Inner leaders communicate their respect—caring and love—in every action taken and in every word spoken and deed performed. They convey their concern for followers through multiple acts. They are responsive to the values followers hold, their beliefs, and their feelings (Crozan, 1989). Respectful, caring behavior also includes allowing others to function independently insofar as is possible within the work community’s values and vision. Locke’s (1991) research into professional leadership failures cites unconcern, insensitivity to others, and disregard of the humanness of their coworkers as major causes of leader derailment. Successful leaders behave in opposite ways.
Most people want and need a degree of independence to perform their work on their schedule and in their way. Within the known constraints of the technique or of the parent work organization’s policy, inner leaders strive to allow workers to show some creative independence on the job as a way to increase group solidarity and productivity. Caring facilitates this kind of guided autonomy that includes helping stakeholders become capable of doing more than they formerly did.
Caring about people is nothing more than a highly developed concern for others. Inner leaders feel about leading their stakeholders the same way that craftsmen feel about their craft. Real craftsmanship, regardless of the skill involved, reflects genuine caring; and real caring reflects the leaders’ attitudes about self, about their fellows, and about life generally. Caring is an inner leadership technique that, if present, permeates all aspects of the work community—its people, clients, suppliers, and customers.
Caring presupposes respect. We cannot communicate caring and at the same time humiliate a coworker, a client, the work unit, or the program. Caring implies unstinting support. Caring techniques operationalize the Golden Rule in the workplace. Leaders who care about their followers give time and attention to workers and to what they do. Caring inner leaders listen to colleagues, customers, clients, and constituency groups. They treat them as respected colleagues who deserve their time, attention, good will, and honest concern.
Leaders living by this inner leadership philosophy use the simple technique of treating coworkers and customers as adults and as trusted friends. Treating coworkers as adults means treating them as fully functioning mature colleagues capable of self-directed activity. As they treat coworkers as adults, leaders become partners in the mutual enterprise (Johnson, 1999). Thus, inner leaders listen respectfully and patiently to their coworkers (Braham, 1999). They value workers as individuals, not as interchangeable parts of the industrial machine. They expect extraordinary things from ordinary workers, and the workers usually deliver extraordinary results. The leader’s respect for others may be tough minded and still communicate caring and respect (Lombardi, 2000). Caring leaders can still expect competence, but they honor it when it is given.
Treating coworkers with respect implies a willingness to prepare them and to set reasonable and clear expectations.
Recent literature is almost unanimous in defining leadership in terms of loving and caring for followers. Caring behavior comes from deeply held beliefs and perceptions about people, who they are and their essential goodness. Caring—love—is a definitional attribute of interpersonal excellence. Inner leaders come to love their coworkers, the services they jointly provide, their clients, and all the people with whom they work. Caring is central to leadership. Inner leaders are excited about what they do and whom they do it with. They nurture their colleagues out of a genuine concern for them (Clement and Rickard, 1992).
Central to inner leadership philosophy are a few communal values most Americans intuitively accept. One of these is common courtesy. Perhaps it should be called uncommon courtesy since, in many organizations, it is so seldom practiced. Nevertheless, inner leaders who treat others with old-fashioned courtesy reap rewards of increased commitment, more productivity, and fuller involvement because, simply, courtesy works.
Inner leaders place value on people, not solely on control fads—like Quality Circles, Job Enlargement, Organizational Development, Human Relations, Total Quality Management, and the like. These fads have often been relied upon to induce followers to behave in predetermined ways. This is a top-down focus relying, primarily, on the leader’s power. A better approach, one seldom used it seems these days, is courtesy. Courtesy is an alternative to these control system fads. It focuses not on authority for compliance but on cooperative interaction to accomplish mutually held values by mutually prepared people who like each other.
The inner leadership model prioritizes consideration for the emotions and needs of stakeholders. Leaders respect the talents, feelings, concerns, and values of workers, constituents, and their citizen-customers. Treating others with courtesy means seeing them as friends as well as coworkers or subordinates. Friends have fun with each other. They joke, laugh, cry with each other. Inner leaders respond to this follower human need as they listen to their coworkers, smile at them, and otherwise encourage a friendly atmosphere. While CEOs may, on occasion, deal with employees in these ways, they typically subordinate these actions for action intended to control their workers’ behavior, not to accommodate their feelings.
Inner leaders are avid listeners. They listen to customers, employees—all stakeholders. Listening is characteristic of inner leaders. In fact, leadership is a process of intimate relations with followers, the purpose of which is to unleash the followers’ capacities (Peters and Austin 1985). Active listening responds to this follower need and to values that reflect respect for and regard for them. Leaders actively try to understand their stakeholders (Tesolin, 2000). Listening lets them gain raw impressions—that is, unfiltered or interpreted data—from customers or employees. It lets leaders focus on strengthening their followers as they hear and try to understand their innovative contributions and, as appropriate, allow them to implement them. In such cases, followers grow, and both they and the work community prosper.
Several listening styles can be discerned from experience. Some listeners are judgmental, evaluating the speaker’s words and ideas. Others are interpretive, attaching meaning to ideas immediately, sometimes prematurely. They run the risk of biasing others’ ideas vis-à-vis their own prejudices. Some listeners are supportive, confirming and encouraging others’ideas (Braham, 1999). Still others are probative, seeking answers to the what, why, and where of the speakers’ ideas and information. Another style is giving attention and empathetic responses to the speaker in an effort to show you understand what is being said.
Inner leaders, however, characteristically practice a special kind of listening called naive listening. Naive listening is listening as if you have never heard the idea being expressed before. It is a technique for maximizing concentration on what is being communicated. Naive listening is a new way to think about listening. It is an active process of paying respectful attention to others to find out fully what they want to communicate to us (Fairholm, 1991; Cashman and Burzynski, 2000). It is, simply, listening with an open and accepting mind to find out what the speaker is saying. After the correct information transfer takes place, the leader can then accept or reject the communicated data based on its merits. But naive listening provides the correct information upon which to base later judgments.
The key to naive listening is to listen to understand. This kind of listening asks leaders to remember key words, resist distractions, review key ideas, and be open and flexible. It asks them to refrain from evaluation until the end of the idea, to remain mentally and physically alert, to take notes, and to stop talking. You can’t learn with your mouth open. Naive leader listeners ask questions, prepare in advance for the topic being discussed, listen empathetically, and routinely restate the talker’s key points as a check.