    My Question….
    How do you know and select who qualifies for your investment of time?
    Is there a pattern to use ?

    I look forward to your blog email each morning.
    I share each email on my Facebook Page & Twitter friends.
    Valuable teaching….Thank YouJuanita Brooks

  • PaulJolicoeur

    Great post! A good reminder that with our limited bandwidth, we need to make sure we are investing where it is going to make the biggest impact. A leader must make the development of other leaders a top priority!

  • Cheri Gregory

    Proverbs 9:7a struck me recently: “He that teacheth a scorner doth an injury to himself.”
    The commentary expands: “”He that reproveth a scorner – לץ lets, the person who mocks at sacred things; the libertine, the infidel; who turns the most serious things into ridicule, and, by his wit, often succeeds in rendering the person who reproves him ridiculous.”This SO explains some of my greatest struggles as a teacher. The reason I’ve quit several times, in fact. I could never “get it right” with this kind of student. I kept judging my effectiveness / success as a teacher based on their response to me and my teaching. Far too many times, I’ve poured most of my energy into this one student, leaving precious little for all the others.

  • Change Volunteer

    My ex-boss advised all the managers on his last day to choose the right people for the right job and try and take everyone along, because you can only become a good manager if you see a potential successor in each one of the team members you manage. Profound wisdom that I can relate to your article. 

  • Julie Sunne

    Thank you for this fabulous, thought-provoking post, Michael!  Your insight will definitely help me as I pursue expanding my platform and making lasting, valuable connections.

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  • Ramon B. Nuez Jr.

    Nice post Michael.

    I think that part of the issue is that we build emotional connection to nouns – people  place and things. And because we become emotionally invested  – especially true with people — we become blinded and poorly invest those scarce resources.

    I wonder if someone told you that you were not using your resources wisely — would you have stopped?

    Sometimes, it takes other people to point out what we are doing wrong — before we realize that we are doing it wrong.

  • Shannon Steffen

    I’ve just been going through this period in my life and business where I’ve had to make the tough choices. One particular parting of ways was with a mastermind group that was started by a number of business “friends” in my area.

    Upon returning from a NYC conference, I looked at my schedule for the next couple of weeks and my heart sank when I saw the mastermind group on my calendar. These people were my friends but I just wasn’t getting what I needed for my business to grow. There was no agenda, no topic for discussion and it always turned into a “what’s new with you?” dialog. Needless to say, it was far from the morning brainstorming and business stimulation I needed. Sure, it was nice to get together for a cup of coffee but it wasn’t a wise use of time – for any of us.

    At first, I was concerned about the friendship and hurting their feelings. The thing is though, I see them at other events that are more fruitful and add to our relationships. Sure, it’s been 4 days and I haven’t received a response to my “leave” from the group but I know, deep in my heart and soul, I made the right move to open myself to other opportunities that will strengthen my walk along this path.

  • Chuck F

    Thanks for the reminder.  I really needed this today.  

  • Monica de Liz, Style Coach

    Enlightening article Michael, thanks for the priceless wisdom! I’ve shared your post on my social media today since this is a life skill we shall develop if we wish to be wholesome. As a former people pleaser, I totally agree with your worldview. The book “How to say No without feeling guilty” has changed my life by helping me clearly see the difference between healthy and toxic relationships. Because of your valuable post, I discovered Dr. Henry Cloud’s work, I plan to read “Necessary Endings” and “Boundaries”. Stay blessed!

  • kurt bennett

    …he spent the bulk of his resources on just twelve people. He proactively invested in them, knowing that his mission was, humanly speaking, dependent on their success.”
    Great post! Invest where the most fruit will be produced! Just what I needed to hear today.

  • Prophetess Breneta Bowser

    This truly has encourage  me…to go forth in somethings in my life!   

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  • Shaorn Minor

    Great article…falls right in with my decision to use the “vip-velvet rope” filter to carefully choose customers that will be a good fit for my company & allow me to provide my best work! 

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  • JulieSanders@comehaveapeace

    This was really timely reading for me. As a Women’s Ministry leader, I know that I need to make one particular change immediately, in order to shift my limited resources where they’re needed most and where they’ll produce the most fruit. Thanks! 

