If You Just Don’t Care Then You Just Can’t Lead

I get asked often what the most important characteristic of leadership is. I determined that most people who asked that had already determined what it was. They wanted confirmation that the one of the characteristics they possessed was the most important. 

Many of the people asking were hoping humility wasn’t the most important. 

My answers to those questions put integrity at the top with judgement a very close second. I put integrity first because in my experience it was a lack of integrity that often caused otherwise sound judgement to go off the rails. But there are other almost as important characteristics for a leader to possess. 

A leader who is missing even a few of those characteristics, so long as integrity is present, can still lead. They will have some deficiencies but those can be overcome by strengths in other characteristics. 

But there is another characteristic of Authentic Leadership that doesn’t get the “ink” that it should. That characteristic is a caring heart. 

One of the truest bits of knowledge I know about Authentic Leadership is this… you can care for people without leading them but it is impossible to lead them without caring for them. 

If you do not care about other people then you cannot lead them. If you do not care about other people then you should not pretend to lead them. If you do not care about other people then you cannot lead…anyone. 

When one of the people who you are responsible for leading asks you for help how do you reply? With “I’m busy right now but as soon as I’m done I’ll help you.” Or with, How can I best help you now?” 

Are you willing to complete your work after you help someone else? Does your success matter more than the success of the people you lead? Do the people you lead get whatever time you have “left over” after you’ve taken care of your own needs? Have you discovered their strengths, hopes, goals and objectives outside of work? Do you see them as an individual or simply an employee? Are you more interested in what they can do for you than you are in what you can do for them? 

Have you ever even asked yourself those questions? 

This quote has been attributed to many people so I won’t attribute it to anyone, just know that it isn’t mine. The quote says “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” 

What are you doing to demonstrate that you care about the people you lead? What are you doing to show people in general that you care about them? One of the surest measures of Authentic Leadership is how the leader treats people who can do nothing for them. 

If you only care for people who can help you succeed then you’re missing the one characteristic of leadership that you must have in order to Authentically Lead.

The Leadership Difference

I’ve met a lot of “leaders” in my lifetime and a few of them actually led. 

If you’re confused by that sentence let me explain. Lots and lots of people hold positions in their organizations that would indicate they are leaders. Many of them have some fancy title that would seem to confirm it. 

Too bad for them that neither a position or title can make them a leader. Even having followers doesn’t actually make someone a leader, at least not an Authentic Leader. People can be coerced into “pretending” to follow. The truth is they are merely complying with orders and directives so they can keep their paychecks coming. 

Authentic Leaders don’t need compliance and they rarely give “orders.” They work to earn the commitment of their people so their people willingly follow them. Enthusiastically follow them. 

The followers of an Authentic Leader follow them because of what the leader has done for them. They follow because the leader makes a positive difference in the lives of the people they lead. 

I’d go so far as to say if you haven’t made a positive difference in the lives of people you think you are leading then you may be their boss but you are not their leader. If you’re not consistently showing the people you lead that you care about them as human beings then you may be their manager but you are not their leader.

If your words do not match your actions then they cannot trust you. If they cannot trust you then they may comply with your demands but they will never be committed to following you. 

If your people believe that you’re using them to advance your own career then you’ll be unable to earn that commitment no matter how high your position or fancy your title. 

So let me ask you this. Can you specifically say how you’ve made a positive difference in the life of someone you’ve led? Can you say how you demonstrate, on a regular basis that your people matter to you and your organization? Can you say when, exactly, was the last time you told them that they matter as an individual? 

If you can’t answer those questions and do so relatively quickly then you have some work to do. You’ll need to invest some time to improve your leadership skills. You likely have to change your thinking as well. Some of all you may even have to develop a heart for leadership. 

The great news is that all that’s possible. To begin all you need to do is make a decision that you will LeadToday!

Profits Before People?

I‘ve had a few interesting discussions of late regarding the subject of generating profits at the expense of an organization’s people. 

So we have a baseline let me say unequivocally that I believe putting profits in front of an organization’s people is incredibly short sighted. You can “get away” with not taking care of your people for the sake of profits in the short-term. But if you’re goal is long-term sustainable profitability you must take care of your people first. 

We have seen a ton of short-term profit driven thinking during the pandemic. As an example, many companies used the pandemic as cover to “eliminate the positions” of older employees. That may have even made some business sense but the savage nature of how they went about it did not. 

Demonstrating without a doubt that you do NOT care about your people doesn’t just affect the people you’ve pushed out the back door. It dramatically affects those left behind as they have been given a preview of their future with the organization. 

