The Care and Growth model is based on an understanding that the performance of people is deeply affected by whether they work because they have to or want to. Furthermore, the key variable that accounts for the difference has to do with leadership. People go the extra mile for people; for a leader. Rather than for an organization.

The Leader you WANT TO work for

When we ask people to describe the kind of boss that they would work for because they wanted to, they may say many things. However, all of the things they would raise, we reduce to two core categories.


The first category would have a soft or kind ring to it. People would say things like a boss who they would work for because they wanted to would listen. Furthermore, they wanted to be supportive, be compassionate, be approachable. And also they would have a sincere interest in them as a person. The best word that encapsulates that soft and kind theme is the word care. What people are suggesting is that the boss has a sincere interest in them. It is not just in the relationship to get something out of them.


The second category has a harder feel to it. People would say things like they would like to work for a boss who is honest with them. And a boss who is fair. Furthermore, a boss that gives them feedback, mentors or coaches them and allows them to get on with the job. If we point out that a quality like honesty means that the boss may say thing that are unpleasant to hear, they would respond that that honesty allows them to know where they stand, to learn and to grow.

The above suggests that when people work for a boss because they want to it is because that boss does two things for them: Care and Growth. What is noteworthy is that these criteria of Care and Growth have been found to be completely universal, they are true for every human being on the planet.

Principle Relationship

The reason for the consistency of the criteria is by considering what you’re actually asking when you ask people to describe the boss that they would work for because they wanted to. If you worked for somebody because you wanted to, and that person asked you to do something, you would probably do it. Which suggests that you give that person the right to ask you to do things or to exercise power over you.

This suggests that these criteria of care and growth are the universal criteria for legitimate power. And when seen from this point of view, the universality makes sense. The first person that anybody would have had a relationship of power with, is with their parents. And insofar, it is a first relationship; a principle relationship. We can glean the principle of the matter by examining the first the first manifestation of the matter.

The manifestation of this relationship

The first manifestation of power is parenting. In that relationship, there are two people. A big one, which is the one with the hierarchical authority. And a little one, which is the one who is subordinate to that authority. The job of the big one for the little one is care and growth. This suggest that any relationship of power is seen to be legitimate if the aim of that relationship is the care and growth of the subordinate.

Misconceptions of the Care and Growth Model

People assume that the Care and Growth model implies that leaders have a fundamentally soft and accommodating approach to their people. This assumption leads to four common misconceptions.

1. Companies care

The first misconception is that companies care. Care is an attribute of consciousness. Consciousness is only to be found in individual human beings. There is no such thing as a collective which is conscious. Because the collective is an abstraction. Companies don’t care. It is individual leaders who care. And if individual leaders aren’t the ones who care, then care cannot be said to exist in the company.

2. Responsibility of material needs

The second misconception is that leaders who care, take responsibility for the employee’s physical and material needs. There is an obvious requirement for leaders to be fair. And in the process of being fair, to ensure that the people who work for them are adequately rewarded for the contributions they make. This does not mean to say that leaders take on a parenting role. Furthermore, where they end up disabling the people who work for them. Each adult is fundamentally accountable for addressing their own material needs. And the material needs of their dependents.

3. A specialist function

The third misconception is that care should be made the preserve of ‘care specialists’. For example, an employee welfare function in particular. Or the human resources function in general. It is very important to remember that when people work for a boss because they want to, it is the boss who cares. Not some specialist functionary.

In the primary research that led to the establishment of the Care and Growth model, conducted at the South African Chamber of Mines Research Organization, it was established that to use a stand in or a form of proxy function to deal with ‘the human problem’ had the effect of undermining the legitimacy of leadership. Such an approach was called surrogate management. It had demonstrated to have an adverse effect on trust in management.

4. A friend

The fourth misconception is that a boss who cares, is by definition a friend. For the boss to care, does not suggest that the boss behaves like a friend. The problem with viewing the boss as a friend creates the conditions where it is assumed that for the boss to be able to affect a care role, the boss and the subordinate necessarily have to have an egalitarian relationship. This is simply not true. It is quite possible to care for somebody when you have a hierarchical relationship with them. To confuse care with an egalitarian relationship stands the danger of undermining the hierarchy.

A Leader Who Cares Will:

  1. Keep a promise made.

    • This leader will not make undertakings just for the sake of mollifying subordinates. He or she will not make promises that they will not be able to honour.
  2. Be sympathetic to the personal concerns of people reporting to them.

    • If the leader is approached by a person with a problem or a concern, they will be able suspend their own agenda. Furthermore, they will give whatever time is required. They would listen and consider the issue that the person is struggling with.
  3. Involve or consult team members on matters that affect them.

    • It stands to reason that if you are not going to treat people purely as resources, you will consider their needs and requirements.
  4. Listen openly to the views and concerns of members of his or her team.

    • And they will govern the degree to which their own prejudices influence their perception of the issues that are being discussed.
  5. Assist a team member with work related problems.

