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. 

What Great Leaders Know

There are so many differences between a person who manages and a person who leads that I could write on that single topic almost exclusively. Great leaders know those differences well.

To be clear, the skill set of a manager is very different than the skill set of a leader. The mindset of a manager is vastly different than the mindset of a leader. To be clear as well, both managers and leaders are critically important for the success of any organization. It is hard to say one is more valuable than the other because without both an organizational will eventually fail. To be crystal clear, there are many people who possess both skill sets, there are far far fewer people who possess both mindsets. 

Managing is about “stuff” and leading is about people. Budgets are managed, inventories are managed, systems are managed, “things” are managed. Leading is solely about people and the singular focus of truly great leaders, at least during those times when they are actually leading, is their people. 

Managers can help people accomplish more for the good of the organization, managers can even motivate people. Many managers in fact look like decent leaders. The only thing missing is the motive of true leadership. The motive of true leadership is to do the right thing for the people simply because it’s the right thing to do. That’s where the mindset comes in.

Managers who look like leaders have the ability to get the compliance of their people. They set up a sort of transactional leadership model that says to their people “you’ll be fine here as long as you do what you’re asked.” Implied of course is the fact that when you stop doing what you’re asked then you won’t be fine anymore. That’s where compliance comes from.

Most people in an organization will in fact do what they are asked. The problem is that most “managed” people will do little more than what they are asked. They can appear to be engaged in the organization and engaged in their work when in fact they are more likely just putting in their hours.

True leaders, great leaders, have no need for the compliance of their people. They earn the commitment of their people and commitment far outweighs compliance. They earn it by putting a relational leadership model on full display. They build real relationships with the very real people they lead. They build them by showing that they care about people.

This doesn’t mean they have to become best buds and hang out together every weekend. A relational leadership model simply demands that the leader truly cares about the people they lead. They understand, they fully and completely understand that “stuff” is managed and people are led. 

The mindset of a manager is “we need to get this done,” the mindset of a leader is “we need to get this done in a people valuing way that builds people up and helps them reach their full potential while getting it done.” 

When we manage people every task is a “one off” exercise and managers find themselves telling their people the same things over and over. Every time a manager asks their people to do something it’s as if they never asked them before.

When we lead people every task is a learning exercise and because the people are committed to their leader they willingly repeat the task again and again without being asked over and over. 

Managing people helps them understand that the work is important. Leading people helps them understand that while the work is important they are more important. 

This sounds worse than I mean it to sound but managers use people to get the job done. Leaders develop people to get the job done. The different motives come directly from the different mindsets. One has immediate short-term impact and one has more patient potentially endless impact.

Make no mistake, people can build semi-successful careers by trying to manage people but people who lead people build more than careers, they build legacies. They build those legacies by building people who become great leaders in their own right. 

You can either be a manager or a leader, if you’re truly blessed you can even be both but your success and the success of your organization will ultimately depend on you understanding the vast difference between the two.

One Question, Three Answers

Over the weekend I had a reader of this blog ask me a question. It was one question that asked if I could share three qualities that make a leader successful. I did not respond immediately because I wanted to put some real thought into my answer. I answered his question later in the day but I didn’t stop thinking about my answer. 

Hence this blog post.

The three qualities cited in my answer were integrity, a caring nature, and good judgment. Some people will automatically assume that I believe those three qualities should be “ranked” in that order. The fact is that they don’t have to be ranked at all because they are intrinsically linked. 

Let me explain.

In many cases the lack of integrity comes directly as a result of poor judgment. Someone in a leadership position does something that they expect will turn out well but when it doesn’t they lie to hide their poor judgment. 

Lying destroys credibility. Not sometimes, not usually, lying ALWAYS destroys credibility. Even lying that comes about as a result of poor judgment destroys credibility. The bigger the lie the greater the destruction.

Liars don’t lead, they manipulate, they coerce, they maneuver, they twist and turn, and they disguise. They can even sometimes project the appearance of success but they do not lead, they never never lead. Some people in leadership positions who lack integrity believe that they can force people to follow them…that is the ultimate in poor judgment. 

