Do you Need a Leader or a Superhero?

leader superman hero
Leader or Organizational Glue?

How often as a leader do you feel like it is your responsibility to hold your whole organization together? Do you strive to keep it together through thick and thin so that no one will see anything other than a fearless leader? You are not alone if those questions hit home. 

When leaders put on the persona of a superhero with their imaginary capes serving as impermeable shells, they really don’t exhibit the unifying forces that a leader needs. This facade of strength and power distances a leader from their employees more than it brings them together as a team. 

Leaders who are too concerned with maintaining their reputation and holding it together miss out on important details, relationships, and development opportunities. Think of it this way: if you were actually a superhero flying above your organization, you might have an apparent view of what’s often referred to as the 30,000-foot view, but you won’t really be down there in the midst of it with your employees. 

All about Balance

Good leadership is all about balance. It’s about knowing when to observe from above and when to get your hands dirty with your team. It’s about knowing when to appear strong and courageous and knowing when to let your walls down so your team can get to know the real vulnerable side of you. 

The Center for Creative Leadership came out with a list of 10 qualities that good leaders embody:

  • Integrity
  • Ability to delegate
  • Communication
  • Self-awareness
  • Gratitude
  • Learning agility
  • Influence
  • Empathy
  • Courage
  • Respect

These are not in any specific order, but the second one immediately jumped out at me. I’ve seen this in myself, and I’ve seen this in leaders I’ve worked under. Leaders who rely on their strong outer shell and persona can get so caught up in their own world—their often lonely world—because they don’t let anyone in. Then, when a challenging workload or a problem bigger than even their superhero-sized ego rolls around, they struggle to see when they need real assistance and help. 

Vulnerability is Key

Leaders, be vulnerable. We can go to the movies to catch an extraordinary display of strength and power. But in our workplaces and our homes, we need examples of real people. We want to see the humanity of our real-life heroes and leaders. We want to understand that they have flaws alongside their gifts, that they can ask for help. Great leaders recognize their limitations. They choose to delegate their work to find that balance and free up some time to catch a glimpse from 30,000 ft. 

Being a leader is difficult. I don’t think anyone would challenge that. But I assure you, opening up and showing up to work every day without a cape or a mask, as the real you, is infinitely more powerful than being a superhero. 

For more information, listen to my podcast with Cori Burbach, “Leaders with Heart Understand that Leadership is about Courage and Vulnerability”.

178: Leaders with Heart Must Find a Balance

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In this episode, Heather interviews Mikki Gates who is a Strategic & Inclusive People & Culture Leader for over 6 casino properties and a TEDxManitouSprings Curator. While her two occupations keep her pretty busy, they are a good balance since she gets the best of both worlds. She prides herself on being a servant leader, as well as a results-driven one. Mikki believes it’s important to be both – contrary to what many people believe. Take a listen to hear how she’s able to manage being an empathetic leader while also holding her employees accountable for their actions.
Mikki thinks of herself as a natural leader and has been using her influence since she started working at the age of 15. Take a listen to hear more about how Mikki is able to use her natural abilities to lead her team with care, compassion, and respect. 

Key Takeaways:

  • Being caring and kind doesn’t make you a pushover.
  • You can be caring and still be firm.
  • Be present when your team comes to you with a concern. 
  • Leadership can be lonely, but only if you let it be. 
  • Showing care and compassion for your teams will result in greater productivity. 


Mikki Gates attended the University of Colorado, and has since worked in various Human Resources roles throughout her career. She is also a curator for TedXManitouSprings. This means that she’s in charge of finding speakers, getting fundraisers, and everything else involved in creating a TedX event. Additionally, she is also a HR Generalist for over 6 casino properties. 

She is unapologetically empathetic and is a firm believer that being caring, kind, and respectful is the best way to lead your teams. Throughout her career, she has always tried to implement this leadership style and it has proven to be effective. 

