Caring for Your People: Part of the Boss's Job

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As I say in the Working Supervisor's Support Kit, when you're a boss, you have two jobs. One is to accomplish the mission. The other is to care for your people. The question is: "How do you do that?"

In class, I ask participants to make a list of the things they can do to care for team members. The lists are usually long on things like "support them when they have trouble at home" and short on day-to-day work items.

So the next step is to ask groups to come up with a list of things that they can concentrate on as part of daily work. The following is a summary of what those groups come up with.

Caring for your people means, first of all that you work to keep them safe.  Keep them safe from forces outside the organization that might do them harm.

For many supervisors that comes under the heading of handling customer complaints.  Sure, part of the job of handling those complaints involves keeping the customer happy, but it also includes protecting the person who works for you from an irate customer or from the wrath of those above to whom that customer may complain.

If you handle the customer’s complaint, you can explain things so that your subordinate doesn’t look bad. You can help make it possible for the customer and your subordinate to work together again. 

You can also protect your subordinate from The Powers that Be within your own organization. Part of your job is being the shield that keeps your team members safe from the people above you. 

Caring for your people means helping them grow and develop. You can help them develop skills to keep them out of trouble in the future. You can help them learn things that help them contribute more to the team. You can help them learn things that help achieve their personal objectives.

Finally, caring for your people means creating a great working environment.  Fortunately, we know what that looks like.  Check out my post on 8 Characteristics of Highly Effective Workplaces.

This material is adapted from the workbook that's part of my Working Supervisor's Support Kit.

Wally's Working Supervisor's Support Kit is a collection of information and tools to help working supervisors do a better job. It's based on what Wally's learned in over twenty years of supervisory skills training. Click here to check it out.



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  • 7/25/2009 9:18 AM Bret Simmons wrote:
    Another great post, Wally. A lot of folks roll their eyes when talk of caring for people comes up, but I believe caring for people is a top and bottom line issue. You might be able to accomplish the mission today, but the ability to do it day in and day out with integrity and growth through excellence is entirely linked to how well you care for your folks. Thanks! Bret
    Reply to this
    1. 7/25/2009 12:21 PM Wally Bock wrote:

      Thanks for weighing in on that, Bret. It always makes me feel like we're headed in the right direction when the advice of practical academics, like you, matches up with what seems to work in the field. 

      Reply to this
  • 7/25/2009 11:27 AM Fred H Schlegel wrote:
    One of my problems with the dictum 'the customer is always right' is that some folks in an organization confuse that to mean the target of the customers anger is always wrong. The world is simply too complicated for that type of thinking. Through protecting you can fix the issue, salvage the relationship and leave room for learning a lesson or two. All that is lost if you feed your employees to the wolves.
    Reply to this
    1. 7/25/2009 12:22 PM Wally Bock wrote:

      Thanks, Fred. I love that phrasing "some folks in an organization confuse that to mean the target of the customers anger is always wrong." It sums up a common problem in an elegant way. Thanks.

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  • 7/25/2009 12:57 PM Alain Jourdier wrote:
    Excellent points in this post. I was taught very early on in the Air Force by one of the best NCOs I served under to take care of the troops and they'll take care of business...and you. I have always done that in my career and feel that "leaders" who don't that are truly not leaders. As John Donne said, "No man is an island." Thanks!
    Reply to this
    1. 7/25/2009 1:06 PM Wally Bock wrote:

      Thanks for adding that, Alain. I think the military is better about getting that across to young managers. In the Marines, officers eat last. That message is so ingrained in new Second Lieutenants that you can watch them compete with each other for who will be the very last one in the chow line.

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  • 7/25/2009 1:22 PM John Hunter wrote:
    Thanks I see far too little of this behavior in action. Good managers put a significant amount of focus on serving their employees. It is easy to say but few really pay more than lip service to the idea.
    Reply to this
    1. 7/25/2009 3:10 PM Wally Bock wrote:

      Thanks for that insight, John. You're right that it takes work. You have to spend time with your people. You have to work with them and on their behalf. And you have to get the job done, too.

      Reply to this
  • 7/25/2009 3:35 PM Gwyn Teatro wrote:
    I really like how you have explained what "caring" means. I think that if you don't have a real handle on what it really means to CARE, you run the risk of crossing the line into "CARE-TAKING". And that means that bosses begin to make decisions for,and about, their subordinates that the subordinates are quite capable of making for themselves.

    Great post, Wally!
    Reply to this
    1. 7/25/2009 4:40 PM Wally Bock wrote:

      That's a fabulous distinction, Gwyn. I love that distinction between "care" and "care-taking." I didn't have this material in the first versions of my supervision programs. Like many other areas, it's here now because, over the years, participants kept say, "Well, great, care for your people. How, exactly, do you do that?"


      Now I have something to add to that. I'm going to use the "care vs. care-taking" distinction in the future. Thanks!

