The Principle of Before

–Or, give before you get

(Adapted from an earlier article)

So, a physicist, a preacher and an Iman walk into this bar…

Though that has all the makings of a great joke (appropriate apologies to those easily offended), I just wanted to highlight the diverse uses of today’s topic.

The three characters mentioned above are the most frequent users–or at least, most frequently referenced–of the Principle of Before, also referred to as the Empirical Priority Principle. Seems physicists thrive on making complexity from the simple… but I digress. Defined, The Before Principle “…asserts that within the circle of the world, what comes before determines what comes after without exception.”

Lots of examples for this. Battles before victories. Sweat before gains. Planning before execution. Investment before returns.

So, let me add Management Consultant to the list of characters above (luckily, consultants are not easily offended). And let me better, more simply define The Before Principle: “You’ve gotta do this first.” And this applies to Leadership in a big way. For example…

Feedback–you’ve got to give it first to others, before others may be willing to give it to you. And I don’t mean just criticism; positive feedback is information provided solely to help someone grow and improve. Are you doing that today? If not, don’t expect to receive valuable feedback for yourself.

Respect–You receive respect from others, above or below you in the organizational food chain, after you first give them that respect. Listen. Show you care about them. Be courteous. Include when appropriate–or even close to appropriate. Give credit where due, and recognition frequently. Show gratitude, always. Keep your promises. Be on time. Respect isn’t tolerance, nor does it mean you like someone. It’s a positive, ongoing behavior acknowledging someone’s abilities, accomplishments and worth. You don’t deserve respect because of your position, you are afforded the opportunity to show respect for others. Don’t screw that up.

Trust–The holy grail of leadership. We need lots of things to be good at leading; we need trust to lead at all. Frequently called “The currency of leadership,” never is the “Investment before returns” more true. You want folks to trust you? Trust them first. My close friend Richard Fagerlin (author of Trustology) likes to say that trust must be given, never earned. I believe that to be true, but I also believe that trust given freely is usually returned. No, I don’t live in a Pollyanna world, and yes, there are some people simply not trustworthy. For those few, we steal from Ronald Reagan: Trust, but verify. But we still must trust first.

Empower people to do their jobs. Understand that well-thought mistakes are learning events, not cause for a beating. Focus more on outcomes. Realize that more often than not, employees want to do a good job. Our job, then, is to let them. Get better at saying yes. Don’t expect someone to trust you if you haven’t shown them trust first. Ain’t gonna happen.

So, this Principle of Before may not have its roots in leadership vernacular, but it’s pretty darned pertinent for those wanting to lead. It’s actually the very basis of leadership, when you think about it:

Lead first, then others will follow.

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