Start With Caring

Posted on September 2, 2022


Today’s Buzz is by Joe Warren, City Manager for the City of Belton, Mo. You can follow Joe at LinkedIn.

What I’m Listening to: Turnpike Troubadours

What I’m Working on: Creating a culture of high performance in the City of Belton

What I’m Reading: “Eleven Rings: The Soul of Success” by Phil Jackson and Hugh Delehanty

“People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.” 

That was a quote by former President Theodore Roosevelt, and it might as well be a guiding light for leadership. But leadership has not always been thought of that way. 

There is a scene from the movie Moneyball, based on a true story, where Brad Pitt’s character – infamous baseball general manager Billy Beane – tells his highest-ranking assistant that he wants the assistant to travel with the team. Beane wants the assistant to go because he chooses not to travel with the team. Beane tells the assistant that he does not want to develop personal relationships. “I need to trade them, send them down, and sometimes cut them,” he said.  

The thesis of the conversation is that the manager, who must sometimes discipline and fire staff members, should keep employees at arm’s length. The implication is that the lack of personal connection makes it easier to be an effective manager. Remove emotion from the equation; it is easier to make logical decisions in the organization’s best interests. 

I used to share the same theory, having been trained and mentored by leaders who subscribed to a hierarchal management style.  

For that reason, early in my managerial career, I tried not to engage too deeply with staff. Treating people with respect and being cordial was always part of my mantra, but I was careful not to take it too far. No drinks with staff after work, no long conversations about hopes and dreams, no Facebook friend requests.  

If you are worried about your staff believing that you care for them, here’s a tip: actually care for them.

I was trying to apply my version of logic to my leadership style.  

There are two problems with that supposition. One, people are simply not logical. Famous American writer and lecturer Dale Carnegie once said: 

“When dealing with people, let us remember we are not dealing with creatures of logic. We are dealing with creatures of emotion, creatures bristling with prejudices and motivated by pride and vanity.” 

Although I disagree that all people are motivated by pride and vanity, the bigger lesson here is that people are “bristling with prejudices.” It is only natural that people with diverse upbringings and cultures and varied personalities and skillsets could look at the same issue or situation and develop entirely different views and opinions. Carnegie was using the term prejudice as a synonym for bias. If you substitute prejudices for the term biases, the quote makes more sense and is very much still applicable.  

The second reason that non-relationship-building logic was flawed returns us to the opening quote by Teddy Roosevelt. To lead people effectively, you need to engage and empower them. A traditional, top-down approach will only get employees to work hard enough to keep management from bothering them. When employees are not engaged, they are statistically more likely to call in sick, more likely to change jobs, and more likely to give a subpar effort while in the workplace. They are less likely to go the extra mile, less likely to have a positive attitude at work, and less likely to stay in the organization. 

The first step toward engagement is to build trust, and trust does not develop unless the employee believes that you care for them. If you are worried about your staff believing that you care for them, here’s a tip: actually care for them. 

Do not be afraid to develop relationships with those people you work with. You do not have to be a manager to be a leader, and anyone can be a leader. If you want to be a leader, start with caring.

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