I was recently interviewing Norman Frederick who is the Executive Vice President of NTT Data Services for my upcoming book on leadership.

Norman told me that he believed that people are an organization’s greatest asset. He said the order of things that leaders should focus on are:

  1. Your team members.
  2. Your customers.
  3. Your business.

I am now a big fan of Norman Frederick, because if you fail to take care of your team, then they will fail to take care of your customers and business.

This seems like such a simple concept, and it is. Most leadership is simple but not easy. 

The complexity arises when the end goal seems bigger than your team members. It is easy to get caught up in production and profit, and it seems that demanding more of your people will get the end goal. Yes, and if you don’t give to your people first, they will not give back to you.

One of my coaching clients is struggling with the how the workforce is emerging. The pandemic has increased the desire for freedom—freedom to move anywhere in the world and work from home. This has altered what the company used to offer as a benefit—living in a beautiful city and state. In the past, team members would trade a lesser salary to live in “God’s Country.”

Now that people can live anywhere, the company leaders must face the reality that if they don’t raise salaries, they will lose team members. You can see the conundrum: increasing salaries could decrease profit margin.

If you rely on Norman’s belief that your team members are your number one priority, then the decision is simple. Raise their salaries. If you are focused on the business, then the decision becomes more complex. 

The second mistake that leaders make is to concentrate on customers and clients first. When you are focused on customers first, your team members can get beaten down. If you go by the agreement that the customer or client is always right, then your team is certain to suffer emotional abuse. 

While it is imperative to provide great service, if you fail to protect your team members from hostility, they will not be capable of giving back to the company. 

When I coached college basketball, the first question that I asked in my interview process was, “What is your procedure for handling parents who accuse the coach of wrongdoing?” What I wanted was a fair process—not a black check to commit corrupt acts. I wanted to know that I wasn’t going to be thrown to the wolves. If you’ve never faced an angry sports parent, then consider yourself fortunate. They can be ruthless in their attacks as can an angry customer.

No person working should have to face unjustified attacks. Your responsibility as a leader is to protect them from the “arrows and bullets” that could harm them emotionally or physically.

The road to success in any organization is to focus on your team members first so that they can focus on creating better service, products, and profit. While the concept is not always easy, it is the best path forward for creating a team who wins at the highest levels.


**Sherry Winn is a Two-Time Olympian, National Championship Coach, and an author of three best selling books.