They may trick people, they may force some level of compliance out of people for their personal gain and to some that may even look like progress but none of it is leading. Leading requires at least a minimal level of commitment on the part of at least a few followers. People cannot commit to people that they do not trust. 

Wondering which comes first, lack of integrity or poor judgment, is like asking which came first, the chicken or the egg. The reality is it doesn’t matter, both the lack of integrity and poor judgment are killers of leadership potential. 

Whether or not to maintain your integrity is of course the ultimate decision that someone in a leadership position must make. Their judgment when making that decision will determine whether or not they truly have an opportunity to be an authentic servant leader. All leaders should know this simply fact: no one can steal your integrity, you can only give it away.

People without integrity AND good judgment might have a leadership position, but that doesn’t mean they are leading.

Which brings us to a caring nature. Leadership is about people and only people. You manage stuff, budgets, plans, and processes but NOT people. People cannot and should not be managed, they must be led.

If you don’t care about people you simply will not make them the priority that they need to be in order to lead them. When you truly care about someone they can see it in your actions and hear it in your words. They will know you care.

When you don’t actually care they will figure that out too. When your people know that you don’t care they will quickly determine that your motives are all about you. They will feel used. This happens even faster when they sense a lack of integrity because when they don’t trust you, they doubt your motives from the very start.

Caring for others is a choice. It’s a choice you must make before you choose to lead. Lying to someone for your own benefit shows not only a lack of integrity, it shows a tremendous lack of caring. 

As a leader your success is completely dependent on the success of your people. Not caring for or about those people shows terribly poor judgment. 

So what’s more important, integrity, caring or judgment? I’d say it’s irrelevant because having two without the third still makes it very challenging to lead.

 

Why Nobody Cares

Wondering why your people don’t care? Well, your people don’t care because you don’t care for your people. 

This will be a short post, which is probably good because there are likely to be a whole bunch of people who won’t like it.

Perhaps cause the truth hurts? 

You call yourself a leader? Then you must care first. 

As a leader you cannot expect your people to do anything first, especially care. When your people know, with very little doubt, that you truly care about them then they will feel it is safe to care about you. 

If your people can’t trust you, if they don’t see you as honest and credible, then they CAN’T trust you. It’s virtually humanly impossible to truly care about someone you believe does not have your interests in mind. 

If you’re trying to get your people to care, about their job, the company and especially your customers then you had better be prepared to demonstrate that you care first. Until they can care about you it will be pretty difficult for them to care about much of anything. 

You can tell them to care, you can even try ordering them to care but you should know that people buy into the leader before they buy into their leadership. If they can’t buy into you why would they buy into anything you want them to do.

Stop waiting for your people to care, start SHOWING that you understand that they are people, people with the same needs, challenges and emotions that you have. When you SHOW that you care you will no longer have to wonder why your people don’t.

It’s called follow the leader for a reason, YOU go first! 

Leadership Tricks?

I received an email a few days ago offering me free enrollment in a new webinar that promised to share all the latest leadership “tricks and secrets.” It said these tricks and secrets would allow you to get someone to do pretty much anything you wanted them to do, whether they wanted to or not. 

The one thing I can say for sure about the webinar is that it was priced right. There was no cost which was only fair because I’m pretty certain there would be no value either.

Leadership is a serious undertaking. It is not a game. There are no tricks to rig the system or manipulate people, in fact, manipulating people is just the opposite of leading them. Leadership involves caring enough about people that you actually want to help them succeed, however it is that they want to succeed. 

Leadership is not making people do what you want them to do, leadership is about helping them see they right thing to do and then encouraging them to do it. Authentic leaders don’t force people to drink, they help make them thirsty enough to drink on their own. Authentic leaders don’t decide what’s best for their people, they help their people make good decisions for themselves.

Great leaders get people to do great things, not through manipulation but through integrity based influence. They get people to do the right thing for the right reason.

