The Bottom Line: You Just Have To C.A.R.E.

Articles and books abound on the topic of effective leadership and the unique combination of skills required for becoming a great leader.  Many highlight the need to hone multiple leadership styles and knowing which style to use for the right situation.  Not all situations and, certainly not all of our people, are the same.  Highly talented leaders know the right combination of approaches and know when the particular situation calls for a more authoritative style, a more pacesetting style, or when the situation dictates a more affiliative leadership approach.   This knowledge, when applied authentically, with the highest levels of integrity, competence, mental toughness, and grit provides some of the key ingredients to enhance your leadership skills and accelerate your professional growth.

  However, in my view, greatness requires one more critical element.  It requires something that has been proven repeatedly throughout my career, to include my time in major command, time on major Staffs, and my time deployed in the middle of major conflict.  It can revolutionize your performance, make you more valuable to your teams and leadership, and maximize your ability to lead people through difficult times.  This one thing is the very simple understanding that you must first C.A.R.E.  You must care passionately about your people and their success, care about excelling in your command’s mission, and, in order to sustain high performance, you must also care about yourself and your continued growth.  In short, the leadership excellence we need in today’s challenging environment takes great C.A.R.E.

            The “C” in C.A.R.E. is one of the most important tools you can have in your toolbox. “C” stands for Communicate and Connect.  If there is such a thing as the secret sauce, look no further.  Developing your skills in these areas will set you apart from your peers and enable you to accomplish incredible results. 

  • Communicate: The ability to write effectively and speak well is a crucial skill that will make you indispensable to your senior leaders and enable you to succeed in effecting the change and achieving the results you seek for your people, your organization, and your mission. Unfortunately, this skill does not come with rank, it comes with work.
    • Brief to be understood, not to prove your intelligence! Spend less time developing magnificent looking slides with clouds in every corner and focus more on the message.  Consider your audience. What does he or she need to know? Why are you briefing them on this subject and what is the “so what!” Give a specific example that you know will increase their care factor.  Keep it short, keep it simple, keep it clear, and ensure it is impactful.
    • Learn to write well. Practice until you see your work passing through the Boss’s desk with minimal adjustment! Be concise, be able to determine most salient points, and be able to write them down coherently with proper flow.  If all you can do is verbally describe the issue but struggle to capture it in words, this is something I highly encourage you work on.  Learn to write so that all your extremely busy Boss has to do is hit the send button.  You will be sought after.
    • Never miss the opportunity to be clear. ALWAYS ensure your audience, especially your senior leadership, knows if what you are speaking on is what you “think”, what you “heard” but still need to verify, or if it is truly factual information.  Most likely, what you share will be shared further.
  • Connect: One of the best books written on leadership is John C Maxwell’s book entitled, “Everyone Communicates, Few Connect.” In his book, he states, “connecting is the ability to identify with people and relate to them in a way that increases your influence with them.” Read this book, and then read it again.
    • Regardless of race, gender, or any other differences, you absolutely can master the art of connecting, finding the common ground with people. You can find what is really important to them, what matters or inspires them, and then you should care enough to make a connection with them in that arena. THIS, my friends, is the secret sauce.  This is about others, creating experiences, forging bonds, and inspiring people. This is where the magic starts and the impossible becomes the possible.
    • It may shock you to know that not everyone in my career was excited to see a Black female show up for an assigned job. There are many stories I can share on my experiences.  However, I can tell you, each and every tour was a phenomenal success with lifelong friendships made in the process.  The point is this is a people business.  Place a priority on people, find that connection, and succeed beyond all expectations.

The “A” in C.A.R.E. stands for Attitude, of course.  Many do not realize that the attitude of the leader truly is the attitude of the team but magnified.

  • Attitude: At some point, we have all heard that attitude determines your altitude. What I think we need to mentor more on is the impact you as a leader have on your team every day with the attitude you bring to work.  Your attitude, your energy level, and your level of enthusiasm is highly contagious and is exactly what your team will adopt, if they consider you their leader.
    • Show up upset, and down on how things are going, you will see that feeling passed down to the lowest levels of your team, only to a much worse extent. Walk around and it seems like everyone is in a bad mood.
    • Show up with a winning attitude, full of energy and confidence in your team, and that feeling pervades the workplace and is a force multiplier. Whatever it takes to show up with a winner’s attitude, make it a priority and do it.  If you need to jam to your favorite music on the way to work, sing, exercise, or give yourself a pep talk, take the time to do it.  Your team deserves a good leader and leadership starts with the attitude you bring to your team each day.

The “R” in C.A.R.E. stands for being Responsive and being Ready.  Care about both.

  • Responsive: If you truly understand the points I made about connecting and prioritizing people, it should be easily understood how important it is to be responsive to others. As you juggle an overwhelming workload and try to handle multiple priorities, do all that you can to be responsive to others.  Even if you cannot complete the task, a simple response acknowledging their request, earns you more reputational capital than you can imagine.  It makes people feel their need is important to you and that they matter.  Failing to be responsive and help others, or forgetting the need entirely is the direct opposite of “connecting” with others.
    • On one of my recent ship visits, the CO was telling me about something important to him that he directed one of his officers to make happen. CO continued to bring this topic up to the officer but still had no good status.  Since I was on the ship, I asked the officer if he remembers the CO’s request.  This officer proceeded to give me outstanding, very detailed status of the requirement.  Then I asked, “Does your CO know this?” Dead silence.  Action without communication to the person who cares is not being responsive!  
  • Ready: Try to be ready and supremely prepared, always.  Take the time necessary to know your stuff, ask the questions, and be so ready that when you speak, you speak with confidence and earn that reputational capital that no one can touch.
    • Anticipate and Take Action. Your value increases tremendously when you learn to anticipate the need or the problem and take the required action without having to be asked.  OWN your operation in a way that keeps your Boss shining.  Your entire team benefits from that earned credibility.

Finally, we end with the “E” in taking C.A.R.E.

  • Excellence: Aim for excellence every day and excellence in all that you do. Set a high standard for yourself and for your team from day one and do all that needs to be done to maintain that standard.  If the job is done right every day, the way it is required to be done, then your operation should always be inspection ready.  Ramping up for inspections is an indicator that some part of your operation could be improved.  Show the example.  Conduct your spot checks, verify things are not only done, but done well, and help your team truly learn their jobs.
    • Reading is authorized. Take others with you and ensure they are learning along the way. In the beginning of my O5 Sea Tour, my junior officers would come to my office with challenges and ask me what they should do about it.  Depending on the urgency, my usual response was, “What does the instruction or PUB tell you to do?”  Read the instruction and come back to see me with a recommendation.  Excellence starts with building knowledge. 
    • Excellence is our obligation. Do you C.A.R.E. enough to achieve it?