“Denver told me that faith-based organizations, government programs, and well-meaning individuals fed him and kept him alive for all those years on the streets, but it was the love of Miss Debbie that caused him to want to change his life.” – from the book, Same Kind of Different As Me.

I recently read this book about two unlikely people whose lives intersect—a homeless man and a wealthy art collector. The book, co-authored by these two men, is a powerful and inspiring story that offers some leadership lessons as well. The homeless man, Denver, acknowledged that a lot of organizations and people kept him alive, but it was the love that one person showed him that sparked his desire to change his life.

How does this apply to business? When you treat someone as a person and recognize their value beyond what they do for your business, it’s powerful. It’s not about group hugs or throwing out high performance standards in favor of a softer approach to business objectives. It’s about treating people with kindness and actively showing that you care about them and want to invest in them. It’s recognizing them as a fellow human being with value.

That all sounds simple and may even sound obvious, but if we were truly doing this in business, we would see different numbers around workplace engagement. Currently, only 30% of the workforce is engaged. Less than one third! I have walked in to many workplaces where people feel as though they are simply exchangeable robots who are taken for granted, seldom (if ever) recognized, and often treated as if they don’t even exist.

Reading this book transported me back to some of my personal experience with serving the homeless. Preparing food and serving meals takes a lot of people, effort, and energy. But it can be (and often is) done without truly connecting with a single person in the receiving line. It takes additional effort and intention to sit down with someone, listen to what they have to share, and pray with them. Those powerful one-on-one conversations can inspire, encourage, and help someone feel like they are human and they are worthy. It can even make them feel lovable, as Denver says in telling his story.

We have the same choice to make in the workplace. We can simply manage the headcount through policies, rules, systems, and processes to get the work done and achieve the goals. Or we can make the additional effort to build relationships, establish trust, help people see and reach their full potential, and show them that we care about them as people.
When you as a leader take these actions, it helps win the trust of your team, increases their willingness to follow your lead, and inspires them to contribute at their best. And they will be open and honest with you, which allows you to help them transform into something they may have never believed possible. Just like with Denver, I see it happen in both the workplace and on campus.

We are all guilty at times of getting really busy and becoming overly focused on just putting out fires. Myself included. It can be easy to focus only on the checklist that needs to be done. For those people with low Empathy like myself, we won’t even pick up on the reactions of others to our potential insensitivity.

Actions Which Convey Caring

I created the following checklist to help me focus on truly connecting and caring for others placed around me. I regularly ask myself, do I …

  • Say hello to people (with eye contact) or engage with them as I walk by? This means putting the phone down and focusing on the people.
  • Hold them accountable and have the hard conversations, even if I am afraid they will be mad at me?
  • Greet people as they walk into a meeting versus staying buried in my computer?
  • Slow my walking pace as I go by their desk in case they want to talk?
  • Take time to remember names of people I am likely to meet again?
  • Ask about their family and other things they care about? This requires first knowing what they care about.
  • See what their needs are rather than first worrying about getting my needs met?
  • Meet their needs because they are important to me versus feeling like meeting their needs will make me look better?
  • Take time to follow up and check in when they express a care or concern?
  • Take time to talk with each direct report about their potential and paint it in a way they can get a glimpse of it themselves?
  • Smile?
  • Show excitement and a bit of happiness when I see them?
  • Talk about them to others in ways that convey we are on a team together (versus referring to them as “my people”)?
  • Say things that show their worth and value?
  • Forgive them of wrongs and allow them to course correct and cheer them along as they make changes?
  • Look for ways to make their ideas work and point out at least one positive aspect rather than dismissing their ideas without fully considering if even some of it could be done?
  • Look for opportunities to help them grow and invest in them getting better? Even if budget is limited, I can share information or videos to support their development.

There is a reason Jesus commanded us to love on another. God gave us this basic human need, and He knew it was something that another person must provide. You may be the only person in that employee or colleague’s life who shows them love. You may never know what’s really going on for them outside of work, and your words of life and caring can bring the hope that they desperately need. I was once that person, so I really get it. Now that I am on the other side, I see opportunity to make a difference.

Your challenge: Notice this week if you are really connecting and caring or just passing through. Run through the list and see how you are doing. Then pick a few new actions to incorporate into your next week.

Note: The book makes a great gift—it is an incredible read that will inspire you, as well as make you laugh out loud and cry. The writing draws you in, especially once the background is set in the first 30 pages. Then it is nearly impossible to put down because you want to see what happens next.

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    Loriana Sekarski is founder and president of BONSAI, a consulting company that transforms leaders (and businesses) into the best version of themselves. As a leadership coach, Loriana teaches leaders how to hone soft skills, spur workplace engagement, and achieve untapped levels of potential. Outside of BONSAI, Loriana serves as an adjunct professor at Washington University’s graduate student program. Additionally, she's fine-tuning her passion project, TakeFlight, a division of BONSAI that launches organizations, churches, and marriages to boldly live out their purpose by leveraging their strengths to achieve their God-given destiny. TakeFlight has just developed Revealing Hidden Shackles, an innovative curriculum that examines domestic violence within the Christian community.