The demands of leadership continue to increase in pace and complexity. Leaders have to care about more things than ever before. Why should caring about people be elevated to leaders’ number one concern?
Under the pressure of escalating demands, most leaders adopt a command-and–control style of leadership with their teams, according to Nink and Robison from Gallup. They don’t delegate enough, they overwork and end up feeling overburdened. Teams disengage. Leaders and their teams end up producing less, while also jeopardising everyone’s wellbeing and increasing the risk of burn-out.
Leaders who put caring about their people at the heart of their leadership take a different approach. They focus on the team and how the team can be supported to produce results. Rather than increasing control, they care for their team by adopting a coaching style.
Caring leaders cultivate trust with their people by supporting and developing them. They readily delegate work and responsibility. They do what they can to equip team members to do their best work. Not only does more and better-quality work get done, this also has the enormous benefit of relieving the pressure on leaders.
Coaching conveys benevolence; it signals genuine care and support. The more people experience their leader as someone who is caring and supportive, the deeper the trust. Through coaching, team members provide input and suggestions and this helps them to feel valued and appreciated.
Only about one-fifth of people feel that they get feedback from their boss that helps them to do better work. About the same proportion feel they are managed in a way that motivates them to do outstanding work. The care factor is noticeably absent. When people perceive their leaders to be benevolent, they are more likely to reciprocate. They work harder for longer and are more likely to go above and beyond what’s required.
On a practical level, care means learning and development. This translates into regular coaching conversations between managers and their teams. Frequent on-the-job coaching will do more to build a learning culture than anything else. For leaders, this means genuinely asking people how they are going and finding out what support they need. Managers are less focused on the task and what has been done because it is only part of the picture.
With a coaching mindset, the focus is to enable the team and each member to grow to full potential. When you put care at the heart of leadership, that’s the most important contribution.
To be a leader who cares, begin by understanding the motivations, emotions and interests of your people. Having this understanding means you can align their and your needs more readily. Next, make sure you manage your own emotions. As a leader, your mood is highly contagious. A calm, positive emotional state helps your team to feel positive and it will also increase performance.
There’s no substitute for empathy; so also make sure you create a warm, human connection. People will support and reciprocate your care when they like you and enjoy interacting with you. Finally, provide a sense of control through choice. The choice is rewarding. Giving people responsibility and reminding them they have a choice increases their wellbeing.
Coaching focuses on each team member’s needs, interests, suggestions and development. It comes from a place of genuine inquiry. It helps them to feel valued and appreciated. When you care for your team members, they know. When they know you care, they care more about their work and satisfaction and productivity thrives.
Dr Karen Morley is a leadership specialist and author of Lead like a Coach and Gender Balanced Leadership: An Executive Guide. Visit www.karenmorley.com.au