This blog post is dedicated to my dad, Gordon Henderson, who passed away on March 27.
My dad was one of the most caring people I have known. He epitomised caring in the most generous of ways. He always had time for others. He would always greet a neighbour, never averting his eyes to avoid engaging (as is so easy to do when we are busy). When in a conversation he always gave his full attention to whoever he was talking with and was genuinely interested in what they had to say.
When working with leaders, we notice that this form of caring is one of the gifts that others are attracted to. Caring leaders demonstrate a style of leadership which brings others along with them. But it needs to be inherent in the leader, not a part of their role. Let me explain what I mean.
A caring leader is someone who has a genuine interest in others. He has a desire to better know the people working with him, not so he can make token enquiries from time to time because he feels he should, but because he really wants to know his people and encourage them to be the best they can be.
A caring leader is intuitive, is aware of the small things. She notices a change in the mood of someone and will enquire after their wellbeing with open, generative questions which recognise the individual and what is happening for them in the moment.
And a caring leader sees the importance of building confidence in his people. He ‘coaches’ by default, not saying “what I would do is…” but rather enabling his people to find their own way – to be the best they can be.
Importantly, the care I am talking about here is like the care my dad always showed. Like Dad, caring leaders don’t care because they think they should or because they see caring as part of their role. They care because it is a part of who they are. In terms of emotional health, they demonstrate care as a default, ‘above the line’ response: something they do without thinking.
That’s not to say that you as a leader cannot become more caring. It just means that doing so is not about trying to demonstrate care more often. Instead, it is about building your emotional health. As with other aspects of emotional health, this starts with increasing the awareness you have of your default responses.
A good way to start is to increase your awareness of the way you tend to respond when someone cares for you. Is your automatic response to reject that care, to push it away? Is it to turn your back and to question their motives? Is it to try and be ‘brave’, suggesting that you don’t need their concern?
All of these responses can be quite common in leaders, particularly as contemporary leadership stereotypes encourage ‘strength’ and self-reliance over turning to others for help. However, responses like this can also indicate a disconnection with the heart centre, placing more emphasis on the task or the situation rather than recognising the potential of the relationship and genuine caring to achieve great results.
Reconnecting with the heart centre does not come easily to some leaders, but it can be done. We suggest the simplest way to get started is to place your hand on your chest, over your heart, when you wish to be more caring and attentive to those around you – in a meeting, for instance. Initially this may feel unnatural, or you may feel nothing at all. But our experience is that over time it can work.
Through his actions, my dad taught me a lot about the power of caring, how it makes us see others – no matter who they are – as people. I will be forever grateful for that. My hope is that I can show a similar level of care for others in future, and help many leaders to do the same.