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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?
- 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.