Putting Others First

By Tom Dossenbach

I was asked once what was the single most important piece of advice I had to give young managers in the woodworking industry today. After some reflection, my answer was then and remains today — “put others first.”

I have been observing great leaders in the woodworking industry since about 1960. I remember, without exception, those who made me feel special as being the greatest leaders.

Who Would You Rather Work For?

Ask these questions — Would you rather work for:

• A self-centered manager OR one who genuinely puts your interests first?

• A supervisor who talks all of the time OR one who listens intently to what you have to say?

• A manager who has all of the answers OR one who looks to you for solutions?

• Someone who leaves early to play golf OR who stays late to help you meet a deadline?

• A supervisor who takes credit for your accomplishments OR one who openly gives you the credit?

• A manager who jumps ahead of you OR one who holds the door and lets you go first?

• Someone who talks about his or her family and weekend OR one who asks about yours?

• A manager who says it is not their responsibility OR one who pitches in to help anyway?

• Someone who points the finger at you OR one who accepts responsibility, regardless?

• One who barks orders OR one who is not afraid of the word “please?”


Their words and actions said to me that I was important to them and that they respected my ideas. They always had something good to say about everyone and never seemed to criticize others openly. They were the kind of people you wanted to call friends. Even more so, they were the people you wanted to emulate. They were always putting others first.

Yes, that is the advice: be like them and always put others first.

To test this advice, ask yourself what type of person (supervisor or manager) you are more likely to admire and follow? Go to the side bar at right now to view some questions in this regard.

When you consider and then answer those questions honestly you will, no doubt, indicate your preference for a person who puts others first in his or her life. These are the ones with which you want to work.

Where do you fit as a manager? How do you feel about putting others first? Let’s look at a few groups of ‘others’ and see what you think.

Putting Employees First

Where would your company be today without its loyal and happy employees? How effective would the company be with only disgruntled employees and a 50% annual turnover rate?

Caring about them enough to provide a good working environment with the tools and equipment needed is essential if they are going to feel an important part of the company. Employees know where they stand. If you ignore them until you need them to help you out in a crisis, you are telling them that you come first. On the other hand, if you elevate them higher than yourself, they will respond with loyalty and dedicated service to you and the company you represent.

This seems so obvious but the truth is that many companies are filled with supervisors and managers who act as taskmasters rather than managers. You cannot be a good manager without compassion and you cannot have compassion without truly putting others before yourself. You may have pity or feel sorrow for someone, but you cannot display compassion, as long as you always put yourself first.

Putting Average Workers First

How do you put the average plant employee first? Some incorrectly rationalize that: “After all, I am the boss so everyone else needs to listen to what I have to say. I am the one with all of the pressure. I am the one who makes the decisions. I, I, I, …”

Your goal as a manager or supervisor is to accomplish the most you can through those whom you manage. Your workers will follow you through fire if they know you really care for them. If you give the impression that they are no more to you than laborers, they will not be inclined to give you 100% — much less 110%.

If you live in the “I mode” most of the time they will see and feel it. If you take the credit for what they accomplish in cost reductions, for example, they will cease to be creative. This can result in failure as a manager or supervisor. Sadly, it happens every day.

Putting the Boss First

As a manager, do you constantly try to make your boss look good to others? This should be a constant major goal of your career because if the boss looks good in the eyes of others, you are doing your job well. Unfortunately, our tendency is to let jealousy cloud our judgment here.

There is no higher loyalty than to work to make those above you successful. This is true even if your own manager does not believe in putting others first. By rising above this, you will strengthen your company and improve its long-term viability.

Putting Family First

Don’t forget, your family should be the most important “others” in your life. But all too often we place them last. When I was younger, I let many “others” and their demands on my time take priority over those of my family when I shouldn’t have.

I insist family should come before career. Doing what’s best for family should be the ultimate determining factor in making career decisions. Don’t get me wrong, your job is important and there may be times when you have to be at work when you would rather be doing a family thing. The point is that there has to be balance — balance that guarantees none of your family perceives you as caring more about your job than about them.

There are some woodworking companies that expect their managers to forsake all others for the good of the firm. Unfortunately, some families have suffered break-ups in this corporate environment. A manager with balance in his or her life will be able to manage the occasional conflicts between job and family. If not, something is wrong and a serious look at the situation is needed before it leads to disaster in one area or the other.

Putting Customers First

Even though we generally do not work directly with customers in our industry, we always need to put their interests before our own.

When confronted with a choice between our convenience and that of the customer — choose the latter — you will not go wrong. It is better to work overtime or do a job again correctly than to ignore a problem that is to surely surface later. Dealers, distributors and end-users know when you put them first and they reward that with brand loyalty.

By putting the customer first, you are also putting your employees, the average worker, company and family first because you are helping secure future business and thus future jobs. What better group to put first?


To be successful as a manager or a supervisor, you must have the respect of others. If you don’t have this, you have nothing and are ineffective at best in your job. You must think of others more than you think of yourself if you are going to be respected by those around you. During my career in the woodworking industry, I have seen young supervisors and managers assume new responsibilities with a big head and a small heart. Those who survived and excelled developed a big heart and a small head.

I have heard the rationale before that if you put others first, they will just take advantage of you. My reply to this logic is that if you freely give by putting others first, no one takes anything from you. You see, one cannot take away what you have already given them.

It’s never too late. Master the courage to put others first. You will become an awesome manager.

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