My friend, we manage things, we lead people. This is a maxim of leadership I believe completely. Let me say it again: we manage things, we lead people.

Now, we know what it means to manage things. We develop systems to get the right boxes or vehicles or gravel or parts to the right places at the right time. We oversee square footage. We maintain the best IT. This is managing things. Some version of this is essential to all we do in leadership.

Yet, what does it mean to lead people? Don’t give me a textbook, Twitter-length answer to this. What does it mean to lead people?

I want to suggest that leading people means knowing them, calling them to their best, drawing out their highest skills, teaming them with other people who are pursuing their best, and coaching them toward the fulfillment of galvanizing goals. Oh, and leading them well means rewarding them well for their labors, too.

Here is where I’m heading with this: take a look at the first two words in the series I laid out in the previous paragraph. “Knowing them.” If we mean more than casually knowing some things about the people we work with, what does “knowing them” mean?

I don’t often drill down into my religious life in these Leading Thoughts, but I want to in this case. The reason is that it is a feature of my faith that allows me to “know” well the folks I work with.

You see, nearly every day of my life, I pray for those I work with. I think about them. I think about what I know of their lives. I ponder needs they’ve expressed, challenges they may be facing. I add my own understanding of, say, what it might mean for a child to go off to college or what it might mean to be battling a health crisis. And I pray for them.

Now, I realize that not everyone who reads these Leading Thoughts is a person of prayer. No problem. You are welcome, as you know. But I strongly urge that everyone who wants to be a great leader has some version of my prayer time when it comes to each person on their team.

This is because when I pray for my team, I’m not only asking God to work in their lives for their good, I’m also thinking about them. I’m scanning the circumstances of their lives. I’m standing at their side, so to speak, pondering their lives as though from inside. It helps me understand them. It helps me “feel” for them. It makes me aware of dreams, challenges, and victories I might otherwise miss. I remember things they’ve told me and I recall the forces that define them.

In short, I gain perspective, compassion, and wisdom regarding them. It helps me lead them and team with them better. Even at a merely human level, it allows me to engage them more meaningfully. When I add in what I believe about a God who loves them and answers prayer, it is all a powerful part of my relationship with each member of my team.

Here is the challenge for you: What is your version of this? Even if you think prayer is silly, do you think about your team members? Do you ponder their lives? Do you stand at their side, so to speak, and work to understand them, to pull in their direction and for their good?

I strongly urge you to have your version of this. Ponder/Pray/Recall/Imagine everyone on your team. Do it regularly. Do it sincerely. See what surfaces that helps you help them to their best so that all you lead arises to its best.