I’ve always believed that successful companies are built on the backs of extraordinary people. It’s also something I’ve learned as an entrepreneur and business leader.These extraordinary people—or “pillar people” as I like to call them—are so amazing that they enable you to build and grow a thriving business. I’m in a professional services firm. At the end of the day, it’s a people business. Pillar people are critical in organizations like my own. But I’ve seen pillar people in all types of industries and company sizes.
My colleagues and I honored a pillar person in our own company this past week. We held a farewell reception for our colleague Lynn who retired. She and I have been colleagues for almost two decades, a staggering amount of time by today’s standards. In our time together, we lived through 13 acquisitions.
I was asked to provide a few remarks. When I thought about Lynn and her impact on our company, I told the folks in attendance how she helped define for me exactly what a “pillar person” can do for an organization. When I first joined the company, I recognized how strong she was. I also saw how she was the “go to” person for so many consultants and clients. She was always present, always willing to support others, and fully committed to the success of our company.
After the reception, I reflected more on the pillar people I’ve had the privilege of working with over my career. As I thought about these people, I realized they shared many similar qualities.
- They are extremely dependable. You can count on them to get the job done, whatever the job. They don’t whine. They don’t think any job is beneath them. They realize the job is important to the success of the company and they get busy.
- They are invested. They believe deeply in the company’s purpose and mission. They show up every day with zeal and enthusiasm. Their energy is contagious. I also find age doesn’t matter. I’ve worked with 60-year-old colleagues who have more energy and passion than some 20-year-olds.
- They lead. They are often the true leaders in a company. They may not even have the job title, but they don’t let that stop them from stepping up, being accountable and taking charge when it’s needed.
- They unleash discretionary effort. Engagement is never an issue. In fact, they don’t even know what being disengaged looks or feels like. Now, there are tough days. We all have them. But pillar people find a way to manage themselves through the tough days and get focused on being the best they can be.
- They are adaptable. As the company enters different stages of growth and maturity, pillar people always find a way to ensure they are relevant and have impact. They have long staying power and rise to every challenge.
- They are balanced. They work hard, but I find they have interests beyond work. Whether it’s family, a social cause or creative passion, they are well-rounded people. This helps them bring a sense of fun to the workplace.
You would think that most leaders would be pretty focused on knowing who their pillar people are and taking care of them. But in my experience, these people are sometimes the most overlooked employees in a company. Some managers simply treat them as work horses. They keep piling on the work, knowing they will do it, with little recognition or appreciation.
I find one of the tragic moments in a company is when a pillar person decides to leave because they were ignored, over-worked or taken for granted.
Please don’t be one of those leaders. Instead, take time to reflect on the pillar people in your company. People so extraordinary that if you lost them, your business would suffer.
Do you even know who your pillar people are? How are you treating them? Are they being ignored? Do you find ways to acknowledge their commitment and loyalty to you and the company?
Best look after the pillar people. Otherwise, they’ll leave and you’ll have a lot of trouble finding someone to take their place.
This week’s Gut Check for Leaders asks: Who are your pillar people?