Please read Chapter 7 before reading the rest of this post.
Caring: the willingness to put yourself in another's shoes, to feel compassion, to accept another's well-being as a priority of your own.
I have to admit that this chapter of Graham's book is one of the more exciting ones for me to read and react to. I think that this is an area of leadership that many people look past. In my opinion, it's nearly impossible to overestimate the importance of caring leadership.
One of my biggest "soapboxes" about leadership is the idea that you have get your followers to trust you. Graham draws a direct correlation between caring and trust.
One of the most humbling experiences I've ever had as a CTI team leader came after my second fulltime team was done touring together. We were back in Willmar during Spring Partnership Drive, taking advantage of one of our days off by playing a fairly intense game of ultimate frisbee. Ruth (who weighs next-to-nothing and doesn't have the best physical fitness habits) was playing and giving it her all, but she was obviously reeling from the heat and over-exertion. Before we knew it, she passed out right there on the field. Then it happened: she called out for me. Not her mom, not her teammates, but me….her team leader. I had to fight back tears as she told the paramedics that she didn't want to go to the hospital unless I was allowed to go with her.
She didn't want me next to her because of my abilities to navigate a team through customs or my experience with life on the road. She wanted me next to her because I had proven to her that she could trust me.
To me, that's what caring leadership is all about.
Reflection #1 – Recall an instance when one of the following happened to you: a.) You trusted a leader because of their demonstrated care for you, or b.) Someone you were leading trusted you based on your ability to prove to them that their well-being was a priority of yours.
Graham lists (on pages 68-69) several behaviors that make up caring leadership:
- Being vulnerable
- Putting caring into action
- Following through
- Letting go of judgments
- Caring for beginners
- Correcting with caring
- Acknowledging others for their strengths and contributions – especially those whose strengths and contributions may be few.
- Caring for yourself
Go back and read his detailed thoughts on each of these points.
Reflection #2 - Which of these behaviors come naturally to you? Which ones do you struggle with? How can you help yourself grow in the challenging areas?
In the quoted text from Lou Whittaker found on page 69, we read his strategy for delivering bad news to someone: namely, don't surprise them with it.
An underlying point in this account is the fact that most people are their own toughest critics. It must be some result of the Fall that we are harder on ourselves that other people are on us.
The point is this: often "caring leadership" means giving someone the opportunity and encouragement to evaluate their own situation when a hard choice presents itself. Maybe you'll find yourself in a situation where a team member needs to be confronted about some destructive behavior during training, or maybe you'll need to decide whether or not someone should perform at a concert based on their physical health, etc., but the fact remains that all of us have the potential to be forced to have some difficult conversations this summer with team members. In these types of situations it's often best to let the individual make their own evaluation.
You're leading a team overseas this summer and Johnny is your male vocalist. He's a team player in every possible way. He's the first to volunteer to serve and he does it without a single complaint. He carries gear, washes dishes, sings his heart out (and voice for that matter), talks with anyone he can find after the concert and does his best to check on his teammates regularly to see how they're doing. He's the model team member, except for the fact that his go-get-em behavior often prevents others on the team from stepping out of their comfort zone, because Johnny does everything. You also begin to notice that he's wearing down about halfway through the tour and you think that it might be a good idea for him to let some of his teammates help out once in a while. However, Johnny shows no signs of slowing down, so the situation needs to be addressed.
You have two ways to handle the situation:
- You forbid Johnny from doing anything that is not absolutely necessary, so that he can rest up, get better and allow his teammates to grow.
- You ask Johnny what he feels would be best for the team: for him to continue in his current trend or for him to take a few steps back, preserve his health for the rest of the tour and allow his teammates to grow.
The results are the same in both cases for the rest of the team.
Reflection #3 – Which option is better? Why? Why not? What are the dangers associated with each option?
Graham closes this chapter with a quote from Pete Petzoldt. To me, this quote is a very succinct way to summarize the entirety of the idea of caring leadership.
Reflection #4 – What points from Petzoldt's quote do you agree with? What points do you disagree with?