Often, I’m asked what the most important quality of a leader is. To me, leadership is fundamentally about caring.
We’ve all heard the famous trope: people don’t leave bad jobs; they leave bad bosses. In itself, the idea might be simplistic, but there is a kernel of truth to it. Leaders who micro-manage, who focus on the negative, who constantly push their staff, or who are absent for much of the time, don’t do any favours for their organisation’s turnover rate.
Read: Want People to be More Engaged? Stop Micromanaging
On the other hand, employees whose leaders are generous with their time, allow for a degree of flexibility and freedom, and are invested in their development often find it difficult to leave their organisation even when a better offer comes along.
I find it interesting that leaders talk today about ‘putting people first’ as though it’s a new and radical idea, rather than simply the way it’s supposed to be. As I like to say, leaders are conductors within an organisation who guide their teams to achieve great things. The people within those teams are the ones who put in the work to bring home the success.
So, why is caring important in leadership? As Facebook’s COO, Sheryl Sandberg says:
Leadership is about making others better as a result of your presence and making sure that impact lasts in your absence.
Think about the people you most enjoy spending time with. Chances are these will be people who lift you up, encourage you, push you (in the right way), and connect with you authentically. Their inspiring ways can leave a lasting impression, and you’ll likely look forward to the next time you see them.
Now think of people who you least like to spend time with. What’s different about them? How do they affect you? Do they lift you up, or wear you down? Do they encourage or demotivate you? As Michelle Obama says:
People who are truly strong lift others up and bring people together. This is the measure of great leadership.
When it comes to caring for people, it might sound like a soft skill to some leaders, one that’s best left to those who care less about bottom line results. In reality, leaders who care about their people – and demonstrate it – will see their bottom line results flourish as their employees feel respected and valued, and so become more committed to the shared goals and objectives of the organisation.
How can leaders become more caring towards their employees? Here are a few of my suggestions:
1. Make it personal
Get to know your employees. When is their birthday? Do they have family? Have they got any fascinating interests or hobbies? What motivates them? If past Presidents of the United States of America can make time to get to know their employees, any leader can make the effort. Even to know a person’s name and one or two things about them can make all the difference in letting your employees know that you care.
2. How do they want to contribute?
When leaders ask their employees what role they want to play in their organisation, and how they’d like to contribute, employees immediately feel that they have an element of ownership over the organisation’s performance. Many people see themselves as a ‘cog in the wheel’ within their workplace. Great leadership flips that perspective on its head and encourages self-worth in their employees by having a genuine interest in how they see themselves within the company.
3. Give people feedback that counts
Some leaders can give what feels like generic feedback, which leaves an employee confused. Are they doing a good job, or a bad job? Are they an average performer? Does what they do matter? Providing meaningful and specific feedback that’s tailored to the individual will provide the employee with practical insights into how they can improve and a sense of confidence in what they’re doing well.
Read also: Do You Ask for Feedback or Avoid Them?
4. Ask people what you can do to help them
On the whole, employees will go about their role without wanting to cause much ‘trouble’ for their leaders. They know that that leaders and managers are busy people, and so most try to get on with their job with minimal fuss.
Effective leaders are active in offering a helping hand to their people: “What can I do to help you? Is there anything that you need to help you do your job better?”
Showing an interest in the growth and development of employees is a powerful way to show that you care as a leader. As you invest in them, they’ll be sure to give you a substantial return on that investment.
This article is also available in Chinese.