Care is kind, but care is also firm. Care is forgiving, but care is also fair. Care is gentle, but care is also dedicated to what is right. Care accepts you for who you are, but it also pushes you to become better. Some leaders care and other leaders don’t. Unfortunately for those who don’t, caring leadership is not one option among many of effective leadership styles. Caring leadership is the heart of any effective leadership approach.
What does caring about someone actually mean, particularly in a leadership context? Most of the time we are gentle with those we care about. But sometimes we are hard, and rightfully so. Where in this contradiction does care sit?
Care is the Foundation of Good Leadership
If you want to know whether people trust a person, the one question you should ask them is the following:
Do you believe that he/she has a genuine interest in your welfare?
If you honestly answer yes to this question, then you will trust the person. If you honestly answer no to this questions, then you won’t trust this person. We only trust people who we believe have a genuine interest in our well being. This is another way of saying that we only trust people that we believe care about us. We obviously do not trust people that we believe don’t care about us.
This has important consequences for leadership. Trust is critical for a healthy relationship between a leader and his/her followers. An essential part of this relationship is the wilful subordination of the follower to the critical direction and instruction given by the leader.
This willing subordination is an immense gift but it is a gift that needs to be earned. The leader earns this in the first instance by being trustworthy. You cannot expect people to listen to you if they can’t/don’t trust you. This trust is earned by having a genuine interest in the well-being of the people you are leading. It is earned by genuinely caring about your people.
Caring Leadership Starts with Knowing the Person
We can see care in the way people treat each other. But it is sometimes hard to know how much you care, or how much someone cares for you. It is useful to bear in mind however that there is a pre-condition for care to even be possible.
Because we meet many people in our lives, we don’t actually know very much about most people we come across. This is particularly the case in a work context. If we are honest with ourselves, we will have to admit that we actually care very little about all of the people that we know very little about.
This includes those colleagues at work that you greet at the water cooler. Or that direct report that you touch base with on a Monday to check on their progress. Or even that distant relative that you are forced to spend Christmas with.
It is not possible to care for these people because you have so little involvement in their lives. For you to care about someone, genuinely, you have to get to know who that person is. The deeper your understanding of the person, the deeper your care can and will become. Those we care the most about are those we know most intimately.
This gives you a little test you can use. We call it the care test. Take the care test to see how much you know to find out how much you can possible be said to care.
Care is about Intent
Care starts with knowing a person but, some may find surprising, care is not about your behaviour. It is true that care shows in your behaviour, but it does not sit there, care sits in your intent, your deeper motive.
This is why care can be a whole number of opposite things. Care can be kind and care can be hard. Ultimately, care is about the intent to give to another. Giving can be described as suspending your own agenda for the sake of another.
To say you care for someone is to say that you are willing to put their interests first. This only truly comes out when you have to sacrifice what is in your interest for what is in their interest. And this is the true nature of care. Care is to act in the interests of the other, even when it is not in your interests to do so.
Caring about someone is acting on the basis of what is in their best interest. When this means being kind, then you be kind. When this means being fair, then you be fair. What stays the same is your sincere intent to do the best for them.
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