I can be kind, I can be caring, but I can still be firm. – Mikki Gates #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

You’re Not a Pushover

About 5 years ago, before being empathetic and emotionally intelligent as a leader was widely known, I used to have people say I was a pushover because of the way I treated my employees. I often had to stop them and defend myself. Just because I took the time to listen to my employee’s perspectives and treated them with respect, people thought I was a pushover. When in reality, it’s quite the opposite. Because of the way that I treat my teams – with care, compassion, and respect, they in return, are happier to do the work that is expected out of them. 

leader mikki gates tedx

Finding a Balance

When I began my role at my current HR role, one of my executives asked me if I thought this job would fulfill me. At times I thought I wouldn’t, but because I also work for TedX I am able to find a healthy balance of everything I need. These two very different but fulfilling positions give me the balance I need. I would recommend for everyone to find this balance, it doesn’t have to be a job, it can be a hobby or anything else you enjoy. I found a way to fulfill those missing gaps and I think everyone would benefit from doing a bit of that too. 

It often takes an employee a long time to work up the courage to come up to you, so when they do, be present and listen. – Mikki Gates #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet


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Bezos v. Jassy Meets Caring Leadership

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Amazon, the customer, then the Employee-Is it Worth it?

Jeff Bezos, the business tycoon and founder of Amazon, stepped down as CEO on July 5. The reins are now in the hands of Andy Jassy. I recently was a guest on the Bloomberg Business podcast and had the pleasure of discussing my advice to Andy Jassy. My portion of the interview begins at 00:20:40. 

I’m sure many of us have heard whispers about the company culture of Amazon, one of the world’s largest tech companies. In all the research I did for this post, the number one thing I found on Amazon’s company culture is that it is customer-centric. Always and first and foremost, the customer. Contrarily, here at Employee Fanatix, we work hard to meet the needs of each employee to meet the needs of the customer better. 

How can my idea of Caring Leadership, which has become a little online ecosystem, which you can find here, fit into the corporate beast of a company like Amazon?

Most Recent Updates

recently read that before Jassy became CEO, Amazon updated its leadership principles to be more employee well-being and empathy-centric. While this sounds like a massive step in the right direction, it makes me a little nervous. How often do companies swimming in wealth hand out great compensation and benefits hoping to atone for the harsh working reality?

In the Bloomberg Businessweek podcast, I discussed how Bezos was often aloof and advised Jassy to listen more. I also saw that Jassy is known to be more personable (see here). 

Additionally, rather than throwing the dog a bone and extending benefits packages or increasing wages, I hope that Amazon digs into the core of the issue. I hope that Andy Jassy will seek out first-hand stories of the company he now stands at the helm of. Figure out what it is that really makes the ship rock. Long hours? Harsh working conditions? Obsessiveness with speed? Besides, a generous 401k and a pat on the back won’t fix these issues. 

I argue that shifting this focus to your employees and their needs does not contradict your customer-centric leadership approach. In fact, if your employees feel heard and see that you are caring for their actual needs, they will feel valued and live out the mission of their work even more. 

The Solution

After listening to the very real concerns and complaints of the Amazon employees, it might be daunting to consider the changes that can no longer be avoided. Instead, Jassy should gather his leaders and discuss the best solution for their employees. Ultimately, they might even have to even consider altering their 14 company leadership principles

I firmly maintain that you can put both customers and employees first within an organization. It’s simple-just care for people, on both ends, wherever they are. Definitely listen on both ends. Grow and maintain a culture that sustains the level of work output and the employees’ wellbeing. 

If you’ve heard an Amazon warehouse horror story or any tale of the workers feeling burnt out, then you are not alone. Leaders can’t problem-solve this one on their own. There is a huge need for inclusiveness, and I’m not talking just about marginalized groups. I’m talking about the frontline workers, the ones who are in the midst of the issues. 

I think that this multi-level inclusion actually fits perfectly with the following of Amazon’s leadership principles: 

Learn and Be Curious; Nobody in life ever finishes learning, and this includes leaders at Amazon. People in charge at Amazon should always be looking for how to know better and be better. Leaders are always seeking options as well as looking for ways to explore them.

What Amazon Can Do

What better way to “know better and be better” than by using the voices of the people who work with you? This allows you to find perfectly tailored solutions to their needs. This work doesn’t have to be internal, added to the plates of people already experiencing burnout. There are people out there like my team, who come in to handle this challenging change process for you and your organization.

Leaders, if you’ve ever had your organization compared to Amazon, are worried about a bad reputation for employee wellbeing, or have experienced firsthand the trials that your team has to work through, then start here. Above all, start with listening.

