Care For Your Team

by Mark Hennes | Oct 16, 2017

Quote of Note
"A strong organization starts with [leaders] caring for their people."
- John Wooden

The long-dreaded phone call came early one Saturday morning at my home in Virginia. My mother in California had fallen in a restaurant Friday evening and was hospitalized with a broken hip. She was taken from the restaurant by ambulance, leaving my father to drive home and fend for himself. Disoriented, due to mid-stage Alzheimer’s disease, he made it home but couldn’t get himself to bed. In his agitated state, he eventually wandered next door, rousing the neighbor who got the story from the police.

After hanging up with the neighbor and then phoning the hospital, I started my list. I checked the airlines, phoned my siblings, and then created a list of personal and work to-do’s before calling my boss at the Pentagon. I started reciting my plan of what I needed to get done on Monday before flying out when he cut me off. He told me that there wasn’t anything at the office that he and my colleagues couldn’t handle. He told me that my priority was my parents and absolutely forbid me coming to the office. He gave me a no-questions-asked, 2 week of leave of absence, and said that he personally would take care of the paperwork to make that happen. He said to call him if I needed an extension, and not to come back until I was ready to return to work.

As I hung up, I realized what a caring leader I had. He took a huge weight off of my shoulders, and really listened to me when I needed it. He let me keep going, even if I rambled a bit, and tossed in some questions if I skipped over some things. He demonstrated real empathy and understanding by relating his similar situation as an only child with an elderly parent. And, even though he was one reporting level away from the Secretary of Defense, he was going to personally organize my office mates to cover my work while I was gone.

As a busy leader, it’s too easy to forget about the human side of the organization. We get so wrapped up in visioning, planning, and problem-solving that we can forget that we have to take care of the people that are going to implement those decisions. We justify not wanting to let people’s personal lives get in the way of the job with various excuses: we fear getting drawn into endless discussions or being taken advantage of or losing our impartiality or getting sucked into problems that never get solved. Regardless of the motivation, a leader who seems closed off, uncaring, and judgmental will eventually see a drop in morale and productivity.

The first step in making yourself approachable is to polish up your listening skills. If someone raises a problem or family situation, just listen to them. Sometimes people just want to talk something out, and really aren’t asking for your solution. So, reserve judgement and hold off offering a solution for a time. Look for clues to see if they really are asking for your advice or are just sharing.

Second, demonstrate interest in your employees’ personal lives. Make an effort to find out a couple of things about each person by sharing something about yourself and inviting others to do the same. Simple, open-ended questions like “How’s your son doing in college?” or “Don’t you have a wedding coming up in your family over the summer?” or “Did you get to any yard sales over the weekend?” will get the conversation started. You don’t have to remember every child’s name or the details of every hobby, just get the conversation started and who knows, you may find some common interests.

Lastly, be alert for unintentional messages that you might be sending. If you ask a question, but then cut the person off in mid-sentence, you might be unintentionally telling them that you really don’t care about their situation. If you solicit input before making an office decision, but quickly list the many reasons why their solution won’t work, you might be sending the message that you already have all of the answers. Also, remember that appearances matter, so don’t chit chat with just your favorites or solicit input from the same people each time. Make it a point to get around to everyone.

Get It Done

  • Demonstrate concern and caring by listening closely.
  • Resist snap judgments and trite sayings.
  • Ask questions and be alert for cues.
  • Put yourself out there and share a bit.
  • Follow up on status and promises.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CAIU, its directors, or its staff.