Tools vs. People

I’m in the process of re-starting the RPI Entrepreneurship Club over the next several months. Creating an organization is difficult, but I’ve come to understand there are two (and probably more) very different ways of going about it. One kind of leader focuses on building the infrastructure for the organization to function well, while the other focuses primarily on the people. Of course, both are necessary for a strong organization, but the different emphases can have a significant impact on the organization’s growth.

When you start with tools, you get a less intimate organization. When people interact through tools, they have different feelings about the other individuals in their organization. The other people are simply text on the screen, as rendered by the tool. Tools allow administrators to enforce policy and lubricate processes, but they don’t inherently encourage interpersonal interaction. An organization’s people are often its greatest asset, and they need to be brought together as much as possible.

A leader who focuses on people first is taking a risk. When you focus on the people, you face a couple of dangers. First, you can misstep and create a negative culture. Second, you can focus too little on the other concerns, such as tools, and end up with a bunch of people getting nothing done. When played correctly, though, a people focus can create a tight-knit, efficient team that accomplishes great things with ease. Once the people are working together well, the tools fall into place. A strong team with good people is the basis of a strong organization, and I believe that a focus on people from the start creates the best kind of organization.

Leadership is hard, and I’m nowhere near good at it. After seven years of trying, I’ve finally gotten to the point where I don’t screw it all up. I think I have an idea at this point of what the right thing is, and I’m striving this semester to work toward effective teams. I believe that the people are far more important to a team than its tools, and focusing too much on tools early on will hurt the team.