Think of all of the teachers, parents, or mentors who have supported you in the past, those who made a difference in your life at the time, or perhaps for many years after. Chances are they had something in common: they took as interest in you as a person; they genuinely cared about your individual well-being, education, or success. My high school English teacher took an interest in my poetry. Because of her, I not only continued writing; I also felt good about it. Writing became both a refuge and a creative practice, a way I built my emotional intelligence. Ultimately, it became a positive aspect of my identity.
Caring is typically associated with parenthood and child-rearing, but it is actually a powerful leadership trait in any context. During the Democratic National Convention last week, many speeches leaned on the words care and empathy. I cried through them all. Part of the reason those speeches were so cathartic is that they acknowledged the very real pain and struggle that many of us are experiencing right now. The caring made space for the feeling.
Leaders who care make it easier for us to experience, legitimize, and process our own emotions, to let the feelings flow through and exit the nervous system so that we can think more clearly, make decisions, prioritize, take action, and get our work done. This is true in the context of a global pandemic and it’s also true in the context of professional disagreement, conflict, or other work-related stress.
Our emotions are, in fact, a huge part of what makes us intelligent. We don’t necessarily want them running the show, but we need them as a kind of internal board of advisors. When we block our feelings, we can no longer respond as appropriately to the people around us. Blocked emotional material, over time, builds a distorted perception of the world that masquerades as rational understanding. False premises produce false logic.
If you are a leader watching your team members struggle with worry, distraction, and overwhelm, know that genuine expressions of care can be a huge help. Genuine expressions of care make space for feelings. And once we have permission to feel what we’re feeling, we can cope much more skillfully with our practical daily challenges, whatever they may be.
Ways to express care for your team members:
- Ask them how they are doing outside work and be willing to listen. Establish an appropriate time window for this if necessary.
- Let them know that whatever they are feeling is completely fine and that they do not need to conceal it or change it for your sake.
- Ask them what they need and do your best to provide it, at least partially.
Would you like to learn more about how leadership and followership complement one another? Check out my Followership Skills course and apply to join a small group this Fall.