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Be a caring leader

LEADERSHIP ARTICLE: Be a caring leader

"All things being equal, we will work harder and more effectively for people we like. And we like them in direct proportion to how they make us feel."

That's a quote cited by James Kouzes and Barry Posner in their book Encouraging the Heart (Jossey- Bass, 1999). What's being talked about is emotional, caring leadership. If you want your team to care about its work, you have to care about your team. Here are some of Kouzes and Posner's suggestions for being a better caring leader:

Set clear—and high—standards. Do your team members know what they're supposed to do? Do they know where they stand relative to the team's goals? If not, they're not going to be able to offer what they want to contribute to your success. Setting clear standards for performance, thus making it possible for people to succeed, is the first step in caring leadership.

But "not just any standards will do," Kouzes and Posner write. "They must be standards of excellence. They must bring out the best in us. They must make us feel like winners when we attain them." And you must really believe that your people, "no matter what their role,...can achieve the high standards that have been set." Your job as a caring leader is not to force people to do what you want, but to help them achieve their full potential.

Pay attention. Kouzes and Posner put a new twist on an old concept when they talk about "caring by walking around." Caring leaders take time to notice what their people are doing, and not just what they're doing "right" or "wrong." They understand how everything that each team member does relates to the team's mission, goals and standards for performance. And armed with this understanding, they can help each team member move closer, faster, to those standards.

Invest your time by paying attention to the end results of your team's efforts—the "right" and "wrong." But even more important, get to know the team's attitudes, motivations, and strategies. The time you spend itself shows that you care about your team as people, not just as means to an end, and that you have faith in their ability to succeed. "The best leaders," Kouzes and Posner write, "have a special radar that picks up positive signals."

Personalize and celebrate success. You already know to praise, recognize, and reward your team members when they do things that bring your team closer to its goals. Such celebrations of success don't just motivate the team member who receives the praise. They also create a climate where all your team members celebrate each other's successes and feel supported in their own efforts to achieve. Make sure you have such celebrations in public, in settings—no matter how informal—that allow people to stop what they're doing and focus entirely on the message of success.

Even though these celebrations are shared, you should make them meaningful by focusing on employees as individuals. Again, invest time and attention in making rewards and recognitions special and personal, not just perfunctory thank-yous. Use what you know about your team members—who they are and how they work—to tailor your recognition efforts.

Tell the story. Highlight the efforts of your team and its members by knowing and telling their stories. Many management experts recognize the importance of storytelling as a leadership tool. Good stories "enable the listener to put the behavior in a real context," write Kouzes and Posner, "and understand what has to be done in that context to live up to expectations."

Storytelling also helps you overcome "us vs. them" suspicions between team members and team leaders. You, personally, may have little experience working in every frontline role that's represented on your team. But by using the success stories of people who do have that experience, you can get your message across to the whole team in a way all members can relate to.

Talk about being an emotional and caring leader may sound "touchyfeely" to team leaders who are used to thinking about productivity, benchmarks, and numerical targets. But Kouzes and Posner cite management studies, using advanced and widely accepted measurement instruments, in which the most successful managers were the ones with the highest scores for "caring," or "affection," or "empathy"—all components of "emotional intelligence."

The practices of caring leadership "are core leadership skills," Kouzes and Posner write. "They are not just about showing people they can win for the sake of making them feel good. This is a curiously serious business. ...Leaders must make sure that people experience in their hearts that what they do matters" if they want to see those people succeed.

Hiring talent with high EQ

It's easier to be a caring leader if your team members are themselves "emotionally intelligent," to use the current phrase. Your people will respond better if they have self-confidence, a positive outlook, and good social skills.

Here are some questions to consider asking candidates when you are hiring people for your team. These address the five components in Dr. Reuven Bar-On's widely used Emotional Quotient-Inventory (EQ-i), an assessment tool for measuring emotional intelligence:

Intrapersonal ability: "Are you satisfied with what you're doing in your life? Would you describe yourself as independent? Confident? How do you feel about yourself? Do you feel that you know yourself and your own feelings?"

Interpersonal ability: "Do you consider yourself a good team player? How would you describe the people you choose to interact with? Do you feel yourself to be responsible and dependable? Do you find it easy to make friends?"

Adaptability: "How do you approach problems? How do you size up situations to determine if they might be problematic? Do you find the goals you set for yourself to be realistic? Would you describe yourself as flexible?"

Stress management ability: "Would you describe yourself as generally calm? Describe situations in which you've acted on impulse. Do you work well under pressure?"

General mood: "Would people describe you as happy? Optimistic? Hopeful? Do you make an effort to cheer others up or improve the morale of your workplace?"

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