“I’ve consulted in organizations around the world for nearly two decades now, but I’ve never seen the need for care or support be as pronounced as it is now.”
The CEO who appeared on my Zoom screen looked exhausted. We were supposed to be coordinating on an executive search process, but the dark circles under his eyes changed our agenda. “What’s going on?” I asked.
In a few quick sentences, he unpacked the last few weeks: In addition to running a mid-size organization that was in its busiest season, he had extra duties at home above and beyond his normal shared responsibilities. His wife had broken her wrist, leaving her unable to do most things around the house. So the CEO was preparing all the meals, walking the dog, doing the laundry, and caring for their teenage son. All this was happening while the family made a planned move for his mother-in-law into an assisted care facility. Then, unexpectedly, his own mother’s health had rapidly deteriorated and he had to move her into a nursing home in another state. Add in a COVID-19 diagnosis, holiday festivities, and unpredictable weather.
Those dark circles under his eyes were well earned.
Maybe, like this CEO, you’re in a “sandwich” season of life, caring for your own children while also helping aging parents or grandparents. Or maybe you’re not, but you’re still tired. And you’re wondering, when is it my turn to be cared for?
I’ve consulted in organizations around the world for nearly two decades now, but I’ve never seen the need for care or support be as pronounced as it is now.
Organizations ask me to facilitate sessions with their executive teams on the characteristics and values of exceptional leadership. In this work, my colleagues and I often reference the work of Barry Posner and Jim Kouzes. Kouzes and Posner have given hundreds of thousands of leaders around the world a list of characteristics, and then asked them to identify the characteristics they most admire in leaders.
The same top four characteristics are identified in countries as diverse as the United States, the United Arab Emirates, China, and Mexico. These characteristics are honest, forward-looking, competent, and inspiring.
When I give the same list to leaders sitting in a conference room in Atlanta or Detroit, almost everyone has at least two of those characteristics. But in 2022, my colleagues and I started to notice a new pattern. A fifth characteristic was starting to show up with incredible frequency: caring. Those who didn’t have caring as one of their top characteristics often had selected supportive instead.
Why this change? Like that CEO on my Zoom screen, many of us are exhausted by the caregiving activities of the last few years and hungry for someone (anyone!) to care for us. We need it at work and we need it at home.
Here’s the dilemma: Your team members need it too. And as their leader, it’s your job to provide care.
CAREGIVING AT WORK
It’s likely your MBA program didn’t have a course on caregiving. (Though perhaps it should have.) Maybe it’s difficult to even imagine what caregiving should look like in the workplace. Let us share three ideas of where to start.
Accommodate everything you can
Can you let the single mom on your team start work 30 minutes later so she can drop her kid off at school? Can you let the older colleague with a chronic illness work from home? Can you approve a standing desk for your finance leader? Can the Gen Z team member work from Costa Rica for the month of February?
When a team member asks for something, go out of your way to say yes if you can. Make their life easier or more rewarding, and you’ll win their loyalty and their extra effort.
Remove the things that exasperate
I recently heard the story of an organization that invested heavily in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) training for their staff. Separately, a Black woman in their organization was promoted to vice president but the paperwork and formal announcement was delayed for months because the human resources team was too busy with DEI initiatives to complete the promotion.
Situations like this become exasperating. No doubt you can think of others in your own worklife. When the pandemic lockdowns started, I was working for an organization that still required paper expense reports!
Care for your employees by looking for every point of friction or exasperation and getting rid of them, pronto.
Make meaningful “grand gestures”
In romance, a “grand gesture” is an expression of love that requires a sacrifice of time, money, or pride. At work, “grand gestures” are expressions of care that come at a price. One organization I know closed their offices for three weeks over the winter holidays, to give employees a chance to truly recuperate from a challenging year. Another organization celebrates employees who take sick days by sending them GrubHub gift cards so they can order food for their families.
Find a grand gesture that communicates care and encourages rest or unplugging.
NOW MORE THAN EVER
We’ve navigated an unprecedented global pandemic that has evolved into a chronic condition. In many organizations, this is coupled with economic uncertainty and high rates of turnover that leave fewer people doing more work. Prolonged periods of stress create the conditions for burnout. But caring leaders can make coping more possible. Now more than ever, our teams need care and support.
Do you need care too? At Ad Lucem Group, our coaches can help you uncover reserves of strength that will equip you to face the coming year. Our experienced executive consultants can help you find strategies for caring for your team, removing friction, and pointing the organization toward a fruitful future. Contact us here, and let’s start a conversation.
Amber Johnson, PhD
Senior Culture & Strategy Advisor
As a facilitator and consultant, Amber helps companies connect their purpose to their core strategies and behaviors in order to shape culture and drive business results. Amber has global leadership experience with World Vision and the US Peace Corps and has served as a leadership development, organization change, and strategy consultant to organizations including digital marketing agencies, software firms, universities, health care systems, manufacturing companies, utilities, and non-profit organizations. She is certified in the Appreciative Inquiry methodology and has 20 years of experience helping organizations drive change and strategy through human-centered design. Amber previously served as the Chief Communications Officer for Benedictine University’s Center for Values-Driven Leadership, where she oversaw thought leadership, including publishing four eBooks. She is a regular contributor at Forbes.com, where she writes about culture, strategic planning, and building positive organizations. Amber earned a Ph.D. in Values-Driven Leadership from Benedictine University, with a dissertation focused on the success factors of leading global change initiatives.