So You Say You Care

You can say you care. You can believe this is what you are doing. But there are ways of “caring” that actually make victims of those you purport to be “caring” about.

The pop psychology concept of “caring” is roughly that “caring” means giving people what they want, right now. And since we live in a pop psychology culture, that kind of “caring” usually begins and ends with something emotional, or psychological, like feelings.

That kind of counterfeit “caring” is mostly about indulging others’ feelings in order to gain some brownie-points. That may appear to be cynical. But so is the way most people go about “caring.” Like all pop psychology, it is manipulative. Or at least you couldn’t determine that it isn’t.

I let you cry on my shoulder, so that one day you’ll owe me one. If the people in your organization say they want a day-care center or flex hours, and you want to be seen as a “caring” person by them, you give it to them.

Some guru may have suggested to you that if you give people what they want, they’ll work harder for you. Other than the fact that there is no evidence for this belief, you would be hard put to find any growth in competence on the job from what you give people. If you give people what they say they want, that will not make them or the organization perform significantly better.

You might hope. But hope is not a method. Indulging people does not make them better, or stronger, or more competent. Quite the contrary.

Leadership virtuosos take this very different perspective.

They know it is ultimately demoralizing to give people what they say they want in the short-term. They know that their moral obligation is to give people not what they want, but what they need in the long-term.

They know that lavishing “positive reinforcement” on those who perform at no more than a mediocre level falsely misleads them. They know that people who are the squeaking wheels are the same ones who have no particular purpose in life.

Leadership virtuosos know that people who have no guiding aim in life are the same ones who complain the most, the same ones who live by their immediate wants, the same ones who don’t know what they need in the long-term because they don’t look at the world that way.

They know that you can like people and still refuse to let those people default themselves. They know that most people will default themselves unless they have some inescapable necessity not to. They know that it is the leader’s job to make it possible for people to grow up through their own competencies and consciences. And then to make that growth and self-responsibility necessary.

– Lee Thayer