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  • 7/27/2009 2:48 PM Mike Henry wrote:
    Wally, very well put. Many supervisors don't understand the value of protecting their people. Our people should always come first. I spent a lot of time in the freight business years ago and it was common for customers and other vehicles in traffic to complain about a driver without understanding the unreasonableness of their expectations. Your right on when you state that the supervisor should work to "make it possible that the customer and subordinate can work together again." Keeping the relationships sustainable is necessary. Customers aren't always right.
    Reply to this
    1. 7/27/2009 4:59 PM Wally Bock wrote:

      Thanks for the kind words, Mike. I think it's important to care about both the mission and the people. That sometimes produces tension and trade-offs, but over the long term it's clearly the best way to go.


      What I think some supervisors miss is that when you work to protect someone from a customer on the rampage and make it possible for the two to work together, you've got a shot at everybody coming out a winner.

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  • 7/27/2009 4:38 PM Alan Hill wrote:
    I agree that leaders need to care enough to equip their followers. I had a few leaders that cared about me throughout my career so I had the benefit of the experience that I could transfer to others when I became a leader.
    It's that experience of someone caring for you that transforms people from managers and followers to leaders. Here's my question - how can you systematically give all your managers/followers that experience of someone caring for them before you ask them to care for someone else? Your insight would be appreciated.
    Reply to this
    1. 7/27/2009 5:04 PM Wally Bock wrote:

      Thanks for stopping by and raising that issue, Alan. Alas, I don't think I have much that will help.


      I'm sure that if we do a better job of selecting and training supervisors that we'll get more people who've had that experience of being cared about and cared for.


      I'm sure that we can up the percentage a bit more if we put our best supervisors in the slots that have the biggest impact, such as teams that are often full of new hires.


      But, in the end, there's too big a range of supervisors and situations to make it possible for making sure everyone gets that experience.


      That sounds like bad news, but let me share something else from my experience of training for over twenty-five years. I always ask people in my supervisory skills classes to identify a time when it was great to come to work. So far at least everyone has been able to do that. In other words, it seems like even though the system is flawed almost everyone is getting a good supervisor at least once in their career. I consider that a small victory, but still a victory.

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  • 7/31/2009 8:55 AM Dan McCarthy wrote:
    Wally –
    Another great post, just one of many gems from your Working Supervisor’s Toolkit. I’ve always said a leader has two jobs: grow the business, and grow your people.

    You and I are usually on the same page – about 98% of the time – but in this case, I have to nit-pick the notion that a leader’s job is also to “protect their people”. Sure, we all want our leaders to look out for our best interests. That’s how we build up trust and inspire commitment when the going gets tough. It’s probably especially critical at the supervisory level, and I wonder if that’s what you’re referring to.

    However, like any overused strength, there are times when a well-intended leader can take this too far. As a leader climbs the ladder, they need to start looking out for the broader interests of the enterprise and that often is in conflict with what’s best for their people. I’ve seen way too many leaders derail because they were seen as overly protective of their people – and unable to see the big pig picture, be a team player, or make the tough decisions.

    Reply to this
    1. 7/31/2009 9:35 AM Wally Bock wrote:

      Thanks for your usually thoughtful comment, Dan. I think you make a good point which as I understand is this, as you ascend toward the top of the org chart, you need, more and more to look out for the broader interests of the enterprise. I absolutely agree with that.


      And you're right that I'm concerned more with the lower and middle levels of the org chart. First line supervisors and middle managers, I think, need to play a role in keeping their people safe from the rocks that can be thrown by customers or higher ups.


      I also know that the accomplish the mission/care for the people parts of the job can get into tension at any level. Part of a boss's job is to make choices about the best course of action when that happens.

      Reply to this
  • 7/31/2009 1:48 PM Dennis McCuistion wrote:
    Wally, how nice to read your great work as it was linked from another site. Keep up the good work my friend,

    Reply to this
  • 8/4/2009 1:24 AM Andrew Van Dellen wrote:
    Speaking of helping your people grow and develop, what do you think about flexible work schedules to empower your employees to take command of their work day?
    Reply to this
    1. 8/4/2009 6:47 PM Wally Bock wrote:

      I think flexible schedules should be part of the mix when possible. So should working from home, job sharing and other arrangements. Many of the smaller organizations seem to do this pretty well. The create situations based on individual and organizational needs. Larger organizations seem to  have one or two programmatic options which they use to the exclusion of others.

      Reply to this
  • 8/6/2009 10:20 PM Jo Ellen Roe wrote:
    Wally, would it be okay if I write a blog entry based on this post of yours?

    Jo Ellen
    Reply to this
    1. 8/7/2009 7:13 AM Wally Bock wrote:

      I'm honored Jo Ellen. It's always OK to write based on what's here.

      Reply to this
  • 5/15/2012 4:58 AM Daniel Gibson wrote:
    A leader does not have to be a motivational speaker to motivate and keep employees happy. Maintaining a good environment which is safe for your employee to work in is enough to keep morale high.
    Reply to this
    1. 5/16/2012 9:03 AM Wally Bock wrote:

      I think it goes farther than that, Daniel. I think that if you haven't established a good working environment and a good relationship, it's almost impossible to have a successful team.


      Reply to this
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