Since the release of my book, The Not So Fine Art of Caring: Letters on Leadership (2022, John Hunt), One of the questions I get asked frequently is, “How do you administer kindness?” Sometimes, I don’t want to answer, “How do some people micromanaging people operate or otherwise kill the heck out of them?”
I take questions in the world with all seriousness and do not intend to disrespect. To drive a culture of kindness is the exact opposite of what has been happening in most Western businesses for hundreds of years, where top-down, autocratic, command-and-control narcissists talk more than they listen. Encourage, criticize more than that. They tend to focus more on building down and improving their own circumstances than they do. They move freely as compared to others. Its operational choice is a simple two-word prelude—perhaps the biggest leadership tip ever, “Just Care.”
I spoke with Paul McCarthy, CEO of PaulMac Leadership and a thought leader on the future of work. I asked him what his advice was for organizations thinking about how they could operate a kinder, more caring style of doing business. He had similar advice. He told me, “Stop obsessing over how to steer kindness in your organization and how to approach leadership. You’re missing the point. Do the opposite of what you think. Try it.” When it works, do it more. If it doesn’t, just refine your approach and try it again. Simple. Just do it.”
When our focus and priorities shift to simply caring whatever we put in a leading position, the lens through which we see everything will change. The system we use to evaluate everything will change. Even the core values that guide and inform the business will change. That’s because the business will start asking, “Who?” instead of, “What?”
Let me make it clear at the outset that in the case of a non-profit, the ultimate objective of the firm does not change, and neither does its fiduciary obligation to its shareholders, or those it serves. Business, after all, is a game in which score is kept. The goal of maximizing returns does not change; it will never happen. Winning remains the aim of the game. What does change is the way people are valued and treated in the process. Whatever changes can be tolerated.
For too long, the importance of conscientiousness-related traits among the “Big 5” has been discounted when considering new employees and promotions to positions that have direct responsibility or influence for recruiting important leadership positions. Worse, when dealing with known attitude problems, abusers of subordinates, or others who clearly distance themselves from the organization’s values and culture, it has become a practice to ignore these faults because the employee, “in his or her job”. I’m so good at,” or has somehow been deemed, “irreplaceable.” Therefore, the organization consciously distances known opponents from the culture and ties them up, believing that hard skills are significantly more valuable than soft ones.
This is foolish though. Clichés become clichés because they are true. And that totally applies about bad apples. Even an ally of what you’re trying to achieve culturally, no matter how good they are at their job, will destroy everything you’re trying to build. . So do yourself and everyone who works there a favor and help these misfits find a place outside of your organization where it would be okay to have their particular brand – because it may never be okay at your place. So, this is the first step:
- Make sure everyone in the boat wants to be in the boat (by making sure everyone is 100% committed to living up to the organization’s values). Next, put others first by making sure that everyone:
- know their role
- know how to play your part
- Know why their role is important
- Knows that their lives will be better if the goals of the organization are met.
Intermediately, operating a more caring organization is no more complicated than making sure that each associate has what it takes to be successful in their role, ensuring that each associate adheres to both the business’s core strategies and values. Knows and can repeat, and is committed to, the notion that mistakes should be encouraged when no one loses his dignity.
According to David Rogers, president of Shop4D and a coach and consultant to top-performing independent automotive repair shops, this is the heart of true accountability—an industry that is in dire need of kindness. “Accountability is not a one-way street,” says Rogers. “If mistakes can only be made at the bottom of the chain of command, then the organization is not really committed to creating a healthy, caring culture. I expect my leaders to publicly accept responsibility when they fall short. It’s not about some sort of public lashing, but to show that we are all accountable to the same goal – protecting the company, protecting the customer and protecting each other.”
As a leader, you must believe, beyond any doubt, that this is not about you, and that your main goal on the way to achieving your shareholders’ goals is to make yourself really, really small so that Others can become really, really big. When and if you can accomplish these things, you will have run a kinder, more caring organization.
It really doesn’t get more complicated than that. However, this, like everything else in life, is a choice – a simple, wonderful choice. It is no longer a choice between not prioritizing traits that relate to emerging leadership and instead choosing better traits that relate to effective leadership. It is an option to refuse to shelter associates who may or may not align with the values of the organization. Putting others first by implementing simple steps to drive a caring culture is one option. And it is a choice to make ourselves small so that others can grow up. Rafael Luggio, Dr. BA, Managing Partner at Southeastern Investments and a first-generation American who, along with his brother, says, “Indeed, caring is the act of making the people around you look bigger as well as making yourself look smaller. It’s a humble act.” Manufactured, then sold to one of the largest tire distribution businesses in the Southeast United States. Dr. Luggio shared a story with me, being considered as a frequent janitor as well as better or better than anyone else in the building. “Let me always remind these people that when I came to this country, my mother, me and my elder brother were watchmen. It is much easier to raise others when you remember where you came from.”
Look, it’s not that hard to understand. It’s a matter of treating most people the way they want to be treated – all day, every day – especially when it gets in the way of things that make you feel like you matter more. Because here’s a fundamental truth about life and business: Unless people recognize that they mean more to you than anything in the world, then what matters to you and to you will matter to them at all. Will not keep It’s just simple organizational dynamics. And it is this that makes way for operating such a subtle art of caring that is not so difficult to understand. Really, it’s simple: just take care.