Rule #2: Caring Is Key – Genuine caring is an important component of Effective Leadership.

A June 2015 McKinsey Quarterly Report written by Claudio Feser, Fernanda Mayol, and Ramesh Srinivasan called Decoding Leadership: What Really Matters; lists “Being Supportive” as the number one, and one of the four most important Leadership Behaviors that accounts for 89% of Leadership Effectiveness. The McKinsey Quarterly says this of Leaders who support and care for others:

“Leaders who are supportive understand and sense how other people feel. By showing authenticity and a sincere interest in those around them, they build trust and inspire and help colleagues to overcome challenges. They intervene in group work to promote organizational efficiency, allaying unwanted fears about external threats and preventing the energy from employees from dissipating into internal conflict.”

A 2016 White Paper published by the Center for Creative Leadership called Empathy in the Workplace | A Tool for Effective Leadership, highlights research data that shows a positive relationship between Empathy (aka caring) and leadership performance and effectiveness. In this white paper, the authors: William A. Gentry, Todd J Weber and Golnaz Sadri describe leaders who display empathy and caring as people who are:

  • Sensitive to signs of overwork in others
  • Interested in the needs, hopes, and dreams of others
  • Willing to help an employee with a personal problem
  • Compassionate toward others when they disclose a personal loss

Other important components of leadership include: skill, heart, discipline, courage, collaboration, resilience, vision and interpersonal effectiveness. I share the above-mentioned authors’ beliefs. I think caring is key to effective Leadership. Leaders care for others, full stop. This is Strong Point’s Leadership

Rule #2 :Caring is Key.

These articles and related research are two brief examples of a body of thought and data that suggests caring is important to effective Leadership. Even though such data and examples exist, in my experience, caring is not something that’s often talked about in the context of Leadership. It’s even less actualized in operating environments. The topic of Leadership invokes a lot of ideas and associations. I will suggest that today, more often than not, people still think it’s more important to associate strength with leadership. Leadership Strength, is often considered mutually exclusive from caring. You have to be strong to lead, is the inference; and strength does not necessarily include warmth or gentleness or kindness or caring. Kindness, caring and warmth are “soft” words and actions and deeds. They have no valid place in strong leadership in the minds of many of today’s leaders.

During a recent customer engagement, I was asked the question: “Since when is being nice important to leading and to getting things done?” As I was listening to the question, I was synthesizing the thoughts of the questioner in my mind. I was saying to myself “He is making these connections: Nice=Kindness; Kindness=Caring and Caring is not important to Leadership.” This colleague articulated a common thought about leadership. It is this: “Anything but pure strength in the execution of leadership somehow comes across as “less-than,” weak and submissive or subservient.” Leadership requires strength, so goes the argument. Strength does not include warmth. Caring need not be part of the leadership equation. Caring depletes the ability to be “tough” and get things done.

I’ve been in far too many operating environments where the forceful and not-so-caring hand of leadership was prevalent. I’m sure any one of us can cite examples when a leader sat down with us to have an important conversation that left us feeling weakened or humiliated by its harshness. The objective of such leaders in these conversations is usually quite contrary to caring. It’s the opposite. It’s to make sure you feel the strength of the message and to make you feel it, purposefully, without any hint of humility or humanity. I am quite certain, in these moments, we’re not thinking of leadership strength. I’d argue we’re thinking of the smallness of the other human being speaking to us and of the brutality of human nature, in general. The positive intention of this “tough-love” brand of leadership is to make you tougher. Leaders who use these tactics are often referred to as “Command and Control” leaders. In his book “Primal Leadership,” Daniel Goleman, describes this commanding style of leadership as “military” style leadership. He explains that the Commanding Style of leadership is probably the most often used, but the least often effective. My assessment of Command and Control style leaders is that they often treat people like Pavlov’s dogs. They expect conditioned responses to fear instead of enabling individual and considerate actions in pursuit of a shared goal. Command and Control style of leadership, as I’ve seen it executed, diminishes the depth, quality, character and work of an individual or team.

I’ll go one step farther, and say that caring, by itself, is not enough to combat a command and control attitude or to be an effective leader. We’ve all also worked with leaders who care very deeply about their own team, but don’t extend the same sense of thoughtful consideration to their boss, or to their partners, or to their vendors. These leaders use caring as a means to manipulate people and outcomes in the pursuit of their own agenda. The “cloistered caring” they demonstrate has a legitimate and negative effect on the people and functions around them.

