Care for Your Employees, But Not Too Much

It would be simplistic to say there are two types of leaders: those who care too much, and those who don’t care enough.  There are leaders on either end of the spectrum and everything in between.

When your attention continues to return to an employee’s performance and you have a nagging uncertainty about whether he or she can get the job done, you are caring too much.  You’ll wonder whether you’ve done enough to help him or her learn to see differently.  You will see their capacity (or perhaps your hope for their capacity) and where reality hasn’t quite hit the mark. Maybe another resource… Maybe more time…

Caring is vital to nurturing humans but here is the critical point: Too much caring can harm rather than help an employee. It’s easy enough to fall into. I’ve seen tough business leaders as well as gentler ones do it. We want our employees to succeed.  But if you are feeling the type of uncertainty I’m talking about, you have taken on a disproportionate amount of responsibility for his or her performance. It does not help your employee. Instead, it undermines them.

Here’s a simple tactic that can eject you from the trap of caring too much. Have a clear discussion with your employee about the improvement you need to see, what that looks like, and what he or she needs from you (and make it happen or find a satisfactory alternative). Then together, set a target date by which you’d like to see the improvement. Make it clear that you are available to talk, to provide guidance, and to adjust expectations as needed–but that the responsibility for improvement is the employee’s. Then get out of the way.

If you feel a shift within yourself—usually an immediate sense of relief–you are on the right track. This new stance acknowledges the individual’s capacity. Some will rise to the task. Others will be confused to find they are now in charge—the old way was the familiar way. Hold steady. They will surprise you, or you will both become clear that something needs to change. Care for them this way for their sake, your sake, and the company’s.  As capable. As extraordinary. As responsible for their own success.


U.S. Library of Congress ISSN 2164-7240

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