SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. — Leadership expert, John Maxwell said, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Gen. Collin Powell said it this way, “People don’t give two cents about what we think we know or who we think we are if they perceive we don’t care about them (perception is their reality.)”
So what does it mean to care for your people? Caring for our people does not mean:
• Being their bestie
• Overlooking incidents that warrant correction or necessitate holding them accountable
• Downplaying the truth to avoid hurting their feelings
Caring for our people means we strive to make a genuine connection with them. Who is “them”? They are our leaders, peers, and the Airmen we are charged to lead. Do they know we genuinely care?
I believe, we show people we care when we:
• Know them on a personal level
• Do they have a spouse, significant other, dog, gold fish, etc.?
• Do they have kids?
• What are their hobbies?
• What are their pet peeves?
• Seek to discover their personal and professional goals
• Have the courage to be honest regardless of the difficulty
• Notice when their demeanor is different and choose to act
• We must push past the standard “I’m fine” response
• I suggest asking how they are doing at least three times
• Often by the third time a person will let the truth surface
Why is it important as leaders to show our people we care?
First, people are the most precious resource we have. We have a sacred obligation with their families to care for them properly, while they are on loan to us in service of the Nation.
Second, it is impossible to move our organizations on to the next level without great care of our people.
Third, caring for our people helps create buy-in for the person being led. When people buy-in of their own accord, our organizations operate at a higher level of effectiveness and efficiency.
When there is buy-in, the leader has gained a level of earned respect. This can never be taken; the follower can only give it at a time of their choosing. The only way we can hope to earn this type of respect is by having a genuine heart-felt connection with our Airmen (knowing them on a personal level) as we must connect before we pull (get to know them before we demand). Too often, we pull before we connect. Although, there may be times when this approach is necessary, I believe this should not be our primary modus operandi.
People will follow us to the end of the earth when they know we genuinely care, even when we have to hold them accountable. Make time to get away from your desk to engage.
Our Airmen are thirsting to spend time with leaders who genuinely care. Take time to listen to their stories. Take time to know them. Take time for touch leadership.
I will leave you with a final thought from a book recommended to me by our installation commander Col. Daniel Lasica, titled “The Contrarian’s Guide to Leadership” by Steven Sample.
He states (emphasis mine), “A particular follower’s stable of leaders might include his immediate supervisor’s at work, the CEO of the company which employs him, his wife, his parish priest, the pope, the president of the United States, the commander of the National Guard unit of which he is a member, and the director of the soccer league in which he is the coach. If you are one of that person’s leaders, you are necessarily competing with all the other leaders in his life for their time and attention. And that means that you (or your subordinates) must know something about that particular follower as an individual if you hope to beat out the other leaders with whom you are competing.
Therein lies a great contrarian principle: followers, be they soldiers, assembly-line workers, faculty members or voters, are not standardized units, to be counted as so many widgets on a shelf. Rather, each is a unique human being who must be recognized and treated as such if the organization or movement you’re leading is to flourish over the long haul. You as the top leader may not be in a position to provide this kind of individual attention yourself to each of your followers, but it’s essential that someone in your organization does so. Otherwise, your ability to motivate your followers will surely erode over time. Leaders don’t really run organizations (although we often use that term in describing leadership). Rather, leaders lead individual followers, who collectively give motion & substance to the organization of which the leader is the head.”
Victory by Valor!