Why Playing The “If Just One Person” Card Is A Losing Leadership Game

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As a leader, playing the “If just one person” card is one of the weakest ways to justify a decision. It shows that you are holding a weak hand.

Playing the “If just one person” card seems to be a growing trend among many organizations, and it comes from a false formula in many aspects of the resource distribution process.

Spot the card, before it is dealt

Playing the “if just one person card” typically unfolds in this manner. During the budgeting process someone will notice an unusually large dollar figure attached to a new or unproven initiative.

The defender of the line item will then apply this logic. “Hey, if even one person is helped by this, it will have been worth it!”

The same reasoning pops up in other resource discussions too, such as:

  • If just one person hears about our company because of this marketing campaign…

  • If just one person agrees to start supporting our cause…

  • If just one person signs up for this program…

You get the idea. Put your radar on “full alert” when you start to hear “if just one person” language in your organization.

Recognize why the logic is faulty

In reality there is a dangerous false economy at work here. Suppose, for example, the line item is for $20,000 and it is being justified on the “If Just One Person” logic. But could there have been a far more effective initiative which, for that same $20,000, could have connected with 10 people? Or 20? Or 100?

Know how to respond

Those who toss the “if just one person” line into the resource conversation often place a very high value on the importance of each individual who can be reached or impacted through the organization. That is a value worthy of respect.

They key is to respond with the equally important value of good stewardship. Have the courage to point out that there is still a leadership responsibility at play which requires a maximum return on each dollar.

The stewardship value doesn’t negate the value of the individual; it simply places it in a proper context. Point out that the right to impact each individual is earned through the process of maximizing the return on each investment.

Why is this a big deal?

Maximizing resources is a vital leadership responsibility. And it requires playing the strongest leadership hand possible.

So be sure that you don’t lead by playing the “If just one person” card.

the author

Scott Cochrane

Lifelong learner, practitioner and coach of leadership, across more than 50 countries. Follower of Jesus, husband of Nora, grateful parent and grandparent.

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