“I’m not paid to be nice, I’m paid to get results.”
“If you don’t like it, go work at McDonalds.”
I wish Apple would create a Boss Translator App so we could all know what our bosses really mean when, under the guise of being “tough”, they spew such gutless trite. The app would need to get the tone right, like substituting Siri’s noncommittal I-only-like-you-as-a-friend voice with the condescending keep-your-distance venom of Miranda Priestly, the fashion mogul deliciously portrayed by Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada. Then again, the app might not be that versatile, translating all trite bossisms into the singular truth of what they really mean: “I don’t care about you.”
Not caring is not tough, it’s weak. It stems from fear, not strength. A boss may rationalize (rational lies) his or her “toughness” as being driven by a desire to get results, but that excuse holds no weight. While there are lots of bosses who care more about tasks then people, there are also plenty of leaders who get great results while simultaneously caring deeply about their people. In fact, the most effective leaders know that the surest way to get great results is to treat people respectfully, equally, and…kindly. Yes, kindly. Leadership doesn’t come with a license to be unkind.
The fear that lurks in the hearts of uncaring bosses is that the independence their authority affords them will shrink if they draw closer to their people. They’ll lose perspective, become “soft”, and end up getting taken advantage of. For them, being standoffish protects them from the obligations–and potential betrayals–that deeper relationships seem to always bring. A hardened heart is always preferable to an open one, from the uncaring bosses’ perspective.
It’s true, the more genuine interest you take in your people, the less you’ll be able to dismiss or ignore their needs, preferences, and ideas. Avoiding closeness may seem like the safer path, but it comes with costs that are high and hazardous. When you are more loyal to tasks and results than the people who do the tasks and get the results, those people will give a lot less of themselves. Why on Earth would people choose to be loyal to a boss who is un-loyal to them?
For the tough-minded boss, it might help to view caring through the prism of courage. Moving closer to your direct reports, soliciting and following their ideas, and putting your own guard down requires being, dare I say it, vulnerable. It takes courage to draw on the strength of your authenticity instead of the power of your authority. It takes courage to stand with people instead of above them.
It takes courage to be attentive, available, and emotionally accessible. It takes courage to care.
Here’s the advice the Boss Translator App would give for having the courage to care:
Tally the Wreckage: Behind the results of every uncaring boss is a wake of relationship wreckage with real costs, including turnover, new hire recruiting and replacement, damaged morale, etc.
Identify Who Cared for You: Behind every leader are other leaders who cleared the path. Think back to a few leaders who took a genuine interest in your development and success. What impact did other leaders’ caring have on you?
Identify Who You Care About the Least: Which team member or direct report do you care about the least? Why? What is one small action you could take to strengthen your relationship with them?
Care Dangerously: If you really value toughness and strength, have the guts to get real and vulnerable. The word “courage” is derived from the word heart. Be courageous and open yours. Don’t be a wuss.
Ultimately, caring for the people you’re leading can be thought of as enlightened self-interest. Caring for others is the surest way to get them to care about you…and you’re goals.