Great leaders have many qualities and habits, but there is just one without which true greatness will never be achieved as it cultivates many of them.

Pause for a moment and think of someone who has been a great manager at some point in your career. Try to picture that person in your mind and answer this question: What is the one thing that you really loved about that person? Was it honesty, intelligence, competence, inspiration, or their vision that made them special? Or, perhaps, it was their passion, energy, perseverance, confidence, or humility. All of these are qualities we admire in great leaders, but what was the one thing that made that person truly stand out?

Now, think of a manager who had the complete opposite effect on you, and I apologize if this brings up negative emotions. What is the real reason for this person leaving such a bad taste in your mouth? Were they rude, spiteful, backstabbing, arrogant, wishy-washy, lacking in empathy, or indecisive? Or could it possibly be something less obvious that consigned them to be forever buried in your emotional graveyard? 

I believe that there truly is one fundamental quality that separates the people we deeply love from those that we don’t, and it isn’t any of the aforementioned. There is one unique trait that gives birth to many other great qualities. It is whether a person genuinely cares and, more importantly, whether they care about us.

Your true greatness can only be achieved through genuinely caring about the person next to you. So there you have it. If you want to be a better leader every day, focus on improving one thing—truly caring about others.

I am not dismissing sound management practices or leadership models. All I am saying is that caring is the catalyst for most, if not all, of the great leadership qualities. People who truly care behave and act differently

Poor employee engagement and lack of trust is an epidemic affecting workforces in many of today’s organizations. What if every manager in your organization cared about their people the way they care about their loved ones?  How would you feel if your manager truly cared about you? What if they genuinely appreciated you and made the necessary investment to prepare you for your next career gig?  What an awesome feeling that would be!  Wouldn’t this likely increase your engagement and improve your performance? Of course, assuming that you care too.

Leaders who care, appreciate their people

You cannot be a true leader without having a caring heart. Certainly, you will still be able to manage budgets, plan projects, organize teams, and serve your customers, but if you don’t care, you cannot give people the genuine appreciation that we all crave.  You will make them feel like resources and not individuals with their own aspirations, passions, and feelings.  If your people feel unappreciated, they will not follow you.  Interestingly, being grateful for the people in your life is one of the simplest ways to achieve a sense of happiness.

Leaders who care, develop their people

Your effectiveness as a leader is judged by how your people are performing today. But your true leadership success is defined by how they perform when you are gone. Do you care about your people enough to invest yourself in them so that they will be successful on their own? Do you spend enough time with them to help them become successful?  Real leaders create more leaders--not more followers.

Leaders who care, let their people go

Some of us have a tendency to treat people on our teams as possessions. The belief that they are “my resources” is not healthy. No glory or greatness is ever drawn from your ability to keep people on a leash. The benefits you reap from their deprivation are only temporary and the consequences will cause long term damage to your leadership image and organizational health. 

As a leader, you need to learn how to let your people go when they are ready for their next gig. The same is true for those that you have invested in but realized that perhaps they are in the wrong role. Helping them understand this while encouraging them to seek opportunities that will make them more fulfilled is also caring. I once tried to sell life insurance and my boss helped me understand that this job was not the right one for me. I am so glad he did and I am much happier now, simply because he cared.

Remember that how you make others feel about themselves can ultimately define your own success as a leader in the eyes of the organization.  Genuinely caring is the key to employee engagement and trust. The key word here is “genuine,” because people can’t be fooled.