In my experience working with organizations of all sizes, every leader thinks they are a caring leader and even those who don’t secretly aspire to be one. Unfortunately, despite their best intentions, many will fail to demonstrate caring leadership consistently. Their actions or inactions towards colleagues looking to them for leadership and guidance often highlights a distinct lack of self-awareness.
What does an empathetic, compassionate and caring leader look like? When working with leadership teams, most can quickly identify what caring leaders don’t do. Bad examples include failing to respond to employees’ requests, micromanaging teams, or showing favoritism to some while excluding others. We have all been on the wrong side of a leader that does not care, takes you for granted, and wants you to stop asking so many questions and get the job done.
By contrast, caring leaders live and breathe their values. You will find them listening intently to what their employees need to empower them to do their best work. These are the leaders that effortlessly unlock increased employee engagement and loyalty by simply showing they care.
When helping organizations unlock the intelligence, they need to improve their employees’ quality of work-life, the results do not happen by accident. I join them on their journey and try to be purposeful and aware of who I am and where we are going together. By being brave enough to recognize our perceived gaps and try to fill them, we collectively understand that the path to a caring leader is an evolutionary process.
I have made mistakes that can be painful, but they also served as exciting opportunities to learn. By changing and improving ourselves, we earn the right to stay on the journey to caring leadership. If we do not set our intent from the start, our entire trip will feel like an accident.
With my Leadership With Heart podcast, it was my intentionality and curious mind that helped me find caring leaders who exercise their power to be more emotionally intelligent in their communications and interactions. Carey Jenkins, CEO of Substantial, a digital strategy firm, described her focus on intentionality around her mindset and her conversations with those she leads.
Carey told me, “I am incredibly intentional with the conversations I have about the way I support and mentor people and my expectations for what we are trying to do at the company and how people contribute to that.” As a direct communicator, Carey does not leave others guessing. For her, being intentional is all about being very clear about expectations and how others can contribute their gifts to the mission.
On my podcast, I also spoke with Ron Alvesteffer, CEO of Service Express, who shared how the secret to his success was moving away from the traditional leadership style of saying, “Go do this for me.” His alternative approach involves asking employees, “What are the roadblocks? What do you need from me?” By solving the problems holding back his teams, he could empower the people who deliver business results.
I have worked closely with organizations to increase their leadership prowess through leadership development and executive coaching services and recorded over 160 podcast interviews with business leaders. These stories of individual’s ongoing struggle to become leaders and express more care for those we lead inspired me to write my new book, The Art of Caring Leadership.
The book includes inspirational leadership stories, including Howard Behar, former president of the Starbucks Coffee Company; Judith Scimone, senior vice president and chief talent officer at MetLife; Garry Ridge, CEO and chairman of the board of the WD-40 Company; and Shawnté Cox Holland, head of culture and engagement at Vanguard.
What did I learn? Employees will go the extra mile for leaders who show they are genuinely concerned with what they can do, who they are and can become. The book is aimed at leaders who want to learn how leading with heart can uplift their teams and organization. But I also invite you to share your caring leadership stories with me.