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The courage of “First Who”

I’ve long had an appreciation for Jim Collin’s work, Good to Great.  Friesen Group has done research in the non-profit sector using Collin’s hypothesis about Level 5 Leaders.  Our thirteen year-old has been coming home from summer basketball preaching the Good to Great principles as set out by his coaches – the book is now in his summer reading pile.  And yet, outside of books and magazine articles, I have never personally known anyone who practiced the principle of “First Who, Then What“.

Then this past weekend, I had an opportunity to have a conversation with the leader of an organization I have been privileged to work with a couple of years ago. He told me the story of his latest personnel hire.  I was stopped short when he said, “I did it without having a job description for the position.”  His goal is to allow the person to use their knowledge and skills within the organization  to develop something new; to allow their work within the organization to emerge rather than trying to shoehorn them into a specific, existing job function. It’s a classic example of, “first who, then what.”

In a month when a friend encounters multiple organizations who are screening job applicants based on an exact, computer keyword match to a job description, and using interview check sheets that further reward the use of keywords and stories that represent specific behavioral norms, I am challenged by this conversation.  In a week when I’ve been asked how an organization can go about developing a standardized training system for getting people to conform to their definition of leader, I am challenged by this conversation.  In a day when I wonder how best to continue growing our own organization, I am challenged by this conversation.

First who … not a clone of someone already here, not someone who can conform, but …  first who. There is power in practicing what we preach.

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