Over the course of my career as an employee advocate, I’ve seen countless attempts to level up one’s leadership game. Many of these endeavors have been successful, but many of them have also fallen flat. Across these various trials and tribulations, I’ve observed a common thread that seems to make or break a leader and how they impact those around them. So what do I believe is the secret ingredient to being a caring leader?
To be quite honest, there are many, but for now I will just speak to one: integrity. There is a special magic in seeing leaders who live out their values, who walk the walk and talk the talk, as they say. A true caring leader makes known their beliefs, and carries them through every one of their actions on a daily basis. Integrity is hard to describe but easy to feel; it’s just simply something you know when you see it.
What does integrity look like in the context of the caring leader? It means that we do not show up one way for one person or group, and entirely different for another. We are who we are no matter what, and we do not pretend to be someone that we are not, regardless of context, location, or company of people. We do not shy away from telling the truth, however uncomfortable that may be, and we are confident in owning the entirety of our personal and professional self.
That last point highlights a main pillar of being a genuine leader; to be authentically me, I must know myself well. I need to know my strengths, weaknesses, objectives, communication style, personality, identity, and a plethora of other dimensions that make me—well—me! Without in-depth self-awareness, my behaviors might sway in the wind. To know myself well means that I am aware of what might trigger me, what makes me smile, what makes me react or be proactive, and how I like to lead myself and others.
You can engage in learning more about yourself by examining your performance every day. Ask yourself what you did successfully, and what you could’ve done better. Ask yourself how you make others feel, and if they walked away from their interaction with you with a sense of authenticity. You can even solicit feedback explicitly, and inquire if your peers perceive you as disingenuous.
Getting reacquainted with yourself doesn’t mean you get to know yourself once and you never change again; quite the opposite is true. By knowing thyself, so to speak, you can better make adjustments to your leadership game as needed, since you will have a more nuanced and realistic appraisal of your faults and flaws. As you compensate for those gaps, you will find yourself better equipped to lead with confidence, authenticity, and integrity.
Being a caring leader who practices what they preach will not only reap benefits for you as an individual; it will also yield rewards for those around you. Being in proximity to a leader with integrity helps employees see they’re part of something bigger than themselves, and inspire them to have faith in those they follow. Moreover, it will motivate them to engage in the same kind of introspection and internal work, creating more and more caring leaders and setting off a chain reaction. However, the question remains: are you ready to start that domino effect yourself?