    • This leader will not focus purely on results. He or she will therefore not to have an attitude that suggests to the team members that how the team member gets a result is their own problem and that the only thing the leader is interested in is a result.
  6. Respond to issues raised or questions asked.

    • The leader will not just attempt to fly under the radar and hope that uncomfortable questions will be forgotten or go away. They would be careful to ensure that they give feedback on any issues that have been raised.
  7. Always keep members of his or her team informed with regard to the performance of the enterprise.

    • The financial performance of the organization will not just be seen to be the preserve of senior management. But rather, in the attempt to develop autonomous and mature working people, there will be a deliberate focus on keeping people appraised of the financial performance of the company.
  8. Take disciplinary action when it is required.

    • To care does not mean to say that one has no interest in the maintenance of standards. And that one is incapable of holding people to account. Care will mean that if the team member had the means and the ability to do what is required of them, and they did not do what was required of them, then that person will be held accountable.
  9. Ensure that people have access to equipment.

    • In enterprises where the wearing of personal protective equipment is required, a caring leader will not only ensure that people have access to that equipment but also insist that people adhere to the standard of wearing such equipment.
  10. Ensure that the people are given adequate training.

    • In enterprises where there are hazards associated with the work, he or she will ensure that the people are given adequate training. To ensure they are able to execute the tasks required of them safely.
  11. Tell people as it is.

    • Care does not mean to say the leader will try and whitewash unpleasant information. In treating team members as adults, this leader will make sure that they are kept fully appraised of things they need to know of. Even if it is unpleasant for them to hear.

What a Leader who Cares Might Do

  1. May or may not socialize with team members off work.

    • The old British Army horror of fraternizing with the troops is not an appropriate attitude of a leader who cares. It is entirely appropriate for leaders who care to spend non work-related time socializing with the people who report to them.
  2. He or she may give a person reporting to them an increase.

    • Should that person demand such. It is possible that in a perfectly legitimate relationship between a leader and a team member that the reward that the team member is given is out of touch with their value in the market. Should the team member bring this to the leader’s attention, it would not undermine the stature of the leader to address the problem.
  3. A leader who cares may allow a person reporting to them to leave work early.

    1. In the context of care and growth people are not treated as resources to achieve the result. But are understood to be people who do have human concerns. Therefore, it would be entirely appropriate for a leader who cares to allow a subordinate to leave work if there is a legitimate issue.
  4. He or she may improve the benefits of the people reporting to them.

    • Doing so does not suggest that the leader has become soft. Or that the leader is incapable of maintaining standards.
  5. A leader who cares may attempt to improve workplace facilities.

    • If these facilities were not up to their required standard. Or can be made more comfortable for the people who work there.
  6. They may do a favour for one of their team members should this be asked for.

    • It is important to bear in mind that this favour is entirely at the discretion of the leader. And it does not suggest that the leader does not care if they consider that doing the favour is inappropriate.

A Leader Who Cares Will Not:

  1. Send a team member who has a problem to HR to have that problem addressed.

    • The leader will try their best to address the issue themselves. Knowing full well that in sending the person to HR they would be undermining their own ability to provide legitimate leadership to the people who work for them.
  2. Allow people to take short cuts.

    • Nor will they allow them to do fundamentally immoral things. For them to achieve a result. This is true for issues relating to safety, environment, and governance.

What a Leader Who Cares Will Know

  1. Know something about the family of a person reporting to them.

    • That would include matters such as the person’s marital status, the ages of children, where the person lives, whether they commute to work, and so on.
  2. Have a good idea of the values of a person in their team.

    • They will know what makes a team member tick, what their aspirations are, and what they are trying to achieve with their lives.
  3. Have an insight into the health status of a person reporting to them.

    • They would have some idea as to the weather the person exercises or not, whether the person has any chronic ailments that they’re struggling with, and whether the person has any habits such as smoking or drinking which affect their health.
  4. Have a good understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of a person reporting to them.

    • These strengths will not just be strengths that are concerned with the technical execution of the tasks that are assigned to them, but also broader personality strengths that they bring to the party.
  5. Have some insight into the passions and hobbies of the people reporting to them.

    • They would get some idea of the kinds of things their people like to spend time on in their free time.
  6. Have a very clear understanding of their team members’ expectations of both the leader and the organization.

    • The leader will also consider how the team members day-to-day working life can contribute to realizing those expectations.
  7. Get an understanding of the background of people reporting to them.

    • Of where they grew up, of their work history, of their educational background, their religious convictions and their cultural context.

In Summary

The naming of the Care and Growth model can be misinterpreted to suggest that leaders should be soft and weak. This is not the case. The soft element of care requires a real fortitude of character. It requires an unconditional commitment by the leader. He or she must act in the best interest of the person in their charge. This commitment to acting in the best interest of the person includes being willing to be tough with that person in their own interest. Even if it means putting their good opinion of the leader at risk.

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