Leaders, Caring Is Not Optional

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Have you ever heard this saying, “Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.”?

That saying actually came from Theodore Roosevelt and has echoed in leadership language ever since. It can be a statement quoted often but how much do we really stop to think about how profound and impactful this statement is? Reality is, it is 100% accurate and we see it play out at work and in our personal lives.

Think about the leaders you WANT to follow. My guess is you believe they care about you. My guess is you are willing to follow them because they’ve invested in you and demonstrated they are for you. Think about other situations where you’ve had leaders who don’t care. Most likely, you weren’t too thrilled about following them. Caring is not optional if you want to lead.

If you want to lead, you have to lead with love. Caring is not optional.

If you want to make an impact, caring is not optional.

If you want to see people on your team unlocked and activated, caring is not optional.

If you want people to want to follow you, caring is not optional.

If you want people to give you their discretionary energy and go the extra mile, caring is not optional.

If you want to see your team come together and achieve more than they thought they could, caring is not optional.

The list could go on. To become a person that others WANT to follow, you must care. This is a non-negotiable component of leadership and your leadership impact will be greatly minimized if you don’t get this right.

What does that look like for a leader?

To help me codify what caring looks like, I created the CARE acronym. This is a way for me to remind myself what caring looks like and hold myself accountable to focus on driving these actions with the people under my care.

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C = Connect Below the Line

There is no impact without contact. It’s hard to have intentional influence without intentional connection. Leadership requires engagement and engagement if often more important than competence. To demonstrate you care, it has to start with connecting and connecting below the line. This means going beyond the surface level to the deeper aspects of building relationships. This can be uncomfortable. It’s easier to operate with your team at the surface level and to keep the conversation task focused, but care is demonstrated by going deeper.

The leader going first often unlocks this deeper connection. The leader demonstrates vulnerability, asks for feedback, asks probing questions that go below the surface, engages the heart and not just the hands, etc. Your team wants to know you are interested in them before they invest in following you.

A = Active Listening

Listen, learn then lead. I learned this from General Stanley McChrystal, the former commander of U.S. and International forces in Afghanistan (view his TED talk here). This process starts with listening and not leading. Our tendency is to jump to action. We jump to the lead part without first taking the time to listen and learn. Listening and learning allows us to be more intentional and strategic with our leadership actions and allows our actions to be more meaningful. Leadership actions should be high impact and high value and the path to get there is through listening and learning first.

The key word here is active listening. This mean engaging and not just hearing. This means staying patient and not jumping in to provide solution before the problem is understood. We demonstrate we care when we take time to ask questions with the intent to listen and understand. We demonstrate care when we drive actions that are meaningful and align with the support needed from our team members. We are better positioned to do this when we focus on actively listening.

R = Respect the Individual

Respect needs to be authentic and demonstrated. Mutual respect is earned and only comes through intentional investment of time. I love the quote from Mr. Rogers where he says, “Frankly, there isn’t anyone you couldn’t learn to love once you’ve heard their story.” If you don’t know who Mr. Rogers is, Google it. This statement is powerful and the beginning of respect is a mutual understanding of each other. A great place to start is to ask and listen to the stories of each of your team members. It gives you insight that will help drive up understanding and your ability to lead effectively.

E = Empathy

Empathy is defined as, “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.” For those we lead to believe we care, we need to practice empathy. Empathy is a skill that can be developed and is unlocked by following the listen, learn then lead approach discussed above. Again, people won’t follow you if they don’t think you care. Here’s a good article that discusses the importance of developing this skill as a leader — 5 reasons empathy is the most important leadership skill.

Caring is not optional if you want to lead. Caring is not optional if you want to become a leader other people WANT to follow. Ask your team for feedback in this area. Ask them if they feel like you listen to them and respect them. Do a self-audit on the reality of your relational currency and connection with your team. Consciously think about listening first and using what you learn to more intentionally lead. Remember, “Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.”

Leader. Storyteller. My passion is to inspire and instruct others on how to go further faster and live their purpose.

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