There’s a critical question that you have to answer for people when you’re in a leadership role. Until you answer that question squarely and sincerely, they’ll withhold some of their loyalty to you and to the company. That question is: Do you care about me?

A lot of leaders give lip service to caring about people, saying, “Our people are our greatest resource.” But the real answer to this critical question shows up in the leader’s actual treatment of people. If you’re a leader and you constantly move up deadlines, take credit for another’s work, set unachievable goals, never say “thank you,” and rarely smile, then you don’t care about people. And they know it.

When a leader cares more about the ends (results) and less about the means (people), he becomes susceptible to treating people like objects. The drive for results then becomes the leader’s excuse for poor treatment or toughness. He’ll say, “Sure, I’m tough. But we’re under relentless pressure from our competition, and margins are tight. I have to be tough to create urgency and motivate people to work hard. Besides, my boss is tough on me; why shouldn’t I be tough on my people?”

No doubt results matter. Getting solid results is the best means of judging a leader’s effectiveness. But if the leader only obsesses about how many golden eggs you’re pushing out, you’ll never believe that he truly cares about you, will withhold your loyalty, and very likely produce fewer eggs!

As a practical reality, it’s smart to care about the people you’re leading. When they know you sincerely care about them, they will care about you—and your success. When they can answer “Yes!” to the critical “Do you care about me?” question, they’ll work harder, be more open to direction, and be more loyal to you. A wise leader treats people more importantly than results because strong people produce those results.

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So how can you show people that you truly care? Here are three ways:

  • Seek, value, and use their input.
  • Meet individually to discuss their goals, career aspirations, and challenges.
  • Make time for them so you can actively support and mentor them in their careers.

Finally, show them you care by occasionally stepping out of your leadership role so they can see who you are when you’re not leading. People need to know that you haven’t gotten too big for your leadership britches. They need to know that regardless of how high you’ve climbed, you still have a sympathetic heart that they will always be able to reach. People will afford you a tremendous amount of power as long as they know that the power—and you—are anchored to humility.

Learn more about how leaders create growth through opportunity in Bill’s latest book, Leaders Open Doors, available now. Bill is donating 100 percent of the book royalties to programs that support kids with special needs.