I have been engaged in technology since I built my first computer from a kit in 1976. I worked in home electronics repair, built a small but successful telecomm business, and jumped into corporate IT management in the late 1980s. By 1997 I was serving as Chief Information Officer for a rural technical college.

Along the way, I learned that there is no such thing as a technology problem. I have a storage room full of broken computers waiting for the recycler to come and pick them up-no problem. I have one bad computer in the registrar's office with a line of students weaving out the door-big problem. The difference? One situation affects people; the other one does not. I believe that leadership is about people.

Many administrators, managers, and technologists rush in to solve technical problems while assuming people problems will be resolved tangentially.  I often hear leaders talking about business process realignment, maximizing resources, increasing profitability, and a host of other popular ideas. In many ways, technical problems and processes are easy to focus on: they are easily identifiable, can be resolved in a series of discrete steps, and come with metrics designed to measure improvement.  However, people are at the heart of every technical and management issue, and it is people that we as leaders must address and manage.

 On a small scale, when the registrar's computer is broke, solving the issue of serving the students in line seems obvious. Yet time and time again I've watched staff members get tied up in technical minutiae while people go unserved.  In my experience, staff that serve people before technology are more respected, more valued, and much more likely to be relied on for everything from routine calls for assistance to managing crisis situations. As an IT manager, I need to develop staff that recognize the importance of people in the process of deploying and maintaining the technology that serves them.

On a larger scale, decision-making becomes more complicated. Often we cannot understand the complexities of the situation. Think for a minute about balancing inexpensive fossil fuel being consumed to produce low cost goods and services weighed against greenhouse gas emission and the potential effects of global warming. This is not a technical problem, but rather a people problem that will require technical solutions. As leaders, we need to focus on people over process in developing real-world technological solutions. Technology should serve us.

If we tackle technical problems while ignoring people problems, our efforts will likely fail and may result in even more problems. The tradeoffs we make as leaders need to be thought of in the language of people, not revenue, profit, headcount, or other traditional metrics. This, along with a good dose of integrity, can solve our business problems while making the world a better place for everyone.