Leaders, in whatever sphere of influence, need to be authentic in the way that they lead and care for their followers. There seem to be too many leaders who like the podium, the boardroom or leading the road-show, but who fail to demonstrate genuine care to those they lead. A leader only caring when in public view is not true care at all – that’s called “marketing”, but truly a marketing campaign with a shallow ring to the message. Pretence and pious pose have no place in the behaviours associated with authentic leadership. This “standing on tiptoe” to demonstrate that you care as a leader is easily recognisable and is typically despised. Posing as a leader breeds distrust – a destructive cancer that eats away at the very fabric of the organisational culture. It is harmful.
Genuine care, on the other hand, grows the environment, enhances a sense of belonging and is motivational in essence. It enables the flow of ideas, breeds accountability and teamwork and values everyone’s contribution. Care empathises appropriately, but is also firm on performance and behaviour standards and expectations. True care demonstrates evenness, fairness and balance. It addresses wrong-doing (seeking improvement for both the individual and organisation’s sake) and it celebrates successes (individual and team). Genuine care is spontaneous, but needs to be cultivated and maintained by discipline.
Although the concept of care is seemingly an indefinite one, there are principles linked with its expression:
- Care is associated with one’s disposition – genuine care is not selective, but forms part of one’s attitude and approach to life in general. It sees endless opportunities to express itself and gives of itself freely. It comes from the heart.
- Care is inclusive – care of only one aspect of life can confuse and cause suspicion (e.g.: caring just for the company’s interests and profits could communicate that people are expendable). Care should include the business and its shareholders, the customers, the suppliers, the employees, the environment, communities, etc., for it to be seen as genuine.
- Care is fair – although not treating everyone the same (as this treats everyone as robots), it treats everyone fairly. True care expels favouritism and sectional interests and offers dignity to everyone.
- Care always seeks the best – it does not favour the business over the employees nor does it favour the employees over the business. It always asks the question: “What is good for this person and what is good for the business and its customers?” It balances the needs of all and looks for solutions that are going to benefit all.
- Care is selfless – it requires one’s energy, time, wisdom and compassion to be truly expressed. Self-sacrifice is the service dimension of good leadership.
Standing on tiptoe to “act out” demonstrations of care makes the calf muscles tired and results in distrust amongst the leader’s followers. The very nature of the leader should be characterised by care if the leader is to create an environment where everyone can flourish.