What Elementary Math Taught Me About Organizational Leadership

Remember learning how to do math back in elementary school? Remember learning about the order of operations? It was probably the first real advanced math we were introduced to. We learned addition and subtraction but now we were dealing with division, multiplication and having all of them in the same math problems. As a seven or eight-year-old, our minds were blown. I had the privilege of relearning this the past few months as my daughter experienced it for the first time. Needless to say, things were a little rusty.

Do you start on the left and make your way right? Do you start on the right and go left? Do you start with the parenthesis? The way you approach solving the problem has a direct impact on the result you get. Solve it the wrong way and you will get an unintended result.

For example, take this simple math problem.

Solving using order of operations rules: 4 × (5 + 3) = 4 × 8 = 32 (Correct)

Solving from left to right: 4 × (5 + 3) = 20 + 3 = 23 (Incorrect)

Similar to math, there is an effective sequence we can follow when leading others. If we get it right, we will reap the outcome. If we get it wrong, we will also reap an outcome, it just won’t be the outcome we intended or desired.

When we get the leadership order of operations right, the results manifest themselves through increased employee engagement, increased team health, effective and efficient communication, people want to be and stay on your team, collaboration goes up, unneeded conflict goes down and the results your team delivers are both effective and efficient. We all want to lead and be on a team that has those characteristics.

When we get it wrong, the opposite can be felt. Employee engagement could decrease or waver, the team could show signs of breakdown, communication is challenging, collaboration is challenging, unhealthy conflict rears it’s head and seems to follow your team around and people may start to look for a new team. Delivery of business results suffer and strategy slows down.

Getting the leadership order of operations correct not only leads to the desired outcome and result, it also helps the team and organization go faster. Think about the drivers slowing down you or your team today. Think about how much time is spent dealing with issues that could be avoided or prevented. My guess, based on my coaching experience, many of these drivers are a result of getting the leadership order of operations out of order.

Leadership Order of Operations

Here is the leadership order of operations I learned and developed through the years of managing various operational business units. If followed, it can help you and your team go further, faster as you work to make your contribution to your organization.

(Lead Me First x Develop My Team) x Delivery Business Results = Your Desired Leadership Outcome

Step One: Lead Me First

Being a great people leader starts with leading yourself first. This might sound strange or a little backwards. You might be thinking, “I thought the people leader was supposed to the lead their team or business first?”. That is a fair thought, but the most important and first person you need to lead is yourself.

If you are not healthy as a leader, your ability to develop your team and deliver business results will be negatively impacted and more difficult. You have to put your own oxygen mask on first so you are equipped and prepared to help others around you. Get this out of order or neglect to pay attention to your own health and growth will most likely lead to an unintended outcome and slow you and your team down.

For more insight into what it means to Lead Me First, check out this post — The Role of a Manager: #1 Lead Me First.

Step Two: Develop My Team

Developing your team enables you to more effectively and efficiently deliver your business results. You do not have to search too hard to find tons of research that shows an engaged and developed team will beat a disengaged, underdeveloped team every time in regards to delivering results.

When your team is growing, motivated, working from their strengths, doing the type of work that energizes them, is clear on performance expectations and how they are doing at any given time, has a clear career plan and path, and trusts you and their teammates, they are more likely to be engaged and their work quality will increase. Your team works better together and much of what slows teams down is minimized or removed.

Your role as people leader is to create a culture and management system that helps the people on your team, and your team as a whole, grow so they become more advanced and reach their full potential under your care. If they are operating this way, delivering business results becomes much easier, faster and efficient. Everyone wins.

For more insight into what it means to Develop My Team, check out this post — The Role of a Manager: #2 Develop My Team.

Step Three: Deliver Business Results

We all have a job to do. We all have an expected contribution our team makes to the overall organization. We have results we are expected to deliver. To go further, faster, we need to get this step in the right order, so we get the intended results. This step can go much faster if we get step one and two right. Again, this is the step in the brightest spotlight and the most talked about. It requires our focus but needs to be focused on in the right order.

For more insight into what it means to Develop My Team, check out this post — The Role of a Manager: #3 Deliver Business Results.

The leadership order of operations works. When I work with unhealthy teams, this is where I start. If the leader and team are unhealthy, I am not surprised to hear their results are also suffering. The sequence matters and has a direct impact on the end results. It really is that simple, although simple does not equate to easy. It takes effort. It takes intentionality. It takes commitment. We reap what we sow. If you want to reap leadership success, then sow these three steps in this order.




Leader. Storyteller. My passion is to inspire and instruct others on how to go further faster and live their purpose.

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Corey Towe

Corey Towe

Leader. Storyteller. My passion is to inspire and instruct others on how to go further faster and live their purpose.

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