One of the clearest examples of the outcome of putting profit before people would be a little company named General Electric. Their leadership team was ruthless in driving continuous year over year profits.  At least until they had so demoralized their workforce that profitability became impossible. 

What companies that put profits above people fail to understand is that their profits come from customers. Customers interact with a company’s people. If the people who work for the company are unhappy it’s virtually impossible for them to make the company’s customers happy. 

Profit first leaders somehow seem to fool themselves into believing that they alone are primarily responsible for their company’s profit. They are not. Let me repeat, they are NOT. 

The other challenge of putting profits before people is that profit first leaders put profits not only before their employees, they put profits before their customers as well. They cut corners on customer service, they cut corners on product quality. They cut corners on caring for their people. Their drive for profits become all consuming right up until the point it consumes the company itself. 

Here’s a simple question. As a leader of a company. Would you rather make one dollar a year for the next 5 years or would you rather make 90 cents a year indefinitely? 

If you do not take care of your people then your people will not take care of the company. That has been proven to be true a million times over. 

The fastest and surest path to long-term sustainable profits is people. Both the people who make and sell your products and the people who buy them. If you ignore and or abuse either one then you may make a buck today but you won’t have two pennies to rub together tomorrow. 

And that my friends is a fact!

Privileged Leaders

There are all types of leaders in the world. Cleary, some are better than others. The worst however are what I would call Privileged Leaders. 

Authentic Servant Leaders see leading others to success as a privilege. Privileged Leaders believe holding a leadership position entitles them to “special” rules not available to those they think they’re leading. They live by the old saying “Rank has it’s privileges.” They make that old saying come to life by providing themselves with many privileges not available to the people they claim to be leading. 

Privileged Leaders will never have the commitment of the people they supposedly lead because they don’t think they need it. Without that commitment they simply cannot lead. 

Privileged Leaders are poor communicators because their different set of rules act as a wall between them and their people. They don’t understand the people they try to lead because they don’t care to understand the people they try to lead. 

They don’t value the people they are supposed to be leading because they see value only in themselves. They don’t listen to the people they hope are following them because…well because they don’t listen to anyone. 

Privileged Leaders believe that their title or position is what makes them special. They believe their income level makes them better human beings. 

Authentic Servant Leaders believe they aren’t special at all. They believe it’s the people they lead who are truly special. They value those people and seek out their advice. They listen, intently, to what they have to say. No amount of money, no title or position will ever make them think they are better than another human being. 

You’ll recognize a Privileged Leader the moment you see them. They will have placed themselves on a pedestal so high above the people they think they are leading that those people couldn’t follow if they wanted to. 

Authentic Servant Leaders make certain they stay close to their people. They lead from the front, they lead from the middle and sometimes they even lead from the rear. Whatever the case may be they lead from along side their people and never put themselves above them. 

Privileged Leaders have no way of learning how mistaken they are because they also believe they have nothing left to learn. They “know” every decision they make is the right decision simply because they made it. They don’t question themselves and woe to any person who dares to question their thinking. 

Authentic Servant Leaders know they will never know it all. They also know they don’t need to. They have a wealth of knowledge in the people who are committed to following them. They “tap into” that knowledge bank with great regularity for the benefit of their entire organization. They know that they could be wrong about virtually anything so they value having their decisions challenged. That challenge either confirms their thinking or causes them to change it, again to the benefit of the entire organization. 

If you’re working for a Privileged Leader then fasten your seat belt. It’s gonna be a rough ride. They won’t learn from their mistakes because they will never admit to them. They must either be forced out by an Authentic Servant Leader or the organization they are supposed to be leading will simply go the way of many failed organizations.

If you’re working with an Authentic Servant Leader then count your blessings, which will be many. Working for an Authentic Servant Leader gives you and your organization ample opportunities to grow. Make sure that you make the most of those opportunities.

So…You Say You Want to be a Leader

Odds are there are a significant number of people reading this who want to be a leader one day. They are waiting for a promotion to “leader” in their organization. Perhaps they are searching for a role with another organization that will “make” them a leader.

I’ve got some disappointing news for anyone who falls into those categories. No one can promote you to “leader.” No position or title in the world can make you a leader. Technically speaking, even you can’t make you a leader.

Only the people who follow you can make you a leader. You can call yourself a leader all day long but if no one is following you then you might be leading yourself (which is good) but you are not leading anyone else.

I don’t know any other way to say this except to say that waiting for a position or title to make you is leader is a mistake. It is a very common mistake so don’t beat yourself up over it too much.

