If You Don’t Care About Your People, Then Leadership Might Not Be for You

In our last blog, we explored winning habits that separate highly effective leaders from average ones. This week, we are pivoting to a fundamental aspect of leadership that we have indirectly talked about throughout the years through the lens of empathy and compassion. Caring about your people and their success is fundamental to your success as a leader. Let’s explore what this means.

If you do not care about your people and their success, then perhaps leadership isn’t for you.  

We strongly believe that it is the softer side of leadership that is the differentiating factor between those who are exceptional leaders vs. average ones. The hard skills matter, but what differentiates high-performing leaders from average ones are soft skills such as emotional intelligence (EQ), self-awareness, compassion, empathy, and care.  

If you have been following our blogs and articles as well as other experts in the leadership space, you know skills like these are critically important to be an effective leader.  But what does it mean to care from a leadership perspective? 

Definition of Caring from a Leadership Perspective

A caring leader is someone who knows how to create a safe space where people feel heard, valued, appreciated, and supported. They use their EQ muscles (empathy) to show genuine care about how others are feeling and take an active interest in supporting others’ success. We all learned the basic lesson from our parents, and in kindergarten class, to treat others as we expect to be treated, yet sometimes we forget this simple concept in the workplace when stress kicks in and there is pressure to perform and deliver results.

Heather Younger, author of The Art of Caring Leadership: How Leading with Heart Uplifts Teams and Organizations suggests that if you are looking for increased productivity, customer satisfaction, or employee engagement, you need to care for your employees first. People will go the extra mile for leaders who show they are genuinely concerned, not just with what employees can do, but with who they are and can become. But while most leaders think of themselves as caring leaders, not all demonstrate care in consistent ways. Sometimes there is a gap between how we perceive our intentions vs. how others perceive our actions. Be mindful that your employees will judge you by your actions, not your intentions.

The book outlines nine core leadership behaviors (and a variety of sub-behaviors) that show how leaders can make all employees feel included and cared for. It also emphasizes that each leader should express caring in their own unique way, leverage their own strengths and style to show authentic care for others.  

This isn’t a checklist or process you can follow as it must come from the heart. A caring leader leads with people being their primary focus in everything they do. Heart-centered leadership enables a foundation for engagement, inclusivity, and high performance.  

Leaders who stand out from their peers are leaders who genuinely see caring as imperative for the collective success – their own, their employees and their organization.  

Theodore Roosevelt said it best: “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

9 Leadership Behaviors That Show You Care

1. Cultivate Self-Leadership Skills 

Leadership is an inside out job; it starts with leading yourself first. Caring leaders are highly self-aware, emotionally astute, and know how to collaborate with others in a way that creates that safe space, “I got your back” feeling for their people, but it starts by being in tune and comfortable with who you are as a human being.

2. Create a Listening Culture 

When people feel heard and valued, amazing things start to happen within teams and organizations. Listening sends the message that I value you as a person, and I care about your success and happiness.

3. Lead the Whole Person 

We have written a lot about the power of relationships and having a human connection with our people. It starts by embracing who you are, your “story” and being willing to show others who you are in all aspects of your life.  

When we lead with openness, vulnerability, and are willing to show others who we are, it will naturally be reciprocated – that is where true human connection lives. Empathy allows us to connect to each other’s stories and as leaders, you need to know what drives the “whole person” not just the role they play inside the organization.

4. Empower People to Make Decisions

Are you creating a culture that embraces the opportunity for others to make decisions and fail fast? This helps foster true accountability and ownership that breeds a learning culture within teams and organizations.  

No one wants to be micromanaged. Your role as a leader is to train your people well, give them the tools and resources they need to perform to the best of their ability, and then be there to support them. That is where accountability and high performance live.

5. Build Their Resilience 

Fostering and building resilience in others starts by building your own resilience muscles first. Do you have an effective self-care routine that fuels you to perform well through the highs and lows of life and work? Resilience is at the core of being able to perform well and manage our forever changing lives, both personally and professionally.

6. Make Them Feel Important

Everyone has the basic need of wanting to feel valued in some shape or form. What is needed to create that feeling of “I am valued”; “I am important”, and “I matter” will vary from person to person. It is your responsibility to figure out how to fill each employee's cup with appreciation, recognition, and send the message that they are important and are appreciated.

7. Look for Greatness in Those We Lead

We are raving fans of the strength-based leadership philosophy. If you look for great things in others, guess what you will get in return? Great things such as engagement, performance, and commitment. What makes your employees so awesome? Have you tapped into their strengths or are you only focusing on areas of opportunity and what needs improvement? Don’t get me wrong, we need to strike the right balance between focusing on people’s strengths and areas for growth, but if you are constantly looking at things through a critical lens you will miss out on the greatness they have to offer, no matter how small or large those contributions are.

8. Provide Safe Spaces

Feeling psychologically safe to speak your mind and contribute, without fear of retribution, is key to creating a culture of high performance and engagement. Plus, it sends the message that you care. You care about what they have to say. You care about how they feel. You care about them as a human being. This works in partnership with the other core behaviors such as creating a listening culture, empowering them to make decisions and making them feel valued and important. These behaviors work in conjunction with one another, and providing a safe space is a key component to all of them.

9. Involve Them 

Are you making decisions in isolation and not involving your people? If you think you have the best ideas, then you’re probably leading with ego, bravado, and the ‘follow me’ hero mentality. That is old-school thinking and will not get you very far in today’s modern world of work.

When people are involved and contributing to all aspects of your business, you will be more innovative, agile, and leading and managing day-to-day changes will be accepted more readily. Today’s world demands inclusive leadership, and your people will appreciate you for it, too.

The ROI of Caring Leadership

As noted in a recent Forbes article, there is a direct correlation between how we treat our employees and the outcome of their productivity. Employees who feel valued have less absenteeism, there are lower attrition rates, and we spend less time and money on retraining and hiring employees, just to name a few of the benefits.

Happy employees result in happy customers, which equates to repeat business, and hopefully additional referrals to your company. If you haven’t done the analysis on the bottom-line costs and impact on your business, it’s high time you do.  

Is Caring Part of Your DNA and Workplace Culture? 

Caring is, without a doubt, one of the most essential soft skills for leaders to possess. Without it, your relationships will feel transactional, which will work against fostering employee engagement and a high-performance culture. Remember to lead not only with your head but your heart. Show your people you care about them and their success.

What are your thoughts about caring leadership? Feel free to contact me today at 416-560-1806 or send me an email at joanne.trotta@leadersedgeinc.ca. I’m looking forward to hearing from you!

Ready to partner with LeadersEdge to drive organizational performance?

connect with us