Yesterday, my family and I went to the pumpkin patch. We went through a complicated selection process, picking up different pumpkins and testing them for size, weight, shape, color, cleanliness, overall appearance, and more. We debated if this particular pumpkin was too green, or if this one was too round, or if this one was too small—essentially conducting mini focus groups for every imaginable quality.
Of course, we rejected a few gourds in favor of others. Though it may seem like a stretch, I would liken this fall tradition to honing our own leadership behaviors at work. In my new book, The Art of Caring Leadership, I explore nine different behaviors that caring leaders exhibit. I believe a truly caring leader encompasses all nine of these behaviors with aplomb and confidence.
But here’s the thing: we as individuals get to choose how many of those behaviors we exhibit. Sometimes, we call on certain behaviors that suit us in the moment. Other times, we take a different approach, it ends up not working, and we have to pivot and adjust in response. Just as we troubleshot different pumpkins in the patch, a caring leader tries every approach at their disposal when guiding their team.
The process of caring leadership is all about trial and error—experimenting with different approaches until you find the ones that work best for you and your team. So how do we discern which behaviors suit us best?
First, we need to be meeting and engaging with our people often—both as a larger team and one-on-one—in order to find out what they need from us. Though it goes without saying, I’ll say it anyway: the needs of your team members come first. Instead of showing up the same way every day across the board, we should personalize and customize our approach to best address their changing needs and expectations. Each team member is an individual, and should be treated as such. What may seem like too small a pumpkin may be just the right size for someone else, and leadership behaviors are similarly received in different ways based on the person.
Another underutilized tool is organizational surveys. Whether it’s pulse surveys or more sustained, 360-degree feedback, all that information is valuable data we should listen to when trying to determine what areas of improvement need attention and how we can best address them. Instead of randomly trying out different behaviors until one resonates, you can use that energy to intentionally listen to your people’s voices, and architect your leadership approach accordingly. In short: listen first, act second.
The nine behaviors I explore in The Art of Caring Leadership are the arrows in your quiver, the tools in your toolbox, the paint in your palette, and yes, the pumpkins in the patch. Whichever metaphor inspires you most, the message is the same. Picking and choosing different leadership behaviors based on the individual situation is an act of care, and a demonstration of your acuity as a leader. It will take time to become comfortable switching between these behaviors, but that time spent is valuable practice for yourself. So get out there, get practicing, and find the pumpkins that suit you best.