Skip to main content

The Caring Manager

Pitagorski FeatureArticle June5What does it mean to be a caring manager who is there to serve his subordinates as well as to make sure they perform and achieve organizational objectives.

Recent incidents reminded me of how easy it is for a manager to lose track of the importance of making sure his/her subordinates are properly cared for and respected.

In one case a manager verbally abuses and threatens her subordinates when they fail to meet her expectations.

In another case, a long time employee, who for several years, had been competently performing work well beneath her capacity had made it known that she would like a transfer to a role that was both needed in the organization and which she was trained to play. 

Her direct manager, perhaps satisfied with the status quo or just too busy to take the effort to find a replacement and upgrade the employee’s role, did nothing about the request for over two years. Finally, the employee escalated the issue and with the help of others outside of her direct line of control, a transfer to a better position was arranged. 

Servant Leadership

The simple idea that a manager is there to care for his or her subordinates is expressed in the work of Robert K Greenleaf on Servant Leadership. Servant leadership is a set of leadership practices and a management philosophy that begins with the idea that a manger is there to serve his subordinates so they are better able to perform.

Servant-leaders share power, put the needs of others first, and enable people to develop and perform optimally.

According to Lao Tzu:

“The best leaders are those the people hardly know exist.

The next best is a leader who is loved and praised.

Next comes the one who is feared.

The worst one is the leader that is despised.

If you don’t trust the people, they will become untrustworthy.

The best leaders value their words, and use them sparingly.

When she has accomplished her task, the people say, “Amazing: we did it, all by ourselves!”

Characteristics of a Servant Leader

Following are the principle characteristics of a servant leader. Managing in accord with these principles leads to a dynamic working environment that is effective, fun and free of the fear of failure.

  1. Listening: paying attention to what employees do and say. The unspoken is as at least as important as the spoken. Using intuition and analysis to get what is communicated the manager identifies needs and uncovers issues that get in the way of optimal performance.
  2. Empathy: employees are people who need respect and appreciation for their personal and professional development. The manager puts herself in their place to better understand their needs.
  3. Healing: A servant leader tries to help people solve their problems and conflicts in relationships.
  4. Awareness: A servant leader needs to be mindfully aware of himself, his environment with its values and people around.
  5. Persuasion: A Servant Leader seeks consensus rather than dictating from an authoritarian place of power. Openness and persuasion are more important than power and control
  6. Conceptualization: A servant leader thinks about short term day-to-day operational needs as well as the longer term needs of the organization, its people and its environment.
  7. Foresight: The manager analyzes risk and integrates tactics and strategies to learn from the past and achieve long and short term goals
  8. Stewardship: Managers are both stewards of their organizations and the society as a whole.
  9. Commitment to the growth of people: People have a value beyond their roles as workers. The personal, professional, and spiritual growth of employees should be developed through training programs and involvement in decision making.
  10. Building community: A servant leader seeks to create a community within her organization or project and across organizations and projects.[4]

These characteristics are meant to provide a framework for a leadership approach rather than a set of rules. Greenleaf stressed that it is each person’s responsibility to reflect on these and use them for personal development.


What does servant leadership and being a caring manager have to do with project management?

Project management is all about performance. We manage so as to improve the probability of successfully completing projects. Success is measured by our ability to achieve objectives – satisfying stakeholders by getting things done within time and cost constraints. The stakeholders are not only the clients and sponsors but also the project performers.

On a purely personal level, for most people, serving and caring makes the care taker feel good (there is scientific evidence that being kind is rewarding for its own sake). From a purely practical point of view, a servant leadership based approach is a means towards improving the way work is done. 

The loyalty, trust and appreciation that arises in employees and team members who feel they are cared for and respected by their manager transforms itself into higher levels of performance. Commitment to growth serves the need of continuity of the organization while other characteristics promote a healthy culture that reduces undesirable turnover and enables optimal performance.

The Challenge

The challenge is to personally apply the principles of servant leadership and the advice of Lao Tzu in a way that balances caring with the ability to achieve project and business objectives.

The challenge is also to promote these principles in your projects and organizations to create a culture in which there is no conflict between getting work done optimally and the health and well being of the staff.

What does being a caring manager mean? It means that the manager takes the effort to express his or her appreciation of the good work being performed instead of taking it for granted and only expressing negative feedback when there is a slip up. It means giving constructive criticism. It means making sure that subordinates have clear direction and the capacity to do the work assigned to them. It means having their back when it comes to supporting them in conflicts. It means treating subordinates as adults and peers. It means considering what is best for employees when making decisions. And it means providing opportunities for growth in an environment that is pleasant to work in.

Are you up for the challenge?

Don’t forget to leave your comments below.

George Pitagorsky

George Pitagorsky, integrates core disciplines and applies people centric systems and process thinking to achieve sustainable optimal performance. He is a coach, teacher and consultant. George authored The Zen Approach to Project Management, Managing Conflict and Managing Expectations and IIL’s PM Fundamentals™. He taught meditation at NY Insight Meditation Center for twenty-plus years and created the Conscious Living/Conscious Working and Wisdom in Relationships courses. Until recently, he worked as a CIO at the NYC Department of Education.

Comments (7)