leadership lane-assistOur My Leadership Lane-Assist series continues. I’ve been talking about principles — or perhaps I might better say promptings that my accumulated experience has built into my instinctive leadership sensibilities. Ready to continue? Here goes …

Peter Drucker, widely regarded to be one of the Twentieth Century’s most influential thinkers about business and management, had this to say about management: 80% of management is allocation of resources.

My four decades serving in a variety of higher education institutional management roles inclines me to agree with Drucker. Perhaps the percentage is debatable, but the assertion that a major requirement of a manager is to allocate limited resources to maximum effect rings true to my reflected-upon experience. A 2019 Council of Independent Colleges study cited in University Business found that small college chief academic officers reported substantial increases in time spent in financial and resource management, with 40% ranking it their most time consuming activity. I expect that you might reach the same conclusion if you reflect upon your own management experiences. You spend a lot of time and effort weighing and responding to requests for resources. I have managed units ranging from 2 employees and 5-figure budgets to hundreds of employees, thousands of “customers” and 8-figure budgets. Drucker’s observation seems to me to apply regardless of the scale and scope of management responsibility.

pitiful dogThe picture alongside this text says it all. One way to describe my reality is that of a constant stream of pitiable petitioners begging for more resources. In the setting of my educational institution leadership, annual budget time intensified the pathos. “We need another person!” was central to the budget request of every department. The need was often palpably urgent and the request cogent. Nevertheless, as someone said, “Non-profit is a tax designation, not a mission statement.” Expenses can’t habitually exceed income. And so, I was left with the unenviable task of — under the best circumstances — deciding which of the many justifiable requests for additional personnel could possibly be funded in light of our resource limitations.

Sound familiar?

No matter how abundant your resources, highly leveraged allocation of those resources remains central to the faithful exercise of your management and leadership responsibility.

You will be forced to make very hard choices. I am confident I am telling you nothing new here.

But here is where I would like to inject some hard-won leadership insight: when it comes to considering how best to allocate your limited resources,


Don’t add people until you ensure optimal investment in
training and equipping the people you already have.


It sounds so obvious when I say it, but you would be surprised — or perhaps you wouldn’t — to realize how seldom our resource allocation habits align with the above axiom.

Learn to say this to your budget officers: Do not submit a request for additional personnel to me unless you are prepared to demonstrate to me that your budget includes optimal training and equipment for yourself and your current staff. I might add that employees who resist additional training and technology advances should not be retained — at the very least not promoted or otherwise rewarded.

saw blade being sharpenedSteven Covey’s classic, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, lists “sharpening the saw” among those habits absolutely essential to long term effectiveness. What goes for you personally also goes for your organization. Sharpening the saw needs to become an imbedded organizational value. When you permit “undertrained, underequipped” to pervade your institutional culture, you are unwittingly breeding mediocrity even as you are wasting (you heard it, wasting) precious resources. Does your budget provide for, incentivize, prioritize, and reward optimal training and equipping?

Years ago, though I have forgotten the source, I glommed onto this nugget of personal and organizational financial management: there is a difference between an investment and an expense. Simply — and perhaps crassly put — training and equipping are investments; adding people to your payroll is an expense. Not a one-time expense but an ongoing expense, another mouth to feed. Don’t get me wrong. The right people are your most valuable resources.

It’s interesting how often we pray for scarce financial resources and praise God when He provides them, all the while forgetting that mission-fit people are likely far more valuable and difficult to acquire than dollars.


That said, I reiterate that wise resource allocation requires that you learn to ask yourself and your colleagues whether an investment in training and equipping is preferable to the expense of an additional staff member. I submit this principle for your careful cultivation and habitual consideration when it comes to your central resource allocation responsibility:

Don’t add people until you ensure optimal investment in
training and equipping the people you already have.


If you’ve missed any posts from my Leadership Lane-Assist series, you can find them in our 4ThoughtLeaders blog pages.  Or, if you’re just tuning in, you may want to start from the beginning of the series with my Leadership Lane-Assist introductory post.

Fresh gleanings to fuel your leadership awareness, reflection, and conversations …


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