Don’t waste time and maybe even money looking for leadership tricks or secrets. Instead develop a true caring attitude for the people you lead and then demonstrate that caring in everything you say and do. Caring is one absolute ingredient to success as a leader and the fact that it’s a secret to so many is a mystery to me. 

 

The Caring Leader

Many leadership gurus and experts say that in order to truly lead people you must care about them. While I would never claim the mantle of leadership expert or guru I would certainly agree that caring for people is an essential quality of leadership. 

You either care about people or you don’t. There is no in between. You don’t have to like someone personally to care about them, it certainly is easier but for an Authentic Servant Leader “liking” someone is not required to care about them.

You can’t really teach someone to care but you can help them see value in other people and seeing value in someone is where caring begins. I’m not talking about “value” in terms of what they can do for you, the value I’m taking about is the value that a human being brings to the table just by being themselves. 

A great measure of authenticity in a leader is how they treat people who can absolutely nothing for them. If they are still willing to help, support and guide that individual when they know there will be no personal return on that time investment then it’s highly likely they actually care about other people. 

An early step on the road to becoming an Authentic Servant Leader is to understand that every person has value, even the ones who are different than you and even the ones who hide their value deep inside. If your prerequisite for caring about someone is that they think and act just like you then you may be a boss but you are most certainly not an Authentic Servant Leader. 

Authentic Servant Leaders understand the value of diverse opinions and thoughts and they work to learn from people different than themselves. If you’re surrounding yourself with like-minded people then you will struggle to grow as a leader. It is by allowing other people to be who they are that you become a better person and a better leader.

Your leadership is about the people you lead, it is not about you. People will not truly follow you until they know that you truly care about them and if they don’t follow then you cannot lead. It’s a pretty simple equation. 

The challenge for Authentic Servant Leaders is not just caring for people that they don’t like, the ultimate challenge is caring for people they actually dislike. President Abraham Lincoln once said, “I don’t like that man, I must get to know him better.” 

Do you have the courage of Lincoln to invest time with those you truly dislike in order to discover the unique value they bring into the world? If you do then you will create the opportunity for yourself to really care about them. 

It’s truly a challenge to care for someone you would rather avoid when you see them coming down the hall. It’s a challenge that Authentic Servant Leaders are willing to accept.

Are you willing to accept it? 

Leading With Care

One of the most absolute truths of leadership I know is this: you can care about someone without leading them but you cannot truly lead someone without caring for them. 

That being the case, the first step in learning to lead is learning that it is not a weakness to show that you care. It is in fact a tremendous strength that all truly Authentic Servant Leaders possess. 

The second step is to care. Really, really care. Really caring about the person or people you would lead. Truly caring about them means caring more about what you can do for them than what they can do for you or your organization.

If you’re expecting your people to care more about your organization or it’s customers than you care about them then you’re expecting too much. People won’t care for your customers because you pay them to, they will however care about your customers when they feel cared about themselves.

At it’s core leadership is about people. You must understand that you don’t really lead an organization, you lead the people who put the “organize” in organization. If you forget that, even for a moment, then you are likely to start treating your people like the machines that do your copying and computing. 

When your people are just another piece of your organization’s capital then you’re likely trying to manage your people and not lead them. But your people are not capital, they are human beings. They have the same kinds of struggles, challenges, hopes and dreams going on in their lives as you do. The reason I so dislike the term “human capital” is that it causes leaders to forget that they are leading real live human beings.

Caring for your people must be more then a thought, it must be an action. You know (and so do your people) that you truly care about your people when their success means as much to you as your own. 

When you’re willing to sacrifice some of your own freedoms, some of your own recognition and maybe even some of your own success to help others succeed then you’re not just occupying a leadership position, you’re truly an Authentic Servant Leader. 

Every single person that you have the opportunity to lead is unique and special. They matter and they can make a difference for your organization. It’s up to you as a leader to find their strengths and help them to develop and use them.

When they see you doing that that will also see you caring about them as people. They will know that they not only matter but that they matter to you.

The question is do you have the courage to actually show that you care? If you do then you likely will earn that lofty level of leadership. 

To get there you must always remember, don’t just lead, lead with care!