Strong Point uses the tagline “Move Forward with Strength and Grace” for an important reason. It is our philosophy that the two leadership qualities, strength and grace, must necessarily reside together and be applied simultaneously. Strength must include grace. You cannot have grace without strength and vice versa. Being gracious and caring to colleagues requires attention to active listening, composure under fire and patience with discord. Gracious leaders are by default, caring leaders. Caring in Strong Point’s definition is broad. It includes caring for a company’s mission, caring for ethical behaviors and actions, caring for the physical and emotional aspects of your environment and most of all, caring for people. When you truly care for people, you care about their thoughts, and their feelings and their actions. You lead others to authentically advance and grow their own unique talents and abilities. Caring advances the leadership capability of individuals and teams. Individuals and teams, in turn, increase the leadership capability of an entire organization and advance the organization’s ability to display and exert leadership in all of its endeavors.

I’ve used a simple acrostic to help you remain mindful of your ability to care as you work toward advancing your ability to lead:

C – Consider your whole self and the wholeness of others.

Remember, that as you work toward completing that important deliverable and pushing to reach an important strategic goal, you’re working with a colleague who is battling cancer, mourning the loss of a loved one, or literally working with a serious migraine headache. Keep a steady and lock-step pace with your teammates as you work and lead. Work hard without harshness in your manner. Instead, work with wholeness.

A – Act with your humanity first, your humility second.

I try to remember that I am a human first before I am a Business Architect or a Strategist. My mantra to myself is “Be a Good Human.” If you reach a goal, but have lost your humanity in the process, that’s not leadership success, in my opinion. The most wonderful thing about being human is that we ALL have this in common! We all too, make mistakes. That’s where humility comes in. If you lead with your humanity and fall-down in your leadership capability, it’s humility that allows you to get back-up and try again!

R – React less. Listen more.

This is a tough one. Staying in a calm, listening posture takes practice and discipline. In Strong Point’s leadership training we talk about “Hot Buttons” or topics that trigger us. In a recent Leadership Engagement, a customer asked me: “Well…what triggers you?” I almost jumped to answer “There are about 19 things !” and they are!… Then I realized by answering in such a reactionary way, I’d act like I had been triggered by something! One exercise we use to help deactivate triggers involves naming them and listing them in detail. Some participants’ lists are very long, as you can well imagine. You can tell when someone’s ignited a trigger by how fast, or how passionately, or how forcefully you respond. You get “hot” when someone triggers a Hot Button. Work to observe your own thoughts and emotions like birds flying overhead. Make efforts to name your triggers with detachment. This will help disarm them. Watch and listen more to others and to your own thoughts and emotions.

I – Initiate Difficult conversations.

You know when things aren’t working with a teammate or a team. Take the wind out of a brewing conflict by starting a difficult conversation. Often, when you start a difficult conversation with a colleague while you’re walking down the hall, or as you linger at her desk after a meeting, your mind, body language and tone of voice are all more matter of fact and comfortable. Addressing prickly issues in these smaller conversations that are usually reserved for sharing baseball stats, helps to keep emotions from swelling into overwhelm. If things get overheated quickly in these quiet conversations, remember to keep your humanity and to act with humility.

N – Negotiate to get to common ground.

Negotiation is another important skill that takes practice to master. It also includes a variety of other important interpersonal skills such as: active listening, maintaining open body language and clarifying expectations. One of my leadership mentors once told me “Most Really Meaningful Conversations have some Element of Negotiation.” Negotiation is about coming to agreement. When you’re faced with a “stuck situation,” or are “in the ditch” as I say, in your relationship with a colleague, focus on one idea that can be a foundation for agreement. Work “up and out of the ditch” from there. Finding common ground and baseline agreement with colleagues shows caring and helps you find the path forward together.

G – Give your focused attention.

We’ve all heard and lived this axiom: To be heard and understood is our most basic human need. No better way to provide another person with some understanding than through focused attention. Focused attention is provided through listening, maintaining eye contact and keeping an open mind, heart and body posture.

Show others you care about them and for them.

Strong Point’s Leadership Rule #2: Caring is Key