The Leadership Investment

Leading InvestingI remember a time as a young platoon leader when I felt more like a liability than an asset.

We had just redeployed to Germany from Bosnia and I was swamped. I had to find a new apartment, pick up my car from the port, complete a slew of professional training — oh, and still do my job. When I told my company commander I felt like I wasn’t contributing enough at work because of all these other demands, his reply was quick and direct. “Geoff,” he said, “relax, take the time now to do what you need to do. You’re an investment.”

That last sentence hit me. You’re an investment. It put everything in perspective. I didn’t need to prove my worth to my boss, he knew my worth — probably better than me. In fact, he didn’t just know my present worth, he believed in what I would someday be.

How do you see your followers? Are they people you get to invest in or are they people you have to spend time and energy on? Are you an Investor or a Spender?

  • Investors look to Multiply Value. When I was a platoon leader all I saw in the mirror was a green lieutenant. My company commander, thankfully, saw a future captain. To him, my job wasn’t just to lead one of his platoons. My job was to learn how to lead a company someday. Investors seek to make others more valuable — to themselves and to the organization. Spenders just want to extract value from others.
  • Investors take the Long View. My three-year-old spilled milk all over the table this morning trying to put it on his cereal. Our response as parents? No problem, he can clean it up and try again tomorrow. A little spilled milk is a small price to pay for my son learning that he’s free to try things out, make honest mistakes, clean them up and move on. Investors focus on long-term growth. Spenders look for the quick return: What’s the most I can get today for the least cost?
  • Investors Start Early. It’s never too early to give someone a chance. You can groom people for leadership at any level — if they’re willing and able. Enable them to grow into their potential. Investors look for what could be. Spenders are only interested in sure bets.

So start investing in your people today — the dividends are well worth it!

What are some other ways to invest in people?

13 thoughts on “The Leadership Investment”

  1. Geoff,

    Thanks for the encouragement. I’m emailing my leadership team to gather a few names of people I should invest in.

    One of the things I consistently do is express confidence in emerging leaders. I’m not shy in saying, “I believe in you.” It’s amazing how powerful belief in others can be.

    Thanks for all you do. Have a great week.


    1. Sounds great, Dan. I’m always encouraged by the story of Gideon in Judges – when the angel finds him threshing wheat in a winepress and says, “Greetings, Mighty Warrior.” Talk about seeing potential!

    1. Thanks for the encouragement, Vincent. As for adding value, I’d remember that you can lead (and invest) in all directions – up, down, and sideways. Any opportunity you have to serve someone else is an opportunity to lead them and add value.

      Thanks again for sharing.

  2. Geoff,

    My former cadets are now Company commanders. They still call when they are stuck in a rut that they don’t know how to get out of.

    I try to keep in mind that they are always getting ready for the next challenge.
    In my new career I need to continue to remember that the dynamic might different but the intent is still the same.

    Building up those who will some day move on to new challenges.


    1. Absolutely, Matt. We are not static beings, we’re all moving somewhere. If we’re not, we’re dead. Might as well “skate to where the puck is going to be” as Wayne Gretzky would say.

  3. Ha, yes I was a liability too when i first started on the trading floor. Lower than “whale scum”!. It was very humbling.
    But I do remember some of the older guys regarded the trainees warily, because they were afraid one of us could be their boss someday. But my boss wisely told me: “Take your time, learn to do it right. You’re going to do just fine, so don’t worry about rushing your performance quota. Learn to do it right and it will all fall into place over the years.”

  4. Excellent framing Geoff. This is one of my greatest complaints with the near-term focus at the exclusion of long-term investments so popular in modern business. Servant leaders invest in people, Toxic leaders spend their people resources. I suppose there is an optimal balance to sustain success. However, I also wrote about how many toxic leaders “Steal from Tomorrow” – another take on your spending.

    Excellent post and framing – thank you for sharing Geoff!

  5. That’s a great story of how those simple words “You’re an investment.” impacted your life in a positive way. I had a friend, who was a professor at the university I worked for, tell me I could succeed at anything I set my mind to. Those words have kept me going during difficult times and your story reminded me of them. Thank you.

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