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  • Dawn Vesco

    I think that the time to cut people loose (or prune) is a case by case basis. I think it should be done before the leadership vision is polluted and the team dynamics de-railed that upholds it.Overview responsibilities should include a regular pruning program to ensure the changes and dynamics of a project,dept or organization stay healthy and productive -that can be in-house or acquiring clients. I also highly recommend Henry McCloud’s book,I had the pleasure of seeing him at a Women of Faith event and he’s real.

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  • Thad Puckett

    This is a theme that needs to be revisited frequently (at least by me).  I can even apply the question to how I spend my time.  Am I giving my best time (of the day or the week) to the highest impact activities?  

    Thanks for challenging my thinking.

  • Travis Dommert

    Thank you for sharing this story…in its painful detail.  This wisdom is SO RICH.  

    As a leader in a luxury services firm catering to ultra-high net worth families, I had a propensity to bend over backward when someone wasn’t happy, sometimes to no avail.  

    Fred Reichheld’s brilliant book, The Loyalty Effect, REALLY helped me get some perspective.  

    Develop a detailed profile of your desired customer, desired employee, and desired investor…calculate their lifetime value and invest accordingly.  

    For customers, employees, and investors who don’t fit your ideal profile, exit quickly and graciously.  Perhaps they fit someone else’s profile!

  • Rebecca Jo Cannon

    This is very helpful to me! I have been praying for wisdom.  Last year I was diagnosed with Hepatitis C & Liver Cirrhosis. Treatment did not work. My oldest son 28, rushed to Maui to help. My youngest 23 serving in the Army can only help from afar. My oldest has PTSD from Iraq, Pakistan & Kuwait. We did not know until he arrived here. I raised both boys alone. I know I am not a business. But I am in the business of Jesus! So it became clear from this message to invest in the son immediately in front of me as he is keeping a roof over my head. To pray for him to continue with the Christian war vets to help him. Invest in my other son who is trying to get here. I don’t have strength, but to pray & build them up. I have a small group of friends that try to help with my liver fund.  I will invest that their faith grows strong. I need a strong team. I also believe they need me in other ways! The statement that Travis Dommert made – This wisdom is SO RICH; yes it is not only in the business world but in everyday life with huge trials. Amen!

  • John Jolley

    Interesting post and I agree. I think it also applies to those folks in our network that we spend time attempting to invest in. Just spent an hour yesterday with someone in a conference in Dallas that in retrospect was a complete waste of time. I wonder if knowing where to spend your time isn’t one of those simple but extremely difficult to execute tasks…

  • Robin

    I am in the middle of a large employee turn over, started by the decision to do this very thing. Although hiring is painful, I truely feel rejuvenated and optimistic about the future of our business. We will see where this road leads but I am very hopeful that new blood will bring improved results and that I can learn better how to spend my resources in the beginning of these relationships.

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  • Skimhenson

    Love it and sharing the link on my blog since I recently wrote about helping others, and this post says it so much better. Plus I can always use confirmation when I’m letting go of my helper role, the one that’s helping no one. 

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  • Cathey

    This is such an eye opener! Thank you.

  • Jen G

    Wow, thank you! Really, really needed to hear this today… as a wife, as a mother, and as a friend!

  • Brian B Baker

    Ending unproductive relationships is the hardest for me. The resources are a difficult one since I’m rebooting my blog with self-hosted right now.

    I made the assessment to do Self-hosted and get my feet wet this year.

    Wonderful post Michael.

  • IAMSynt

    Wow! So timely! That’s all.

  • Dale L.

    Wow I loved this. I needed to see the big picture also. I often want to fix people and problems. I have seen my precious time ( which they don’t appreciate), and resources ( they don’t value either), and end up with them not appreciating my efforts. Sigh, good insight. Dale L

  • Anne-Marie Gosser

    Thank you for that observation regarding how Jesus spent the bulk of his resources. I had never noticed that before but you are correct. Excellent!

  • Robert Zimmerman

    Truly a challenging topic especially for someone who struggles to say no to anyone.