177: Leaders with Heart Must Fight Compassion Fatigue

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In this episode, Heather speaks directly to her listeners about the struggles that come with being a compassionate and caring leader. This applies in and out of the home for Heather – in this episode, she opens up about parenting, compassion fatigue, and more. Take a listen.

Key Takeaways: 

  • Being a Caring Leader can be exhausting. 
  • It’s important to disassociate from other peoples problems. 
  • Compassionate leaders must practice distancing themselves from their emotions in order to be objective. 
  • Sometimes what people need from you is just to for you to listen. 
  • Leaders need help too. 
Lean in with care. – Heather R. Younger #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

Heather R. Younger is an experienced keynote speaker, two-time author, and the CEO and Founder of Employee Fanatix, a leading employee engagement, leadership development, and DEI consulting firm, where she is on a mission to help leaders understand the power they possess to ensure people feel valued at work. 

Known as The Employee WhispererTM, Heather harnesses humor, warmth, and an instant relatability to engage and uplift audiences and inspire them into action. 

Rooted in her belief that employees aren’t just numbers on the payroll but human beings with ideas that matter, Heather’s talks and workshops are dedicated to helping teams, leaders, and organizations shine by improving how they listen to, communicate with, and empower employees.  

Lean In the Right Way

Being a Caring Leader can be challenging. I am a person that tends to lead with compassion, care, and empathy naturally, so I used to find myself entirely emotionally drained just from hearing other people’s problems. This was tough for me in particular because caring leadership is who I am – it’s even my business! Yet, although empathy is a strength, it’s also my biggest weakness. Whether it was at home or at work, I would often experience compassion fatigue. However, throughout the years, I’ve found several ways to fight this compassion fatigue and still be able to show up as a compassionate mom, boss, and friend. The root of it all is intention. When you go into a problem or situation with an intention, it is much easier to disassociate and distance yourself from your emotions and have an objective view. 

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176: Leaders with Heart Know Leadership is a Choice

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In this episode, Heather speaks directly with her listeners about the importance of reframing our mindsets around leadership. Being a leader can sometimes be seen as a hassle due to the hard work involved. When we reframe the way we think about leadership, it can be both exciting and rewarding. Here are some tips.

Key Takeaways: 

  • It takes a lot of work to be a leader, but it comes with a lot of rewards.
  • A person who cares is a leader who leads with compassion.
  • Show kindness on purpose.
  • It is a gift to be a leader.
  • Taking care of yourself is just as important.
Leadership should be seen as an opportunity, not a burden. – Heather R. Younger #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

Heather R. Younger is an experienced keynote speaker, two-time author, and the CEO and Founder of Employee Fanatix, a leading employee engagement, leadership development, and DEI consulting firm, where she is on a mission to help leaders understand the power they possess to ensure people feel valued at work. 

Known as The Employee WhispererTM, Heather harnesses humor, warmth, and an instant relatability to engage and uplift audiences and inspire them into action. 

Rooted in her belief that employees aren’t just numbers on the payroll but human beings with ideas that matter, Heather’s talks and workshops are dedicated to helping teams, leaders, and organizations shine by improving how they listen to, communicate with, and empower employees.  

What it Takes

I understand how overwhelming it may seem to have someone like me tell you to be appreciative, caring, and giving to your team when you are struggling to get by. Nevertheless, I never promised an easy journey. To be honest, it’s hard for me! However, it is a choice. You have the choice of how you want to show up as a leader – do you want to be a caring leader or one that just gets by? When you find that you are not being the best leader, I encourage you to think about these things. We’ve all been there. All it takes is learning from them, and being better for it.

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175: Leaders with Heart are Receptive to Change

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In this episode, Heather interviews Stace Williams, a global leadership consultant and Caring Leadership Community Coach. Stace’s passion lies in helping leaders grow by enabling them to see and actualize their potential. Her experience spans five continents, 17 countries, and a wide range of industries, including aerospace, biopharma, defense, energy, finance, healthcare, insurance, technology, and telecommunications.

