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Leadership lessons from the White House Fellows: Put your people first

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Today’s guest post is by Charles Garcia, a former White House Fellow and author of “Leadership Lessons of the White House Fellows: Learn How to Inspire Others, Achieve Greatness, and Find Success in Any Organization.”

Never has it been more obvious that people are the heart and soul of any business. As a leader, making sure they know that is your key to success. If you put your people first, the payback is unbelievable. Not only will they be more motivated, but they’ll remain loyal to your company even when you can’t always financially reward them for their great work.

No organization is better than the people who run it. No matter whether you’re a manager, CEO, or an HR professional you are in the people business — the business of hiring, training, and managing people to deliver the product or service your company provides. If the people are the engine of your success, to be a great leader you need to attend to your people with a laserlike focus.

Mitchell Reiss (WHF 88-89) has seen firsthand that a leader’s focus on his or her people is an incredibly powerful tool. He learned that valuable lesson during his White House Fellowship from his principal, former National Security Advisor, former secretary of state and former White House Fellow Colin Powell.

“Two weeks after I started my Fellowship, there was a picnic over the weekend for the National Security Council staff and their families,” Reiss recalled. “We got there promptly, but Gen. Powell was already there helping set up, helping cook the burgers and hot dogs, and personally greeting every single person, not just on the staff but their families. He came over to me and knew not only my name but introduced himself to my wife, Elisabeth, and thanked her for allowing me to work the hours that I worked at the NSC. He told her she should feel that she is part of the NSC family as well.

“That very brief but very personal interaction with Powell had an extraordinary impact on her. After he left, she turned to me and said, ‘You better do a good job for that man. If you need to stay late at work, I will never complain.’ That’s the sort of transformative impact that leadership can have, and I was able to see it up close and personal with Colin Powell.”

Powell’s leadership style is proof that no matter how busy and important you are there is much gratitude to be shown to those working for and with you. Show it to them and they will want to do great work for you.