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Blog Bernard Letendre

Leadership, Personal development, Business ethics

You’re no leader if you don’t care about the people you lead

There are entire sections in libraries devoted to leadership and many great leaders and thinkers have spent their lives trying to define and describe leadership. And there are innumerable courses and programs designed to help people become good leaders by focusing on one aspect or another of what makes a great leader. I have read many such books over the years and attended many such programs, and I have been in one type or another of leadership role for almost thirty years. For all of that, I have never come across a definition of leadership that fully satisfied me nor will I attempt to give one here.

While I could not even start to list all of the attributes of a good leader, nor all of the behaviours of such a leader, there is one key ingredient that I have come to believe, over the years, is the magical and mandatory ingredient without which no good leadership is possible: Real leaders care about the people they lead.

I want to make sure my point is not lost or misunderstood, so I will say it again: You’re no leader if you don’t care – deeply – about the people you lead: their welfare, their development, their success, their health, etc. You may be the boss, but that’s a completely different thing from being a leader. Interestingly, this magical ingredient is the same that is required in my view to be a good doctor or a good teacher, a good spouse or a good parent. You must care about people. Pure and simple.

To be clear, I’m not suggesting that caring about people will necessarily make you a good leader. Your heart may be in the right place but starting from the right place doesn’t mean that you have the many other qualities and attributes that are required for effective leadership. But being passionate about people may well give you the motivation required to keep working at it, to keep improving on the leadership effectiveness spectrum.

Nor am I suggesting that caring deeply about the people you lead means that you will always get along with them, agree on everything or work effectively together. I love my parents, my wife and my children but they have all irritated me out of my mind over the years, and they will all happily confirm the same about me. But caring about each other provides the touchstone that drives people to try harder and make it work.

Finally, I am not saying that caring about people means shying away from making tough decisions about the people you lead. But it will make those difficult decisions very painful to you as a leader, as it rightly should. And it will make you question your actions and your decisions, providing a salutary second line of defense against hasty and perhaps questionable courses of action.

As great companies obsess about their clients, great leaders obsess about their employees. I can think of no more important foundation on which to build effective and ethical leadership.

Should you be interested in reading more of my thoughts on leadership, please see here, here and here.