The first five principles I have outlined are actions that leaders can undertake but the final one is a foundation that is much more difficult to create. It is a condition of success: If you want people to commit wholeheartedly to change, it is essential that you really care about them and the outcome for the organisation.
Care: verb ‘feel concern or interest; attach importance to something.’
This is not a technique nor an approach but it is something fundamental to the leader and their role …where and with whom they are engaged.
It can’t be faked. Have you ever noticed how easy it is to tell if someone really cares about something or the impact on someone? I have discovered this myself. When I have been in an organisation with someone who clearly cares about both what happens to the organisation and to me, I have found it a lot easier to commit to what we are doing. Where it is absent I have found it almost the kiss of death to commitment.
This leader’s ‘care’ is not the same as care about personal success or an organisational outcome from their own viewpoint. It is about care for something bigger and broader: the human organisation, its purpose and its people.
The impact of a lack of care
When leaders don’t care about people and purpose it sucks the heart out of a team. It destroys the meaning (and hence value) of what is begin done and relegates strategy and activity to insignificance. A key part of the leader’s purpose is to help capture the aspiration behind the activity and articulate the ‘something bigger than ourselves’ that is part of being an organisation. The same is true if leaders don’t care about the people in the team.
Leaders communicate their attitude regardless of their intent. Touchstone actions demonstrate it.
Where leaders are seeking commitment to a change, they are looking forward – to the future of the human organisation. As such they need to care about the people and the purpose of the organisation. Without this, commitment is dissipated. Leaders who don’t care alienate people from the organisation and its goals.
1 Go where you care
I have been fortunate to be able to lead for the most part where I have found it easy to care about both the people and the outcome for the organisation. Yet it is too often a cliche when leaders describe their staff as ‘our most valuable asset’.
People can tell whether you mean it.
Therefore it is vital to perform a leadership role in a place and with people whom you genuinely care about. If, as a leader, you no longer have this where you are then it is time to move on. As a friend once expressed to be me – you need to be where your energy and heart are.
If not, then move on. If the leaders are not interested in the bigger picture of the human organisation – neither will others be interested. Energy and commitment will be expelled from the change.
2 Be interested
“The real reason that people are interested in leaders is because leaders are interested in people,”
Major Chris Whipp
To be an effective leader of change it is important that ‘we’ becomes much more significant than ‘I’. Bill George, the widely respected former CEO of Medtronic, puts this attribute down to the leader’s compassion. In his opinion, this is what makes the difference. To achieve this we need to be really interested in people – individually and collectively – not just task outcomes.
These are the “Level 5” leaders that Jim Collins identifies in ‘Good to Great’. Leaders who possess the paradoxical mix of two almost conflicting qualities: great ambition and personal humility.
Yet, it is easy for leaders to lose their interest and compassion for people. The relentless demand for results and forward progression can undermine the interest in people and break the emotional connection needed to generate commitment. This leaves people feeling that they are just human resource, and leaders failing to listen properly or not caring about individuals’ views.
The Tibetan scholar, Thupten Jinpa, explains that this compassion has three components:
1 A cognitive component: “I understand you”
2 An affective component: “I feel for you”
3 A motivational component: “I want to help you”
It is not about agreeing with others but it is about being interested in them as people, their work, aspirations, fears and life.
3 Find the hope in the vision
Even where a change has a painful and destructive aspect (eg including downsizing or retrenchment) it is important to help people find where the future is – for them. Commitment to change requires hope in a successful future and leaders who care will want to help people, whether they stay with the organisation or not, to grow and find that future.
Owning a forward facing interest in people is a very powerful trigger for people to commit to change. This is strengthened still further when this embodies a picture of something bigger in the future of the organisation.
The sense is beautifully captured by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, author of The Little Prince, who once said, “If you want to build a ship, don’t herd people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”
What might this look like?
There is no easy answer to this question.
It is not about set-piece activities or training. It is about the heart of the leaders. However, the sort of things that might be seen where leaders do have a heart for people and organisation are:
- Genuine interest in the welfare of staff. Gallup CEO, Jim Clifton polls 1000 staff each day across the enterprise to understand how energised they are.
- The presence and positive use of staff attitude, commitment or 360 feedback. Gallup offer organisations the opportunity to monitor employee commitment, a good measure of the level of care.
- Commitment to the spirit of the core management tasks in leading people – e.g. helping to establish clear expectations with staff, providing supportive but critical feedback, ensuring that staff have the ability and control to meet their goals
- An evident curiosity, enthusiasm and energy that engages others in the welfare and development of the organisation. A thirst for new ways to advance the aims of staff and the organisation.
- Behaviours that evidence genuine interest in the people in the organisation – presence, empathy, listening, commitment to the building of teams
Sometimes it might be difficult to tell where this enthusiasm comes from – whether it is a commitment to something bigger or simply a projection of inner ego. The only true observation can be made by the leader themselves – and if there is no energy and commitment to this human organisation, then it is time to move elsewhere.