Leaders, Open Your Hearts

Excerpt from Chapter 9: The Door to Your Open Heart in “Leaders Open Doors,” by Bill Treasurer.

By Bill Treasurer

“The minute a person whose word means a great deal to others dares to take the open-hearted and courageous way, many others follow.”—Marian Anderson

Do you care about me? This is what people want to know when they work for you. They may not say it directly, but it is the core question that defines the relationship between you and the people you lead. When people believe the answer is, “Yes,” they will be more committed to their work…and to you. But when they think the answer is, “No,” their commitment to their jobs and their loyalty to you will suffer.

To be a leader means to get results. But when the drive for results monopolizes a leader’s attention, people become a lesser priority. When a leader cares more about the “ends” (results) and less about the “means” (people), the leader becomes susceptible to treating people like objects. You’ll hear it in the leader’s language. He’ll refer to people as “resources”—as if people were interchangeable parts sitting on a machinery shelf. He’ll stress the importance of resource planning to manage the budget and schedule. He’ll plead with his bosses for more resources to enlarge the capacity of his department. The leader is the machinist, and his resources are his machine parts.

How You Treat People Determines the Results You Get

A single-minded focus on results often leads directly to treating people poorly. The drive to achieve results becomes the leader’s excuse for toughness, saying things such as, “Sure, I’m tough. We’re under relentless pressure from our competitors, and margins are tight. Being tough creates urgency and motivates people to work hard. My boss is tough on me, so why shouldn’t I be tough on the people who work for me?”

To be sure, results matter. But people achieve those results, and when you treat people poorly, you’ll get poor results. Which brings us back to the central question that people want to ask you: Do you care about me? The answer shows up in your treatment of people. You may say you care about people, but if you never smile; constantly move up deadlines; rarely ask for their opinions or use their input; take credit for their good work; set unrealistic goals; and don’t say, “Thank you,” for their hard work, then you don’t really care about them. And they know it.

So what does caring look like? When you care about people, you take an interest in their career aspirations. You seek, and value, their opinions. You appreciate that each person has a life outside of work that affects how he or she performs inside of work. You know people aren’t just “resources”; they are the coach of the local soccer club, lay minister at the church, active alumna at the state college, recently widowed husband to a wife who died after a long battle with breast cancer, and father to three heartbroken kids.

Answering “Yes” to the core Do you care about me? question means taking a deep and genuine interest in those you are leading. Caring, in this sense, is obliging. For when you care about people, you give them more of your time, attention, and active support. A wise leader treats people as more important than results, because strong people produce those results. Period.

Caring Begets Caring

As a practical matter, it’s a good idea to care about your people. Here’s why: When they know you care about them, they will care about you…and your success. In fact, you’ll know that you’re truly a leader who cares when the people you lead start seeking and valuing your input, when they take an interest in your career aspirations, and when they are actively supportive of you. And when your people care about you, they’ll help you get better results.

Much of this book is about the metaphorical doors that open-door leaders open for the people they lead. But there’s one more door you have to open before you can fully call yourself an open-door leader: the door to your heart. The people you lead need to see that behind whatever shell you portray lives an imperfect being just like them. They need to know that, despite whatever successes you’ve achieved, whatever power you’ve amassed, and whatever perks you get, you’re still “real.” They want to know that however big your britches are, you still have a sympathetic heart they always will be able to reach. As long as people know that you have a good and open heart, they will let you push them, give them tough feedback, and ask them to do more. Power works best when it’s anchored in humility.

Showing That You Care

Showing how much you care doesn’t come easily for some leaders, especially the more introverted or analytical types. Keep it simple, and let your actions speak louder than your mouth. Don’t just tell people you care about them; show them! Here are some real-life examples:

  • The owner of a Chicago-based highway construction business makes it a point to visit his night crews during the largest and worst snowstorms. Having come up through the ranks, he knows that your crews respect you more when you show you care about them, especially when it would be more convenient not to.
  • A partner at a law firm regularly takes starting lawyers out to lunch. But instead of taking them to the fancy restaurant downtown where other law firms dine, he takes them to the down-home barbeque place by the railroad tracks next to a prison. Why? It loosens people up—you literally have to drape your necktie over your shoulder so it doesn’t fall into the sloppy food! The informal lunches help the partner get to know his people in an informal way.
  • The CIO of a large office management company catches people off guard by beginning the annual strategic-planning meeting in an unexpected way. He stands in front of the 12 executives, looks each person in the eyes, and tells each person why he is grateful that he or she is a member of his team. As a painfully introverted technologist, being this socially vulnerable is extremely uncomfortable. But he does it anyway. As he goes on, both he and his team well up with emotion. It’s clear he cares about them, deeply.
  • The owner of a successful event management company takes her staff on a yearly “sanity” outing. Each outing is held at a different resort, and the choice of resort is based on the quality of its spa. She makes sure her team is thoroughly and luxuriously pampered. Managing large-scale events is insanely demanding, and taking care of her staff ensures that they will take care of her business (and customers).

Excerpt from Chapter 9: The Door to Your Open Heart in “Leaders Open Doors,” by Bill Treasurer.

Bill Treasurer is the author of “Leaders Open Doors: A Radically Simple Leadership Approach to Lift People, Profits, and Performance.” He is the founder of Giant Leap Consulting, Inc., and is recognized as the originator of the new organizational development practice of courage-building. He is the author of the internationally bestselling book, “Courage Goes to Work,” and the off-the-shelf training program, Courageous Leadership: A Program for Using Courage to Transform the Workplace. Learn more at www.giantleapconsulting.com and www.leadersopendoors.com.


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