People don’t follow positions or titles, they only follow other people. So instead of working for a position of leadership work to become the type of person other people will want to follow.

That type of person has a clear, realistic vision of their future. They can communicate that vision in a way that excites and inspires other people. They celebrate the success of other people as much as they celebrate their own success. They are outstanding listeners and they listen with the intent to understand rather than merely respond.

But more than anything else they genuinely care about people.

People follow people who care about them. One of the truest things I know about leadership is that you can care for people without leading them but you cannot lead someone without caring for them. Truly caring.

Caring about the person. Caring about their lives and caring about what’s important to them.

If you’re only caring about what they can do for you or your organization then you may be a boss but it’s unlikely that you’re seen as a leader.

If your goal is to be an Authentic Leader then you must put people first. If you want to grow your company then first you must grow your people. If you want your people to take care of your customers then you must first take care of your people.

If you’re in a leadership position and you think your people are nothing more than disposable assets then whatever success you may be experiencing today will not be sustainable.

Leadership is people centric. When you occupy a leadership position and you put “stuff” before your people then you forfeit the right to lead.

When you’re people believe you don’t care about them they won’t care much about actually following you. That is a mistake no organization can survive.

Adjust Your Own Mask First

I spend a fair amount of time on airplanes. So much time in fact that I think I could do the pre-flight safety announcements from memory. In you’ve ever flown you may recall the part of the safety announcements where they say, “in the unlikely event of loss in cabin pressure oxygen masks will drop from a panel above you.” They also say to adjust your own mask before helping others with theirs.

Have you ever wondered why they say that? For instance, think it would be almost instinctive to put your child’s mask on before your own. Yet, the experts advise otherwise.

That’s because they know you won’t be able to help anyone if you’re not conscious to do so. You can’t go long without air so you must help yourself first. It somehow seems wrong to do that. It seems kinda selfish. But if you truly want to help others you must make sure you’re in a condition to help. Unconscious is not a very helpful condition to be in.

The same holds true in everyday life. You must take care of yourself first if you’re going to be in any condition to take care of others. That may seem just as selfish as putting your oxygen mask on first but the same principle applies.

The more caring and giving person you are the greater the danger that you’ll forget about caring for yourself. The problem is you wear yourself down to the point where you can’t help anyone, not even yourself.

So fight the instinct to put everybody else’s oxygen mask on first. Put yours on first. That means resting before you’re overwhelmed. That means carving time out in your busy schedule to do something just for you. That means understanding that you, and the world, deserves the best of you, not what’s left of you.

Just to be clear, I’m not recommending that you do less for others. I am recommending that you do more for yourself. Taking care of yourself is the surest way to be certain that your in a position to take care of others. Don’t forget that simple fact!

A Culture of Caring

Every now and then I’ll receive a tweet or a response to a blog post that says the stuff I write sounds good in theory but it isn’t realistic in today’s business world. 

 

In particular people seem to take issue with my frequent statements that you can’t truly lead people until and unless you truly care about them.

 

I’m told “caring” is a sure path to failure. It’s a weakness that no business can afford today. They say that caring for your people is a luxury of bygone eras. Some people have even told me caring about your people is just plain stupid. 

 

I generally don’t respond, or I respond with a recommendation that they at least give caring a chance. But last week after reading a really terrible tweet I told the person that I was really glad I didn’t work for them and then in the spirit of practicing good human relations I told them I hoped they enjoyed the cave they were living in.

 

Okay, so that might not have been Dale Carnegie style human relations but the guy was pretty abusive with his comment. 

 

In my opinion, if we ever get to the point where caring about our fellow human beings indeed becomes impractical then we might as well hang it up. Would there be any point to living if we couldn’t care about people anymore? It doesn’t matter if we’re talking life in general or we’re talking business in particular, caring is never wrong and it’s never a weakness.

 

The fact is that the more you build a culture of caring within your organization the more stable and successful, and by successful I also mean profitable, your organization will be. I am completely at a loss when trying to understand people who seem to sincerely believe that you can get more out of people by treating them like dirt than you can get by treating them like the valued human beings that they actually are.

 

I will never understand how a “leader” could expect their people to take care of customers when those same people are not cared about by their leader. It just doesn’t work. It has never worked and I can’t imagine how it ever could. 

 

If you’re a leader who expects your people to care about your customers enough to provide them with top quality customer service then you better be a leader who consistently demonstrates how much you care about your people.

 

People who aren’t cared about, who don’t know with some degree of certainty that they are cared about, are far less likely to care themselves. 


A culture of caring will never weaken your organization, it can only strengthen it.  Don’t even think about believing otherwise.