[July 31, 2018] “Mission first, people always,” is more than just a saying in the U.S. military; it’s a philosophy. The fact that leadership is difficult even in the best of times means that we expect the mission to be accomplished and done efficiently and effectively by people. In this idea, mission first, people always … one of these is no more important than the other.
Last year I discussed the idea that when people ask the question, “What is more important, the mission or the people?” They are presenting us with a false choice (see link here). Each is not mutually exclusive; one cannot exist without the other.
The problem for leaders is that there is a tension faced in balancing mission and people. We often hear about leaders that are mission-focused and those that are people-focused. But it is the leaders who are capable of balancing mission and people that are seen as the greatest leaders. These are the ones who get the job done and their people are being cared for at the same time.
Mission first, people always is philosophical because it brings together an inseparable union of ideas and accomplishments. Those leaders who are most successful can integrate their personal engagement (social skills) into their leadership style. Having good social skills allows a leader to recognize quickly those things that impact on mission accomplishment and take the appropriate action.
For those in the military who are likely to see combat, the level of importance of this concept cannot be overstated. Successful leaders find a way to offset their focus on results (mission) with a personality to which people can connect.
There’s an article by Matthew Lieberman that asks “Should leaders focus on results, or on people?”1 He comes to the same conclusion I have; leaders must balance each. However, the balancing is very dynamic and is thus highly situational dependent. Overcoming this dynamic is where great leaders shine and poor leaders fail.