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"I have often said that listening is the most important thing a leader can do. But I believe it transcends leadership. Listening is the most important thing we, as humans, can do for one another," says Bob Chapman. Barry-Wehmiller

For decades, we’ve been told that business is all about the numbers.

When the share price dips, when the profit margin shrinks, when the ROI waivers, you do what you have to do to hit the numbers.

Under that thinking, people are just numbers, too. So, when you lay people off, it’s just business. The only thing we’ve been told to “care” about in business is making the numbers work.

However, this way of doing business is not only wrong, it’s unsustainable. Especially in the wake of a global pandemic, it isn’t enough anymore to just “care” about the numbers. You have to care about your people, first.

Improving working conditions is always a good thing. But even if you tell people they only have to work four days a week and you pay them well but you treat them like crap, you’re not going to solve the Great Resignation. In fact, the resignations will only grow because, while you may have given people something they may want, you haven’t given them what they really need.

I have come to realize that the word management means the manipulation of others for your success. We need leaders in the world that have skills as well as the courage to care about the people they have the privilege to lead.

LinkedIn, in its five talent predictions for 2022, said:

  • Companies and employees are rethinking what they want out of work. What we’re seeing is that care is rising to the forefront and becoming the center of decision-making, reducing burnout and boosting happiness at work.
  • Our new data from Glint reveals that employees who feel cared about at work are 3.2x more likely to report being happy to work for their current company and 3.7x more likely to recommend working for their company.
  • And the inverse is also true: At companies that struggle with manager care, employees are nearly 50% more likely to apply for a new job. This means that managers will need to continue to adapt their styles and build soft skills to attract and retain talent in the future of work.

And here are some numbers that back up the need for care in business. From The Wall Street Journal in Dec. 2021 :

  • America’s workers handed in nearly 39 million resignations in the first 10 months of 2021, the highest number since tracking began in 2000.
  • Why? Some want better jobs. Others, a better work-life balance. Others want a complete break from the corporate grind. Two years into a pandemic that left millions doing their jobs from home, many Americans are rethinking their relationship with work.
  • Information from Gallup says that the percentage of American workers describing themselves as very often or always burned out rose from 23% in 2016 to 28% in 2019, where it remains today.
  • Burned-out employees are 63% more likely to take a sick day, and nearly three times as likely to be actively seeking a different job.
  • More Gallup research suggests the greatest determinant of worker burnout isn’t the number of hours worked, but factors such as unmanageable workloads, unclear communication and lack of manager support.
  • Before the pandemic, 60% of employees said they thought mental health was something they should handle without employer assistance, according to surveys from insurer MetLife Inc. By this June, that figure had flipped, with 62% saying they believed their employer had a responsibility for their mental well-being.

If leaders in business truly cared about their people, the above numbers would be a lot better. All these factors are among the top reasons for the current “Great Resignation.”

Currently, though, it seems traditional business leaders are mystified in how to stem the tide. A recent McKinsey report seems to confirm this. In it, they say:

  • Employers are over indexing on transactional factors which are not primary drivers of attraction and attrition (e.g., compensation, alternative jobs).

However, McKinsey also says:

  • Employees are placing most value on relational elements (e.g., sense of belonging and feeling valued by managers and the organization).

Here are five ways leaders can begin to make caring the foundation of their leadership skill set:

Understand that leadership is the stewardship of the lives entrusted to you. When we walk through the door each morning, we should be aware that the way we lead will have a significant impact on the health and family life of those we have in our span of care. Our focus as leaders should be to give those in our care a ground sense of hope for the future. Leadership is the stewardship of the lives entrusted to you with the vision of sending people home each night knowing that who they are and what they do matters.

Treat those in your span of care no less that you would want your own child treated. As a leader, we need to realize that every single person within our span of care is someone’s precious child, with hopes and dreams for a future through which they can realize their full potential.

Traditional leadership or management conditions us to view people as functions to get them to do what we want so we can be successful, not because we care about them. Thinking of the person next to us as someone’s precious child changes that dynamic. When we recognize their inherent dignity and humanity, they are not a function or a role. They are a person, cared for just like I would care for my own child and deserving to receive that care from others.

Listen with empathy -- it is the most powerful act of caring! I have often said that listening is the most important thing a leader can do. But I believe it transcends leadership. Listening is the most important thing we, as humans, can do for one another. It shows empathy, it shows you care and, most importantly, it shows the person you are listening to that they matter. When done with the intent to not merely get the information you need but rather to meet the needs of the other person and hear how he or she is feeling, listening allows us to connect and better understand each other. Listen to truly understand and not to judge or argue.

Look for the goodness in people and recognize and celebrate it daily. Historically in business, we have been quick to let people know what they did wrong. We’re all familiar with this sentiment: “I got 10 things right and never heard a word and got one thing wrong and I got my ass chewed out.” Traditional management teaches us to look for the errors or exceptions, to look for opportunities to improve. When challenged with a new way of thinking -- to focus on catching people doing things right -- most managers respond, “Why would I thank them for doing their job? That’s what they are paid to do.” But that perspective, again, reduces a person to a function, not someone’s precious child.

We all have a need to be recognized -- not only at work, but at home. As a leader, you should take every opportunity to celebrate the lives in your span of care.

Always measure success by the way you touch the lives of others. Many years ago, we at Barry-Wehmiller created our cultural vision, “Guiding Principles of Leadership.” The overarching statement in this document says, “We measure success by the way we touch the lives of people.” We believed that, going forward, we would be able to consider any leadership decision in light of how it would touch the lives of all our people -- our team members and their families, our customers, suppliers, communities and shareholders.

It has become our moral compass. Since its adoption, our Guiding Principles have steered us to make sweeping changes in how we approach safety and layoffs (especially during the economic downturn of 2008-2009) as well as a multitude of decisions -- big and small -- every single day. It also underscores that one of the primary ways we touch lives is by continuing to be a strong, viable organization that is a source of employment, security and fulfillment for our team members long into the future.

It is a universal truth -- every one of us, no matter what our job or where we live, simply wants to know that who we are and what we do matters. As leaders in business, we have the awesome responsibility to let people know that they do. We have a responsibility to recognize the inherent dignity in our people and honor that, not break it.

When you stop seeing people as numbers on a page but as someone’s precious child, you’ll worry a lot less about recruitment, retention and resignation. You’ll help unlock a sense of care and fulfillment that your people will take home and spread far and wide to their families and communities.

And those numbers would be impressive to see.

(Bob Chapman is the CEO and Chairman at Barry-Wehmiller)