Opinion

Why don’t we mention care in leadership and business?

6 min read

22 August 2018

According to author Tracy Kite, it's unlikely that managers don't care. Yet we fail to discuss, describe and contemplate this aspect of humanness and interaction in our professional endeavours.

You might be wondering why care is a topic for an article on business. Why, in a business context, would we need to mention it? My background is in health care, so it isn’t a huge departure for me to consider this within a professional setting – it may be more difficult if you work in finance or other sectors determined by hard data and equally hard management styles.

The discussion about care is philosophical. Philosophers have laboured for centuries to articulate what this means and it’s surprisingly complex. By dictionary definition, care is depicted in two basic ways. As troublesome worries and woes – “all the cares in the world” – or the solicitous, authentic act of caring for another person, situation, issue or object. Either way, few models of management mention caring.

So why don’t we mention care in leadership and business? No credible manager ever says they don’t care, yet we fail to contemplate this aspect of humanness professionally. In our attempts to become more professional, we have lost our leadership heritage; those solicitous, compassionate, attentive interactions, which facilitate growth and development, in turn achieving business outcomes.

Are we afraid of seeming “soft” and un-business-like? We are “whole” human beings – the sum of our experiences, values, knowledge and aspirations make us who we are. As leaders, we must ensure we get the best from everyone by valuing them and appreciating what they bring. This includes all those messy feelings, troubles (cares?) and fears that we usually avoid because they are considered difficult or unprofessional.

Leaders must both “take care of” the business processes and outcomes, as well as “care for” people. We are still “us” whether we are in work or not; only the behaviours change between contexts. So we must care as much about what matters to the individual as much as what matters to the organisation.

This way people come to work, work hard and achieve what they are supposed to. Caring is what it’s all about – not soft and unprofessional, just human attention towards those we work with, to enable the success of our business. We are already experts – we have people and things we care about outside of work. We also care about the work we do and the job we are in.

Contemplate how you can apply that in business and you will have a team who are enabled to come to work and do their best. This isn’t the soft option – it’s most likely to get the best performance from your team. Why? Because people come to work, seeking to feel valued, respected and able to contribute meaningfully. If we get this, we will stay longer, work harder and “go the extra mile”.

If leaders care, it becomes easier to challenge teams about their performance. This is because they feel that they matter as much as the business does. Care provides the safety needed to explore, analyse, reflect and challenge. It provides the safety net required to become fully involved in activities which carry personal risk (admitting that we might be wrong) – because the situation is safe, and someone cares enough to ensure the outcome will be worthwhile.

If care is absent, we know immediately. When managers disregard others, lack manners and behave in a superior way, we see teams who are derogatory about them and who work against them rather than with them. Most people I speak to can recount a story where they have felt less than conscientious attention, care or compassion from their line managers.

This may be short-term or transient in nature, although where it is more consistent in leaders and managers, we instinctively know this will impact on staff turnover and retention rates, complaints, grievances and general personnel issues in the workplace. What happens when “hard business” is pursued, and care is absent?

I would argue that all of the things we want to achieve at work – business success, profitability and growth – will also be absent or at least affected negatively. Care and the creation of a safe place to work with challenge and difficulty are about acknowledgement and an appreciation that individuals aspire to do a good job.

No one gets up in the morning wanting to be unmanageable or perform poorly! If the leader reflects acceptance, change, growth and development occurs and outcomes can be achieved. Positive change happens when individuals and teams flourish – care is the way human beings do this best.

Tracy Kite is author of Love to Lead (£14.99, Panoma Press). She has many years of experience in the design, delivery and implementation and evaluation of learning and leadership development programmes. Her work is focussed on achieving strategic and operational leadership excellence and a defined return on investment for organisations.