Key Takeaways:

  • Openness to feedback can change your entire career trajectory.
  • Somatic symbols are your body’s way of communicating, listen to them.
  • Telling your story humanizes you.
  • Identify your struggles and delegate.
  • Embrace vulnerability in your team.
  • Making emotionally-intelligent decisions requires self-awareness.
I was young and got promoted because I did it well. Therefore, I thought everyone had to do it my way, and that was a terrible message to send to a talented team. – Stace Williams #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

Stace Williams is a global leadership consultant, and Caring Leadership Community Coach. Stace is passionate about helping leaders discover and accomplish their true potential so they can grow. Her experience spans five continents, 17 countries, and a wide range of industries, including aerospace, biopharma, defense, energy, finance, healthcare, insurance, technology, and telecommunications.

In spite of holding a degree in Mechanical Engineering from Colorado State University, Stace has devoted most of her adult life to consulting. 

As a coach who works primarily with executives, she focuses on accelerating progress around significant business initiatives and organizational transformation. Through coaching, she helps clients define themselves authentically and achieve goals that result in improved organizational climate, employee engagement, and business outcomes.

Why Leaders Struggle to Delegate

I’ve had the pleasure of working with leaders at all different levels within an organization, all of whom struggle with delegation. Often, people don’t like to delegate because they don’t want to overwhelm their teams. But they fail to realize that failing to delegate only hurts them and their employees. Leaders who learn how to delegate efficiently are able to empower their employees and allow them to shine. As they hand off duties and prioritize those of utmost importance, they will also have the freedom to work on other tasks. In other words, delegation is one of the best ways to make your employees and your team feel important — it gives them the feeling that they truly belong to your company.

receptive to change stace williams leadership with heart

Tune in to Your Somatic Signals

It’s important to pay attention to what your body is telling you. Your body is always present, even when your mind might not be. So when your body begins to sweat, or your breath becomes heavier, or your hands start to sweat, those are all signs that you should pay attention to. Once you are in tune with how your body reacts in certain situations, you will be able to make a more emotionally intelligent decision. As a result of taking the time to listen to the signals your body is sending you, you can take a moment and think carefully before reacting. To do this, one must first become aware of oneself, but anyone can learn this. 

Let your teams know that you are not perfect, and they don't have to be either. But that you can work together to be better. – Stace Williams #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

Share Your Stories and Be Vulnerable

Sometimes, there can be a tension between the employees and their leaders, and it can be difficult for people to break through this tension because they are wary of showing their vulnerability. However, once you have built up the confidence to be vulnerable with your team, the benefits of this deeper connection will become apparent. Your stories are what make you human – when you share your stories, you can break down the wall that separates you from your teams. In other words, stories can help you connect with your team and make them see that you’re a real person – not just their manager.


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Authenticity, but Only if You’re Kind

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Authenticity: Yay or Nay?

Do you ever encourage authenticity in the workplace but wonder if maybe it’s too much? By this, I mean, have you encountered people in your lives who are authentically just not the best? Another term for the people I’m thinking of is “jerks”. How do you reconcile authentic behavior at work with people who are authentically inconsiderate, unkind, and perhaps obnoxious too?

Merriam Webster defines authentic as “true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character.” In this day and age, we are constantly calling for authenticity. Telling people to speak their truth, erecting safe spaces everywhere we can, and lifting the voices of people who have suffered throughout history. When we call for authenticity, our intentions are usually good, but this term and call to action can be overused. 

What do I mean by this? Think of it as the expression, “You do you,” at the core of this comment is separation. One person essentially is saying to another, ‘I disagree with part of this, but don’t care enough to say otherwise.’ It’s an interaction where two people do the best they can for themselves. 

True Authenticity

When we call for authenticity, it needs to help unite our employees. It should create more inclusion and less division. Ensure that your employees’ authentic selves are helping bring people closer together and not pushing others away. I’m sure we have all experienced people who come off as narcissistic and disrespectful. These types of people often don’t really care about other people’s needs or feelings. These authentic behaviors definitely do not bring people closer together. So, how can we work to exclude this sort of authenticity from our workplaces?

A Lesson in Authenticity

First of all, check yourself as you work to be authentic. Ask yourself, is your focus on yourself or on other people? Your focus needs to be directed outwards towards other people to accomplish the true purpose of authentic behavior. If you are only focusing on behaviors that feel self-fulfilling, you will more often than not exclude those around you without even realizing it. 

