Intent Blog

Caring and Growing – The Challenges to Success

If you want to be an effective leader you need to be aware of the principles of good leadership. The Care and Growth leadership model gives you those principles. Though it is easy to understand, correctly applying these principles takes practice. There is no easy fix for becoming a good leader and there are certain things people often get wrong, even when they are applying Care and Growth.

When you are first exposed to the Care and Growth idea it naturally seems to hold water, compared to traditional leadership styles, because there is this air of softness about it. It instructs you first and foremost to care for your employees.  To care for an employee is really a soft skill. Employee growth seems to be something that I leave the employee to do by himself/herself.  When you develop this thought further you make the assumption that one cannot reconcile this leadership style with telling the employee exactly what to do, because you think you need to allow him space to grow.  So we create an air of expectancy that this style is somehow not prescriptive, not directive, but rather soft and co-operative and supporting a spirit of independence.  Its essence seems to be quite democratic, allowing the employee a deep sense of ownership in his or her future.

This is, of course, true, however, you can’t neglect the details.  There are demands made on the psychological strength of the Care and Growth leader that you underestimate at your peril.

Getting Care Right

Let us delve a little deeper into the individual components of caring and growing, starting with caring.  When I care for employees I am being generous and I give to them that which every human being should have.  We all understand the concept easily and even apply it with our family and the ones we love.

Where it gets difficult is where you are required to care for someone you don’t like, for someone who never says thank you or does not appreciate the value of the gift.  Its all too easy for a leader to say:  I will give you the day off because you work hard and you are always willing.  But what if the one needing the day off is the employee from hell, the one who constantly challenges your authority, or who says bad things about you behind your back?  The temptation is very strong to throw care to the wind.

That’s the trap you see, and the heart of understanding what caring is about.  The principle here is that we are required to care, and this principle is not dependent on how the world reacts to your caring.  If you buy into the principle of caring you care for the people around you, simply because you can.  To look for a reward or a thank you, to hope for improved relations, to think that I care because it will improve teamwork –  those are all inherently flawed, they contain a poison that will slowly burn you until you turn around and say that you don’t believe in this principle anymore because it brings no benefit, because people can be really ungrateful and selfish.

To stretch it even further, think of the boss in your career that was the tyrant that gave you ulcers.  Would you care for him or her?  Would you care for this person if they would never know that it was you who was looking after them?  Do you see how tough it can be to care?  Caring for those I love is easy, yes, but caring for those I resent is tough.  It requires that you know, understand and are thankful for all the good things you received in your life that you did not deserve, because this reflection would put you in that mode where you are generous to people around you in order to make the world a better place.

Getting Growth Right

Now let us look at growth.  If we use “grow” as a verb, that is to indicate that I do something to make someone grow, we are pointing at a hard skill.  Generally we understand that allowing the employee room to make decisions will assist in his or her growth, which is true in the general sense of the word, but requires deeper investigation to understand completely.

Firstly, there is a difference between learning to do something and growth.  The difference is that there is some pain involved in growing, while learning is a neutral type of action.  In fact, learning may even be pleasant, but growing is generally not.  When I grow I am exposed to forces which I was previously protected from.  I am not sure whether I am up to the challenge, so I worry and stress, I could even be convinced that I am going to fail and be terrified of the disastrous consequences which may follow.  So typically, we do not easily volunteer for growth opportunities.  The growth tends to happen when I am thrown in the deep end and I am convinced that I am not going to survive this experience.  It may even be so stressful that I start hating the person who put me there.   It is very likely that you have some sort of tyrant in your past who bulldozed you into growth situations, and it is also very likely that you do not have fond memories of this person.  And here lies the rub.

Exposing an individual to growth opportunities is not nice, because most often your subordinate might not want that.  Its only human, we want the car and the office and the rug and the title on our e-mail, but don’t shake my boat on the way there. So there are two challenges to look out for when exposing a subordinate to growth opportunities: Firstly, the challenge for the leader to have the wisdom to spot a suitable growth opportunity and to know when it might be too much.  And if there is a risk of the employee failing at the task, it might be appropriate for the leader to be close by.  An example of this is the old ritual of Cherokee Indians who leave a 16 year old boy for a night in the forest, all alone, and to top it all, blindfolded, to become a man.  So he is left with the suspicious sounds of the forest all around him but not allowed to take off the blindfold until the sun rises.  After a terrifying night, when he takes his blindfold off he discovers that his farther remained with him in the forest the whole night.  So that is the first challenge for the leader – spot the opportunity and find the safe level of exposure.

The second challenge really is a challenge against human nature.  It is in our nature to appreciate loyalty, so when my subordinates are hard at work achieving their targets and working overtime for free, it is only natural that I might start glowing and think how good I am at getting employees to follow me passionately.  That’s when it is really difficult to be the protector of principles.  Sometimes the growth that is required is not only that I must learn to do something, but also that I must learn how to do it, how to approach it, what principles to apply.

Do not underestimate the impact of your desire to be liked.  We fear a world of solitude where we only have principle’s for friends in the same way some of us fear silence, but that risk comes with the territory of a leader.  You are not doing this to be popular, or to have heaps of praise and reward showered on you.  The leaders’ world is fraught with tough situations, like when you are told to retrench employees and you select and dismiss an employee for no fault of his own.  At that point in time you really want the employee to understand that it is hurting you as much as it is hurting him, but it doesn’t often happen that an employee has that insight in the moment. This is where it turns into a growth opportunity for you as much is it is one for the employee.

There is a tough side to Care and Growth, a side that almost seems inhuman.  I must care for subordinates, even if I don’t like them, and I must correct behaviour based on principle, even for those I like.  If you end up caring only for those you like and growing only those you resent you are a follower, not a leader.