Caring Managers

Does this seem like a contradiction in terms?

One of the articles in Living Business (IC#11)
Originally published in Autumn 1985 on page 38
Copyright (c)1985, 1997 by Context Institute

Larrimore C. Crockett is on the faculty of Southern Vermont College where he teaches a course on Management Ethics to students who are primarily adults with extensive management experience. He also assists his wife in her work as a minister in the United Church of Christ (both of them are ordained). He would like to hear from anyone who has had experiences as (or with) a caring manager. He can be reached at RD #1, Box 280, Brattleboro, VT 05301.

IN OUR SOCIETY WE don’t usually think of the role of "manager" (that is, anyone within an organization who makes decisions that affect other people) as a "caring" role (that is, deeply respectful of others and concerned with contributing to their personal growth). On the contrary, we usually think of managers as focused on achieving the goals of the organization (be that profit or whatever) and willing to manipulate others in uncaring ways for the sake of those goals.

What I’d like to suggest is that this old uncaring image (and behavior) is bad for the world, bad for organizations and bad for managers. If we are to move forward on all these fronts we need to re-envision managing as a caring activity.

WHY SHOULD MANAGERS BE CARING?

Very simply because managers, collectively, have more power, have more influence, make more of an impact on others, than any other group of people in the world. Let me support that assertion.

First of all, managers decisively shape our working lives. Most people work in an organization of some kind. Indeed, we spend most of our waking hours within organizations. It is managers who shape those hours, set the tone and environment, and profoundly affect the way we feel about ourselves. But most of all, managers determine the extent to which we experience our working hours as a time of growth. They determine the extent to which our work is a time of exploration of our potential, of being challenged and inspired to be our best. If our life within organizations makes us feel worthless, angry, guilty, cynical, bored or exhausted, then it is going to be an uphill battle for us to restore our confidence, peace, optimism, enthusiasm and energy in our private lives.

Secondly, managers profoundly affect every moment of our non-working lives, as well. The homes we live in, the cars we drive, the products we use, the forests we walk in, the food we eat, the water we drink, the air we breathe, are all decisively influenced by the decisions of managers in countless organizations throughout the world.

The fate of the world is literally in the hands of managers. If managers do not care how their decisions affect the world, we are lost. But if managers do care, if managers have a vision of how their calling can be used to work for the growth, health, safety and fulfillment of persons everywhere, then there is a great hope for the world.

WHAT IS A CARING MANAGER LIKE?

The following list is not exhaustive, but it will give you a sense of what I am intending. A caring manager:

  • is attracted as a manager to organizations which value the personal growth and fulfillment of persons as highly as they value the product or service for which the organizations exists.
  • knows himself or herself to have been entrusted with the life of an organization, and in many instances with the lives of the people who work within it, and recognizes that caring is the only adequate response to that trust.
  • recognizes and seeks to avoid the twin dangers of dependence and domination in his or her relationship to the organization.
  • understands that caring does not mean softness; that managerial caring can be tough in its concern to support and encourage the growth and fulfillment of others, just as parental caring must often be tough in its concern for the growth and autonomy of the child.
  • recognizes that it is not enough to feel like a caring person . . . caring needs to make a difference in order to be true caring, and thus one must continually evaluate how one’s management style and decisions are actually affecting others.
  • is likely to see in the stakeholder model of management a tool which helps identify those important persons and groups, both inside and outside the organization, which not only can affect the organization, but can be affected by it, and toward which one therefore has the duty to care.
  • knows his or her "bottom line" ethically, the principles for which one is prepared to sacrifice one’s job rather than have them violated.

IS CARING MANAGEMENT REALISTIC?

Now you may say, "Fine! But how does that relate to the pressure every manager is under to make an organization viable, to make it profitable, to make it succeed in a highly competitive world where there are persons, groups, other organizations, and huge unseen forces that can destroy it?" There is growing evidence that caring is the most powerful force a manager can have in the struggle to make his or her organization succeed in the world.

First of all, caring for persons within an organization unleashes a tremendous amount of energy and productivity. The most basic rule to follow if you want to increase the productivity of employees is to care for them. Actively and creatively relate to them as whole persons who have abilities, skills, feelings, needs, longings, and hopes! Most of all, see in them a great untapped potential which you as a manager have the incredible privilege of being able to touch, release and watch grow, if only you will!

Secondly, caring for yourself is also a part of what it means to be a caring manager. Self-caring is absolutely essential if your organization is going to succeed. A caring manager knows not only how to care about others but also takes good physical and emotional care of himself or herself, and is able to ask for help from others, as well as being able and willing to give that help when it is needed.

HOW FAR SHOULD THIS CARING GO?

Genuine caring isn’t something that can be turned on and off or arbitrarily limited. The scope of a manager’s caring thus goes beyond employees and self. The special vision of the caring manager is a vision of the good your organization is in the world to accomplish. All organizations have a purpose. You need to know and believe, deep in your heart, that the purpose and activity of your organization is in some way contributing to the good of the world. If it isn’t -well, that organization shouldn’t exist, or at least you shouldn’t be in it. You should get out and do something else. Start an organization that will do good if you can’t find any other way to do it.

But if your organization is doing good, if its purpose is one you can support, then the most effective way you can make that organization grow and succeed is to actively care. How far does this caring reach? As far as the organization’s influence. You can let your caring run out through all the channels of your organization until you have, in effect, extended your nerve endings to the farthest reaches of your organization’s impact on the lives of people and their environments.

(It is the peculiar and wonderful expertise of management to be able to anticipate, research and calculate the influence of organizations in a multitude of ways. Sophisticated tools are available today which make it possible for an organization to care for persons far beyond its corporate walls but within the reach of its influence, and to do so in ways that 100 years ago would have been unimaginable.)

If you actively and comprehensively care in this way, I believe that not only will your organization succeed – perhaps even beyond your wildest dreams – but you yourself will find your own fulfillment, your sense of being in-place in the world, yes, your happiness, precisely in your work as a manager. Your work will be as challenging, awesome, wonderfully difficult and utterly consuming a vocation as any of the traditional "caring professions" could be.

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