This leads me to my second point. Proper authentic behavior manifests itself in vulnerability—the good kind of vulnerability. To be truly vulnerable with your employees, you cannot have boundaries that exclude them from getting to know the real you. Again, it’s key that you are focusing outwards. If your attention is directed towards yourself, the people around you will sense this as a barrier to getting to know the real you. 

Some people shy away from being vulnerable at work, thinking that vulnerability requires sharing intimate details about one’s life. However, as Kristen Benefiel shares with me in an episode of The Leadership with Heart podcast, it is entirely possible to be vulnerable and yet listen more than you speak.  

Understand Your Own Value System

I devote an entire chapter of my most recent book, The Art of Caring Leadershipto the challenge of being authentic. The act of authenticity ties into knowing yourself so well that you can manage your behaviors and actions towards others. In particular, to inspire those around you in their own endeavors. A huge part of the journey towards authenticity is understanding your own value system. What are your motivators, what do you hope to be remembered for?

I promise you that if you put time and care into each step that I mentioned above, your authenticity will be perceived as the compassionate action it is. In addition, you will be authentic in an outward-focused way that helps you present yourself in a welcoming and inclusive manner to those around you.  

Let’s weed out the authenticity evoked by expressions like YOLO and “you do you”. Being authentic is a glorious unique trait, but it does not come without careful effort. Leaders, be the example for your teams. Make it so that any “authentic jerks” will see the beauty in the selfless act of real authenticity. The kind of authenticity that brings people together. 

174: Leaders with Heart Practice Self-Care

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In this episode, Heather interviews Cordelia Gaffar – Emotions Opener Coach, Creator of Replenish Me ™, Speaker, Author of Detached Love, Co-Host of the Unlearning Labels Podcast, and a Caring Leadership Community Coach. Cordelia also is the mother of 6 children and left Corporate America after her third child to focus on raising her children. Her story began 18 years ago, and her expertise is just the right blend of corporate, family, and community. She is a firm believer in self-care, and in this episode, you’ll see why.

Key Takeaways: 

  • Healing happens from within. 
  • Leadership can come from family, friendships, community, or corporate – it is not limited to a job title. 
  • Women’s voices need to be amplified in workplaces. 
  • Community is medicine. 
  • You must first take care of yourself in order to take care of others. 

People tend to want to pour from an empty cup. But when you don't care for yourself, you don't know how to care for other people. – Cordelia Gaffar #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

Cordelia Gaffar is an Emotions Opener Coach, Creator of Replenish Me ™, Speaker, Author of Detached Love, Co-Host of the Unlearning Labels Podcast, and a Caring Leadership Community Coach.

Cordelia is based out of the Washington DC – Baltimore area. She is also the mother of 6 children – she actually left corporate America after her third child to homeschool her kids. 

Cordelia Gaffar studied at the University of Vermont, where she got her degree in French language and Philosophy. Since then, she has continued her education through various certification programs such as the Shaw Academy. 

She is a true believer in self-care and believes leaders must be whole themselves in order to give to their team members, community, and peers. 

Lead Yourself First

People tend to want to pour from an empty cup. But when you don’t care for yourself, you don’t know how to care for other people. That’s really one of the most important aspects of being a leader. The self-awareness has to be there. I often have people come to me wanting to help others – when they are barely holding it together themselves. To me, there’s not much somebody can do for someone else when they are in need just as much. So, what I always recommend is for leaders to take a step back and take note of where they fall short and then be open to receiving the help they need to grow.

self-care cordelia gaffar caring leadership

Being Present

I’m guilty of being caught up in the past or the future. But with time, I have learned that the best thing we can do is be present. Perfection is an illusion, right, and the medicine for that is to be with your emotions and be with who you are. Life is happening right now in the present. That’s the first step, just acknowledging the now and recognizing that community is the medicine. The allowing of community is the medicine, and the allowing of the now is the medicine we all need.

When you care from the inside out, people feel that. People are drawn to that. People recognize that. – Cordelia Gaffar #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

The Base of Human Existence is Love

It’s not romantic love – although it can be. What I mean is if I had to put it in a word, I’d say the breath that gives us life is love; the thing that creates us is love. The less we attach to material things, and the less we accept projections, the better we can lead ourselves. In my case, this is what lead me to get myself out of bed. It was a choice. I don’t want to make it sound so simple but, all of our problems are created in our heads. Once we gain control of ourselves, our thoughts, emotions, then we are indeed in control. From there, we can lead others because we have already led ourselves.


