By Wendy Lambourne, director, Legitimate Leadership
There are a number of myths about Care which still have credence in organisations today.
MYTH ONE: COMPANIES CARE. A common refrain in organisations is that the company does not care for its employees the way used to in the past. The “past” maybe two, 10 or even 25 years ago. Legitimate Leadership’s typical, and not very popular, response to this complaint is that of course it doesn’t. It never cared, and it never will do. Companies don’t care, people do.
To attribute a uniquely human quality to a non-human being or to an inanimate object, like an organisation, is clearly absurd.
MYTH TWO: TO CARE IS TO LOOK AFTER EMPLOYEES’ PHYSICAL AND MATERIAL NEEDS. The second misconception is that Care is somehow synonymous with good working conditions and employee benefits. In fact, this is not true. In the seminal research into trust in management in South African gold mines, it was found that living and working conditions on the mines did not affect in any way employee trust in management.
This does not mean that employees’ physical and material needs should not be catered for. This is simply one of the costs of being in business. Moreover, when conditions are inhumane, or employees’ health and safety are compromised, employees are absolutely right to cite this fact as evidence of a lack of Care.
Good pay, benefits and facilities, however, are not what Care is about; rather, they are “caring carrots”. They bring people through the door and may earn a few points on a “Best Company to Work For” survey. But they are not substitutes for Care and never can be.
MYTH THREE: CARE IS THE JOB OF CARE SPECIALISTS. The third myth is that Care is somehow the reserve of Care specialists. This myth is predicated on the notion that managers are there to achieve results through people. The human problem can therefore be relegated to some third party, allowing those in authority to get on with their real work of producing results.
This notion denies the reality that a manager’s right to demand delivery, to exercise power, is not granted on the basis of rank or because the employee is paid to deliver. Rather a manager earns the right to ask someone to do something only if the manager cares about that person sincerely.
To ignore this reality is not only wrong but dangerous. When employee union representatives take better care of employee concerns than management does, the union runs the site. When the Human Resources Department, rather than the immediate manager, is more sympathetic to employee problems, trust in management lessens.
People specialists have a role to play but it is not to do the job of Care on the line manager’s behalf.
MYTH FOUR: A BOSS WHO CARES IS A FRIEND. Bosses can be friendly but not friends. At least they cannot need the friendship of those who report to them too much. This is because a need to be friends with their people can make it difficult for managers to establish an appropriate distance from those in their charge or take disciplinary action when it is required. Taken further, a strong need to always put the relationship first can result in nepotism or undue patronage of people with whom the leader has a special relationship.
In recognition of this human need to be liked, organisations try to avoid reporting relationships between family members or a situation where a “mate” on Friday becomes a boss on Monday. It is not that the tough side of Care is impossible with a friend, but it is difficult because there is a natural tendency in those circumstances to put the relationship, rather than what is right, first.
Care is the job of the immediate manager, no one else. Moreover, it is only Care, nothing else, that gives managers legitimacy.