The Importance of Being Care-full

Benjamin Franklin once said, “Want of care does more damage than want of knowledge”

Never is that more true than in the workplace.  Of course, there are those who continue to believe that caring for the people we lead is unimportant or a sign of weakness.  After all, they would never accomplish anything if they had to spend all of their time worrying about everybody who works there.  And others are often heard to say, and quite proudly too, that they take care of their people, which is a totally different thing.

The flaw in this kind of thinking is that caring for those under our charge isn’t about mothering.  It is about inviting people to bring all of themselves to work every day and helping them give their best effort willingly to something that matters both to them and to the organization.   I think it safe to say that engaging people in this way gets results.  That makes it pretty important.

So, what does caring for people look like from a leader’s vantage point?  Well, I have some thoughts about that.  Here goes:  Judicious leaders care enough to:

Be interested in each person, his/her skills, talents and ambitions

This is a good place to start and is not dissimilar to taking inventory.  You have to know what, and who, you’ve got before you can decide how you are going to help them use it and grow it for both individual and organizational benefit.

Be clear about their expectations:

No one can produce desired results if they are working with a murky set of expectations.  So it is incumbent upon the leader who cares to be able to state what s/he expects, as simply and succinctly as possible and to ensure that the person to whom s/he is speaking understands those expectations in the way they were meant.

Tell hard truths

We are all familiar with times when it is easier to avoid the truth than to confront it.  But, when someone is not performing well, it is essential for the leader to address it.  This often requires some pretty uncomfortable discussions, and can result in equally painful decisions.  Caring sometimes means helping others step up… or step off to something else.

Hold people accountable

So you’ve had the conversation.  You and your colleague have come to an agreement about what s/he will accomplish and how you will support him/her.  It sounds good and you both leave the room feeling good.

Caring leaders know that it doesn’t end there.  Follow-up is necessary, first, because those under their charge may need some help; second they may need some encouragement; and finally they may need some reminding about the commitments they’ve made.  Holding people accountable for doing what they say they are going to do sends the message that their efforts matter to the success of the whole.

Risk their own vulnerability

Relationships, even those that are forged for professional reasons, are two-way propositions.  Leaders who care and want to build strong connections with others are willing to share their own stories, something of themselves that makes them human.  No one is a super-hero.  If we try to be that, we don’t have time to concentrate on much else

Challenge people to stretch

Sometimes people are capable of going beyond what they have agreed to do, and yet, haven’t.  Or, they are assigned something they believe to be too challenging for them, and don’t think they can do it.  In either case, the leader who cares will provide a needed nudge, will challenge, cajole, encourage and inspire that extra effort that brings them over the top and helps them win.

Clear the way

Leaders who care will anticipate and provide needed resources.  And, they will address obstacles that get in the way of success.

Let go

So by now you’ve made a heavy investment in someone’s development to the extent that s/he is now a top performer. It is natural to want to hang onto that person.  After all, s/he is making a huge contribution to your results.

Letting go is hard but it’s also an important part of organizational, and personal, development.  Those who go on to greater things will appreciate that you cared.  Those who feel held back will quickly forget that you did.  Besides in letting go, you get to….

Start Again

This may be good or bad news from a leadership perspective but the truth is that people come and people go.  I like to believe that the person who has built a good reputation as a leader who cares attracts those who are willing to learn and to meet him or her halfway.

What do you think?


Filed under building awareness, Building Relationships, communication, Employee engagement, motivating & Inspiring

15 responses to “The Importance of Being Care-full

  1. Loved it! As someone who did and do say ‘take care’ this was a very useful reminder.

    Thank you,

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  3. Wonderful post Gwyn! Loved the title, graphic and all your fine points. We often talk about this – but the “ability” to do this is the hard stuff – not the soft stuff, which is still the prevailing myth.
    I think one of the many barriers leaders have in changing their thinking about this is captured in your point:
    ” It is about inviting people to bring all of themselves to work every day and helping them give their best effort willingly to something that matters both to them and to the organization.”
    While I think there are some rare beings out there that do this “naturally,” it is more the case that these skills are learned and sadly too many leaders don’t have the requisite people skills to carry it out well.
    Thanks again,

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Hi Louise,
      Yes, the notion of “caring” can be a tough sell in many a work environment. I rather think we need to continue to work on helping those, who seemingly lack people skills, to see how NOT caring can impact their tangible results such as the effect high rates of turn over can have on the bottom line. Maybe then, more would be willing to develop these soft, yet hard, skills.
      Thank you for sharing your thoughts here, Louise. They always add value to the post:-)

  4. Beautiful post, as always Gwyn.
    I think that the leader who cares is one who leaves a legacy. Once they have left their organization, very few will remember how they impacted the bottom line. Most will remember how that leader made them feel.

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Hi Mary Jo,
      Absolutely! I think every leader likes the idea of leaving a legacy. To me, your comment says it all. I need not have written anything else
      Thank you 🙂

  5. Hi Gwyn
    Great post and thank you for it! I think much of the resistance to caring is about risk and having the confidence to take it! You take a risk investing yourself and your own emotions in your team! And realistically sometimes people let you down – that is life and work is part of life. It is much richer for all if you are prepared to make the investment!
    Best wishes

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Hi Wendy,
      You bring up an important point. When we care, we risk something of ourselves and, to your point, disappointment and hurt feelings are not just confined to those who follow.
      Thank you for bringing your wisdom to the post. It’s always nice to see you here.

  6. Hi Gwyn,

    I wonder if one of the reasons why a sense of caring is not more pronounced in the workplace is because of the decades-old approach we still use for assigning people to leadership roles. Specifically, in order to reward key personnel in our organizations, as well as to demonstrate how much we value their contributions, we end up ‘promoting’ them to leadership positions. This has the unintended consequence of putting people in such roles, not because they’ve demonstrated an aptitude or ability to engage or enable those under their care, but as a result of their knowledge or expertise.

    From that vantage point, it’s easy to see why some leaders would be reluctant to exhibit a sense of caring for those they lead as it would put the emphasis on their abilities instead of on the reasons why the person was given the job in the first place.

    Perhaps if organizations treated leadership roles less as a means to hold onto talent and instead more as a role for people who demonstrate the willingness to care for those in their team we might see more of these attributes you mention in play within our workforces.

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Hi Tanveer,
      Yours is an important observation. Systems of reward in organizations are often quite dysfunctional. Promoting a high-performing individual contributor to a leadership role just to keep them and without regard for their interests, or needs or how they might best feel rewarded, simply feeds an environment that discounts the value and reward associated with being care-full. Sadly, when that same high-performer begins to falter under the weight of leadership responsibilities they didn’t ask for, they are also often subject to criticism and the poor opinion of others…a lose/lose situation.
      Thank you for adding your usual thoughtful perspective, Tanveer

  7. Excellent Gwyn – care always pays off in the long run.

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