These days, every CEO and business leader has been feeling the pressure when it comes to staying relevant and agile in an ever-changing and uncertain world. We might not have a blueprint for how to navigate this moment, but we do have people.
Organizations are still fundamentally made up of those people and, although the current context may be ambiguous and market trends volatile, there is one thing our customers, partners, and employees have a common need for care.
Workplace cultures that prioritize caring, compassion, and respect influence employee productivity and performance and improve how people feel about coming to work every day. They feel like they are seen, heard, and valued – and are motivated to work hard toward the success of the organization.
In her book The Art of Caring Leadership, Heather R. Younger shares insights gleaned from twenty-five thousand employee survey comments and one hundred focus groups and suggests that leading with heart is the antidote for employees who feel disempowered or disengaged at work. She explains that leaders often put a wall up between themselves and those who look to them for guidance and that they need to do more to create a culture where everyone feels that they belong. She explains that people-first cultures are where employees are seen for who they are as people, not just for what work they do. That requires leaders to listen to understand what’s of value to them, focus on their growth, not only missteps, and equip those we lead to succeed. She suggests when leaders learn to consistently demonstrate care, build trust, inspire curiosity, and awaken creativity in those they lead, employees feel better about themselves and see their work and role in a more positive light. They no longer feel like a cog in the machine, they feel motivated, energized, and on purpose.
Heather points out that self-leadership is a critical focus for the caring leader because if they are not able to care for themselves, they cannot properly care for those they lead. Self-leadership includes tapping into your purpose and reason for leading; shifting your mindset in beneficial ways; and simply taking more time to care for your mind, body, and spirit.
2. Make Those You Lead Feel Important
The caring leader makes a point of setting aside time with those they lead and listening to what they need to do their best work. When this type of leader is around, employees feel as though they are the only one who matters. Employees feel a deep bond with this kind of leader because they feel they can be their best selves and are appreciated for the work they put in.
3. Look For The Greatness in Those You lead
Caring leaders understand what it means to recognize and then grow the gifts, talents, and strengths of those they lead. Instead of dismissing signs of greatness in their people, these leaders search it out. They go out of their way to leverage the gifts of those they lead. They provide the proper care to facilitate employee performance and job satisfaction.
4. Involve Those You Lead
Often, leaders feel that the problems facing the business are theirs to solve alone. When they tell their employees about the issues they are facing, they often discover that this is not, in fact, the case. In fact, involving employees in leadership challenges typically brings teams together. They learn to rely on one another and get more accomplished together.
5. Lead The Whole Person
Many leaders handle employees with the narrow lens of their performance inside the workplace without ever considering them as whole people with lives outside of work. The caring leader cultivates a wider lens and takes time to understand what is happening in employees’ lives outside of work. This is particularly important in the new world of work where remote or hybrid-remote workplaces are becoming the norm. Leading the whole person may include helping employees deal with mental health challenges, childcare obstacles, or other personal issues. Caring leaders don’t separate the person from what might be happening to them. Instead, they meet employees right where they are to help them realize their true potential.
6. Create a Listening Culture
The caring leader uses the voice of the employee to improve work for everyone. They know that listening alone is not enough and ensure that employees not only feel empowered to provide feedback but are reassured that their feedback will be acted upon at least some of the time.
7. Provide Employees With Safe Spaces
Employees don’t always feel safe to express their true thoughts, ideas that might be counter to the mainstream, or things that make them feel uncomfortable for fear of some type of attack or retribution. The caring leader takes care to create judgment-free spaces in which to have conversations where employees can feel psychologically safe and free from harm.
8. Empower Employees To Make Decisions
One of the most crippling things managers do to those they lead is micromanaging their every move, making it difficult for their employees to think and act independently. The caring leader trades this micromanagement for clear expectations and empowerment, by allowing room for employees to do what they think is right even if that means making a mistake. Such mistakes are seen as learning and growth opportunities that lead to empowered employees.
9. Build Resilience in Those You Lead
More than ever in today’s divided and uncertain world, we need to help employees cultivate resilience so that they can better manage stress for the long haul. The caring leader helps employees reframe their circumstances and learn from what is happening around them to become stronger so they can handle the inevitable challenges and crises that come their way.
Recognize all of these nine tenets are true for the customer and any other stakeholder we have. As you look ahead to the rest of 2021 and beyond, consider how to incorporate caring can be a differentiator for your organization.
We tend to create narratives through history to make sense of what happened, to process earlier experiences, to rationalize and interpret our view of the world as life unfolds. This happens to be a unique time of evolution and we have a chance to position caring as a key element of what it is to be human. We can recreate our narratives around the purpose of business, the essence of leadership, the practice of organizations. There is enough science and experience to provide evidence for a future differentiator. The question is are you going to show the courage to hold up the painters’ brush and strive for another layer of understanding in your product, service, business cycle; and that is the beauty and fragility of life together.