The Door to Your Open Heart

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 job and their loyalty to you will suffer. To be a leader means getting results. But when the drive for results monopolizes a leader's attention, people become the lesser priority. When a leader cares more about the “ends” (results) and less about the “means” (people), he becomes susceptible to treating people like objects. You'll hear it in the his language—he'll refer to people as
“resources,” as if they 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. She'll say things like, “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. This brings us back to the central question: Do you care about me? The answer shows up in your treatment of people. You may say that 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 never say “thank you” for 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 the offi that impacts how they perform inside the offi . You know that people aren't just “resources”; they are the coach of a local soccer team, a lay minister at the church, an active alumna at the state college, or a husband whose wife just 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. 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. 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 create for the people they lead. But there's one more door that 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 that they will always 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.

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