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3 Essential Steps to Create a Workplace of Belonging

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A Poll

Have you ever felt like you don’t belong somewhere? Have you experienced a panic-inducing bout of imposter syndrome? Been the black sheep of the group? Or even been verbally or physically excluded from a place or situation? Had no sense of belonging?

I’d bet my bottom dollar the answer to at least one of those questions was yes for everyone reading this. It’s a yes for me too. I was an outsider for most of my life. I grew up the literal black sheep of my family (you can read more about that here), and it took a long time before I could really find my place. It took an even longer time to feel like I belonged in this world. I had to navigate belonging under my own roof and with my relatives. Many are blessed not to have to face that challenge. 

I’m here to talk to you about belonging under a different roof. One that every employee in the world experiences: belonging at work. I have three tried and true recommendations for leaders to create a sense of belonging at work.

The Definition

When I say belonging, I mean “the feeling that you have value, a home or a place in which you are fully accepted”.

To clarify, you cannot possibly know if your employees feel like they belong without first knowing your employees. 

Step One

Let’s begin with step one. You have to seek to understand your employees in their own shoes, with all their intricacies that extend beyond the workplace. The deeper your understanding of your employee goes, the better suited you will be to find the perfect fit for them within your organization. 

One of the biggest mistakes glaring under the microscope of 2020 and 2021 is making assumptions about people. Assumptions lead to microaggressions, misunderstanding, and otherwise harmful behaviors. Start to understand your employees better by practicing active listening and including everyone’s voices in the conversation. However, if you’d like more information on this step, you can read about it in my book under the chapter on listening cultures. You can also listen to this podcast episode with Sarah Bierenbaum.

Step Two

The second step in creating a culture of belonging is to seek out your teams’ strengths and let them shine. This builds off the previous step. If you have already spent time connecting with and getting to know your team better, it won’t be too challenging to discover their unique talents. There are five key ways to uncover your teams’ strengths. I go into detail about them in my book, but I’ll refer to a couple here as well. Go to the employee themself. Ask them where they think they shine and where their biggest area for improvement is. Ask them which part of their job is their favorite; we tend to enjoy doing what we’re good at. In addition, offer your team assessments like Strengthsfinder, DISC, Meyers Briggs. 

Accompany these new behaviors with recognition and positive feedback, even if the result is a failure. Commend your employees for trying and testing their limits. If you would like to learn more about uncovering your teams’ strengths and maximizing them, listen to this podcast episode with Timbra Yoakum. 

Step Three

Ironically, the third step to creating a sense of belonging is, in fact, inclusion. You will only feel that you truly belong somewhere if you are welcomed to the table. Trust is the foundation for any safe space to be possible. There needs to be an explicit and implicit invitation to your employees to speak openly and honestly.

Furthermore, welcoming your employees’ voices helps them feel safe and cared for. You can begin this process of inclusion by sharing your own stories first. Lead by example. If you want a more detailed explanation of this, I invite you to listen to this episode of my podcast with Mark Nagel. In it, we dig deeper into the creation of safe spaces and how to encourage your team to open up and let their voices be heard. 

If you have any more questions about the intricacies of creating a sense of belonging within your organizations, then please join us in the Caring Leadership Community! Also, I invite you to take the Caring Leadership Self-Assessment to gauge where your strengths and areas of improvement are. This will better guide you as you create a culture of caring within your workspace.

How to Inspire Spontaneous Caring Leadership

soccer spontaneous caring leadership
A Hard Hit & a Quick Save

Last week I was at my son’s soccer game when I witnessed a beautiful example of spontaneous Caring Leadership. One of the kids playing was hit in the chest with the ball; you know, the kind of hit that knocks the wind right out of you. It was a hard impact, and immediately the coach started to run over to check on the boy. But, before the coach even got there, the referee had stopped the game. He was already doing breathing exercises, helping the boy regain his breath. By the time the coach got there, he didn’t even need to help.  

