A few years ago, I worked with a large healthcare client with 74,000 employees. They have built an internal university and invite every clinic manager to attend a management development program for five days. Mid-week, the CEO stops by to do a “Town Hall” where he fields questions and shares whatever information is helpful. More importantly, he communicates, personally and individually, that he cares about each and every one of those 24 clinic managers.
How does he manage to connect in a meaningful way with each of those managers? Well, he has a trick that not many know about. In the days before he shows up, his assistant compiles a document with each clinic manager’s photo, name and important information about them — a son or daughter graduating, a recent surgery, a big win at work. Before he steps into the room, he memorizes this information. Once there, he’s able to address every person by name and ask them about their lives.
It takes time and attention to do this, but the impact is worth it. I saw it for myself. People felt genuinely cared about.
Now, is this CEO focused on results? He sure is. Is he focused on company growth? Ultimately, yes. But in that moment, his focus is on a different job entirely. His attention is focused on communicating to his team that he cares. And that’s your job as a leader, too.
When you really get down to it, being a good leader isn’t about your results and your sales and your customers — that’s all you-focused, and we all know that narcissistic managers are no good. See the data in this article in The Journal of Business Ethics. Being a good leader means caring about the people you’re leading. Of course, caring about your people seems so obvious. Every leader must communicate that they care about their people. But caring is about actions, not just words.
The more salient point is that when people feel safe in their work environment, when they feel that it’s safe for them to show up and fully be themselves, they’re more productive. They know it’s OK for them to bring their concerns, their strengths, their vulnerabilities and their creativity to their job. Trust me, you want this. And it’s exactly why you ought to work hard to show you care. It’s how your people will know that you have their back and that you will stand by them.
Caring about people also impacts employee engagement. A Gallup survey about what employees want from their managers (“a lot more”!) notes that “Among employees who strongly agree that they can approach their manager with any type of question, 54% are engaged. When employees strongly disagree, only 2% are engaged, while 65% are actively disengaged.”
Finally, caring creates trust, and trust creates loyalty. Loyalty is what makes good people stay and take good care of your business. In this HBR article, “Good Bosses Create More Wellness Than Wellness Plans Do,” we see that when people have a good relationship with their leaders, they’re more motivated, they perform better, and they’re more likely to go the extra mile to support their team.
Here’s another great example of what caring looks like. The CEO of a company I work with kicks off a day on leadership development for a group of 30 leaders. He walks to the front of the room and explains to them why he’s investing in their development. It’s simple: “I care about you and your growth. I hope this program will equip you for all that life may throw your way, not just in the halls of this company.”
Saying it out loud to the group has a visceral impact. His communication is genuine and clear. And he backs up the words with tangible actions. No wonder his people rank their culture and his leadership highly in survey after survey.
So how can you show you care? Here are three ways:
Get personal. Show interest in people’s lives. Ask questions and really listen. Remember important information such as birthdays, anniversary dates, the names of family members, important events in the lives of your team. Write them down, if that helps. But above all, make a personal connection with every member of your team. Stretch yourself to learn something new about someone every day. Meet all-new team members as they come on board. And if this puts you outside your comfort zone, that’s OK. Stretch yourself and make the point to do it anyway. The end result will be a more engaged team.
Connect the dots. Ask your employees what they believe their impact is in the organization. Share with them the impact you know they make. We all want to know that what we do matters, that our time, energy and creativity add up to something important. Help each person who works for you see the difference they make. They’ll be more invested in the work and achieving the big goals.
Measure what matters. Most things that are being measured at work are meaningless for individual team members. The bottom line is helpful for senior leaders and investors, but not so much for a front-line supervisor. Help your employees measure what matters to them. How can they know at the end of a day that they were successful? What can they measure? For example, if you are in the customer service business, you might measure the number of customers touched in any given day and the number of smiles or good interactions and outcomes that happened. Coming up with the metrics that matter will take some time with each one of your employees, but it will be worth it.
Showing your team you care doesn’t have to add a bunch to your plate. But it does have to be a priority in your days. Start small and learn as you go. It will make all the difference.
Dede Henley helps leaders and organizations create more equitable and productive workplaces. Learn more at www.henleyleadership.com.