By John Gronski
Many times, when we listen to leadership consultants and coaches talk about best practices for leading others, we hear them say good leaders should “care” about the people they lead. But what does it look like when a leader truly exhibits care for their followers? In my experience leading people in the civilian sector and the military, I have found there are several actions leaders should take if they want to show their followers that they care about them.
Get to know your people on a personal level. Find out what makes them tick. Work on understanding their strengths and weakness. What talents outside their specific line of work do they have?
As a National Guardsman commanding a large unit in Ramadi, Iraq in 2005 and 2006, I had active component and National Guard units assigned to my brigade. Many of the National Guardsmen had full-time civilian jobs back in the United States when they were not deployed.
It was helpful to know what civilian skills they possess. Some were law enforcement officers. Others were plumbers and electricians. One or two were mayors of small towns and many were schoolteachers.
These talents and skills were very useful whether being leveraged to make accommodations on our forward operating bases more comfortable for our Soldiers or whether to assist Iraqi police and government officials. However, leaders had to know what Soldiers possessed those special skills.
It is the same in business. A new employee may not have a great deal of experience in the industry they are currently in, but they may have other skills and experiences that could benefit the team. These talents may go untapped if a leader has not taken the time to learn these things.
It is also important for a leader to understand the personality of those they lead. I like to say that leaders should not treat all of their employees equally. They should treat their followers as individuals.
Some people respond better to praise, and others respond better to a sharp challenging word. Some of our followers are extroverts who will openly express their views while with others you may have to pull opinions or recommendations out of them. Leaders must take the time to understand how to get the best out of the individuals they lead.
Remove Obstacles and Provide Resources.
Leaders should circulate and visit followers at the place they work and perform their duties. When circulating to visit employees, leaders should spend time with as many of their followers as they can. It is a mistake to only spend time with the supervisors and not the line workers. Most line workers resent leaders who come by the work site but never say a word to them.
While it is important to visit followers and shake hands and pat people on the back, it is just as important for the leader to gain some real insight into the obstacles followers face on a daily basis and what resources or tools the followers need in order to do their job better.
In my past leadership positions, I would always ask my followers what obstacles are in their way that makes it more difficult to do their job more efficiently and effectively. I would also ask what resources they need that they do not currently have.
Once back at my home base I would gather my staff around and we would do our best to find ways to remove those obstacles and provide resources. Sometimes it would require me to contact my boss and ask for assistance in these areas.
A good practice is to follow up with the followers you had those conversations with. Whether the resources could be provided or not, follow-up is essential so at least your followers know you did your best to assist them with their challenges.
Shaking hands and slapping people on the back is great but leaders truly show that they care about their followers when they remove obstacles and provide resources that help the team succeed.
Share Success and Own Mistakes
Leaders demonstrate that they care for their followers when they share success and take ownership of mistakes, losses, and failures that the team might encounter. Sharing success and taking ownership of mistakes is a great way to earn the trust and loyalty of those you lead.
An effective way for a leader to praise a teammate is by being specific about the contribution the teammate made. First, cite the specific performance of the teammate. Then, point out the teammate’s personal qualities that led to the good performance. Finally, point out the positive impact on the team.
Here is an example of what that sort of conversation could be: Jeff, you did an excellent job completing that difficult repair in a very short time. You are very creative, technically proficient, and you don’t give up. Because of your hard work, the customer is very satisfied, and it makes everyone at our company look good.
Sometimes teams take a swing and miss the ball. They fall short of what they wanted to accomplish. As a leader you are responsible for what a team does or fails to do so you should take responsibility for the result.
Once you acknowledge your ownership of a poor outcome, it is then important to bring the team together to conduct a review of what happened. Identify what went well that you would want to sustain next time you do a similar project. Identifying what the team needs to improve to do better next time. Identify any general lessons learned.
When the team learns from a mistake and takes steps to do better in the future then it is hard to categorize the episode as a failure. When the team learns everyone benefits.
Ultimately, the leader should back up their people and provide top cover from upper echelon bosses. Leaders should encourage their teammates to take prudent risks and demonstrate initiative.
When a leader cultivates a culture where initiative is expected and valued some honest mistakes are bound to occur. This is because people are trying new things and leaving their comfort zones. Leaders must underwrite honest mistakes and deflect pressure from higher levels.
Share the Load
It is important that a leader places the needs of their followers ahead of their own needs. Followers expect leaders to sacrifice for the good of the team. That is probably why not everyone wants to be a leader or should be a leader.
A leader should share the load and the struggles that their teammates are facing. Colonel Teddy Roosevelt was a great example of how a leader should shoulder more than their share of the tasks at hand.
When in Cuba during the Spanish-American War, Roosevelt shared the hardships of lining in the field and fighting in combat alongside his men. He slept on the ground with them and ate the same rations they did, even though he could have taken steps to live more comfortably. Roosevelt demonstrated he was prepared to do anything for those he led, and they in turn were prepared to do anything for him.
Care for Those You Lead
Truly care for those you lead. Get to know your followers. Be prepared to do everything within your power to remove obstacles from the path of your followers and provide them with the resources they need so they could do their job efficiently and effectively.
Share team success with your followers and give them the credit while ensuring you own any mistakes that the team might make.
Shoulder the load and share hardships with those you lead. Demonstrate that you are willing to do anything for your teammates and they in turn will be willing to do anything for you.