“I’m sure you’ve heard the saying People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. And that is so true for anyone who is in a leadership role today,” says Kathy Cuff, senior consulting partner at The Ken Blanchard Companies.
“In our SLII® leadership development class we conduct an exercise where we ask people to reflect back on their best boss. We ask them to identify the attitudes and behaviors that earned that boss the ‘best’ ranking in their eyes. People share many different positive behaviors. To sum it up, best bosses care about each direct report as a person. They see something the person doesn’t see in themselves. That’s especially important today with everything we are facing in our lives.
“Now more than ever, people need to know that their boss cares about them, their development, and their career aspirations. How would they like to grow? Where do they want to direct their energy and their passion?”
As a leader, you can demonstrate caring, compassionate, and empathetic behavior. It begins with asking good questions to learn more about your direct reports as individual people, not just employees.
“A great way to build this into your leadership routine is to set aside 15 to 30 minutes every other week for a one-on-one meeting where your direct report sets the agenda—the meeting is about whatever they want to talk about. It’s an opportunity for managers and direct reports to get to know each other so the relationship can be about more than just the job.”
That’s a big shift compared with what happens in most one-on-ones, says Cuff.
“Most of the time, one-on-ones are just progress reports where the leader checks on how much progress the employee is making toward their goals. How about a meeting that is geared to what the employee wants to talk about? This provides that person with an opportunity to share not just what they’re working on but also what they need and how you, their leader, can help them. They also may want to talk about their family, sports or hobbies, or other things going on in their life.
“Now you’re listening and being present and available on a regular basis—exactly the behaviors that demonstrate you care. And you can share, too. It’s important to remember that people can’t read your caring mind but they can see your caring behavior. The combination of being available, listening, and giving them your time—those are the kind of behaviors that show you care.”
Letting people know you care may be harder than you think, says Cuff—especially when everyone is stressed and pressed for time.
“Leaders may wish to be seen as caring, but when something pressing comes up they have a choice to make. More often than not, the one-on-one will get postponed, rescheduled, or worse—canceled altogether. Obviously, as a manager there will always be situations where you have time constraints or changes to your schedule. But consider the message you send to your team member when you cancel their time.
“Look at the things we are experiencing right now—changing work situations, new policies and procedures, more people working from home—during extraordinary times, making time for your people simply has to be a top priority. If you ignore critical events happening in people’s lives, you’re sending the wrong message.”
However, don’t worry if you’re not perfect or if you don’t have all the answers, says Cuff.
“You might think if you admit to your people you don’t know how to solve every problem, they will see you as weak. That’s not true. When you show your vulnerabilities, rather than thinking less of you, people will actually think more of you. Why? Because they already know you don’t know everything!
“Colleen Barrett, president emeritus of Southwest Airlines, wrote a book with Ken Blanchard called Lead with LUV: A Different Way to Create Real Success. It came out just after the great economic recession we experienced in 2008. One of the messages Colleen shared in that book was that as a leader, people will admire you for your skills, but they will love you for your vulnerability. When you are willing to acknowledge that you don’t have it all together, people will relate to that. And it will give them an opportunity to step in, share their ideas, and make a contribution.
“Leaders need to demonstrate they care by spending time with their people. That’s how you inspire performance. And when people know you care about them, they will do whatever they can to help you.”