Maureen Anderson’s Doing What Works has become one of my favorite podcasts. I just sat down with her again to talk about one of the most valuable leadership traits: the power to inspire. Listen to our discussion about how inspirational leaders do it here.


Business priorities generally fall into five categories: budget, productivity, quality, safety, and morale. Too often, we frame these distinctions as competing business problems when they actually represent five equal and different lenses through which we assess our organizations.

To put it another way: budget, productivity, quality, safety, and morale are evenly matched, equally necessary ingredients in every organization. Think of them as inseparable polarities, interdependent and impossible to ever resolve in any kind of final sense. Our work in these categories is never done. We must simultaneously balance them to achieve and then sustain extraordinary business performance.

The five priorities do share a common dual purpose: quality of life and livelihood for the organization and the people in it.

Balance is key. If we overemphasize one priority over others, negative consequences unfold. It’s actually a profound comfort to realize we don’t have to choose budget over morale or productivity over safety, as many of us have been made to believe over the years. That choice is a false dilemma that has been perpetuated for far too long.

Once we understand that we want balance, a need for heightened self-awareness comes into play. We can cause imbalances in our organizations unintentionally, simply because each of us tends to prefer a certain viewpoint. One person will naturally be a safety advocate, another a proponent of productivity, and still another a born budget hawk. Most people elevate a particular priority because we all crave work that means something, and using our natural gifts or inclinations to help the organization can give us a sense of higher purpose and/or control.

As we claim and cultivate our territory, we become sensitive to and even tend to fear the pitfalls we’ve experienced when the organization overemphasizes one of the “competing” priorities, and then clutch to our own priority even tighter.

Leaders, if you can grasp this basic human psychology, you can empathize with your team as you guide them toward balancing all five priorities. Be compassionate. Try to understand every individual’s motivations and listen to their concerns. In both group interactions and one-on-one check-ins, stress that every person has simply chosen a different means, different language, or different route by which to accomplish it. When workplace rapport is good and leaders listen well, advocates for a particular priority can become the “leading indicators”––the “alarms” that signal when our organization has tipped the scale too heavily in another direction.

Finally, as you hammer home that all five priorities are equally important, emphasize the goal you all share most of all: the wellbeing of the organization and your people.

“When it comes to polarities, if either side wins, both lose.” – Barry Johnson, Ph.D.