I had just witnessed a perfect demonstration of leading right where you’re at, in your own shoes, irrespective of title.  

The Unassuming Leader

We probably hear stories about special moments all the time; good samaritan posts throughout the world frequently go viral on social media. But leading doesn’t need to be some grand sacrificial gesture. It’s the simple act of being present and serving others by meeting their needs with compassion. The referee was a perfect example of this. Because he was there first, the coach didn’t have to attend to the injured player after all. 

In this analogy, the coach is the leader who doesn’t have to get involved. If teams can self-manage and help support one another, the leader is free to focus on other things. The best leaders are the ones who aren’t constantly intervening and problem-solving on behalf of their team. One of the greatest marks of success for a leader is when their team can function just as efficiently without the leader being present. Their ability to work without the leader’s guidance is because they have truly learned how to excel at their jobs. It should be noted that this, probably in part, is due to the investment and distance of their leader. 

A Message for You, Wherever You Are

Whether or not you serve in the most junior position or sit at the top of your organization, I urge you to be alert for moments when spontaneous leadership could bloom. Think of the impact these small moments of compassionate service can have on the function of your workplace. I guarantee that stepping up and demonstrating leadership in the more mundane parts of your workday (or your whole day) will drive up the recognition you receive. Hopefully, your leader will realize the lessening of their workload as you help solve problems here and there, saving them time and energy, two of their most valuable resources. 

Acting independently and using your critical thinking to resolve issues will also provide an example to your peers. Then, they too might assume responsibility and take the lead during some of the daily hiccups organizations encounter. 

Encouraging Spontaneous Leadership

If you feel that your organization’s teams do this well, then wonderful! Keep up the excellent work. However, if you are experiencing quite the opposite and are struggling to think of ways your team independently problem solves, then here are some steps you can take to promote leadership at every level of your organization. 

Step One

First, provide the example; be the exemplary Caring Leader. This means giving your team grace when grace is due, and in some cases, it might be due quite often. Make sure you are filling your cup through self-care and other fulfilling activities. This allows you to continue to give to your team even when it gets tough. 

In episode 165 of my podcast with Eddy Badrina, we discuss the shortage of grace in many of today’s workplaces. Eddy summarized this profoundly when he said, “I think if people had more grace in the business setting, business would be more robust in the long term.”

When an employee makes a mistake within or outside of the purview of their role, if you respond to that mistake by showing them grace, they will feel more comfortable in their role. The more comfortable and safe an employee feels the more they will trust their leaders. You believe in them, they believe in you, and soon they will start acting with authority. The type only a well-trusted employee can perform with, and odds are, they will excel in their performance. 

Step Two

Second, create a psychologically safe space. I devote an entire chapter of my latest book to this concept. The sheer impact that listening to your employees can have on an organization is mindblowing. Listen to your employees, show you understand them, and give them a chance to use their voices. Allow more idea sharing and enforce safe boundaries to keep out microaggressions and prejudice. 

In Episode 57 of my podcast, Mellisa Ebert and I discuss the concept of psychological safety. She expresses, “Build rapport and respect with your team so that they will feel safe to feel vulnerable.” Once you create this space for your team to act in and then take a step back to allow them to function independently, you will be surprised by who will step up to the plate. People will come forward in support of one another and even stretch themselves to make sure things work without having to get their supervisor involved. 

Step Three

Lastly, recognition must be a critical cultural piece of an organization blessed with spontaneous acts of caring leadership. There’s a common phrase, “nobody wants to go unnoticed,” and while as a mom of four, there are definitely times I want to go “unnoticed,” this expression has some truth to it. 

Some stats from the HR Technologist prove this. “63% of employees who are recognized are very unlikely to look for a new job,” compared to only 11% of unrecognized employees who would do the same. Not only will turnover improve, but people who are recognized are proven to perform better. 

The End Game

Empowering your team through the example of Caring Leadership, giving them the space to act and think independently, and recognizing them when they try, will create more spontaneous leaders. These leaders will be just the same caliber as that quick thinking and compassionate referee I witnessed diffuse a challenging moment so smoothly in my son’s game. 

Not sure if your organization needs help creating opportunities for leaders to shine at all levels? Take the Caring Leadership Self-Assessment today to find out where your strengths and weaknesses in leadership lie.