Are you as smart as a 5th grader?

New York’s Conference Board, a century-old research firm, began studying employee satisfaction and engagement 25 years ago. Their work shows that worker happiness has fallen every year since–in good economic times and bad. Today, over half of American workers effectively hate their jobs.

What has become clear is that many leaders have lost sight of what matters most to people at work.  What were the reports findings? Appreciation. Support. Recognition. Respect.

A recent survey asked, “what is the most important question a follower asks of his or her leader?”  Think of vision, success, strategic consensus, innovation, performance, culture, empowerment.  These are important to say the least.  But the most important question was, “Does the leader care for me?”  They wanted to know more about the leader’s caring than the leader’s competency.  The fact that the leader could take them to a higher level was important.  Yet they got in line because the leader had their best interests in mind.  In other words, the leader cared for them.

The leader communicated, “I care for you.  I care about you.  I care with you.”  It’s the “care package” coupled with the “competence package” that makes a great leader.  Caring goes beyond a feeling of empathy or thought of concern.  It includes meeting them at their point of need.  What do they need from you to succeed in the roll they play?  Caring is doing more than feeling.

Martin Luther King said, “Make a career of humanity, and you will make a greater person of yourself, a greater nation of your country, and a finer world to live in.”  I would add, “and a great place to work!”

Caring is a verb acted out toward family, friends, and those who work with us and for us.  We under estimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring.  These can turn a life around.  Most great things derive from small gestures and actions.  On a broader scale I’ve seen a listening ear turn tragedy into a path to recovery.  A split second to you can mean a lifetime to someone else.

It’s been said, “People don’t care what you know until they know how much you care.”  Caring is a great quality of leadership.  A leader cares for their teams, their followers, their customers, and their clients.  It’s an act to be cultivated, and it’s what brings energy to the soul—and paradoxically–especially to the one giving it.  It’s the way to survive and thrive, both personally and professionally.

What are the side effects and kickbacks?  It’s the never-ending support and loyalty of the people in your organization.  Leadership is about people.  And people flourish when they know someone cares.

It is difficult for someone who is self-centered to care.  And just mouthing the words falls short.  Self-reflection and self-examination are the beginning of the transformation.  Self-awareness is the first stop to overcoming self-centeredness.

As Maya Angelou put it, “If you find it in your heart to care for somebody else, you will have succeeded.”  This is good advice for managers and leaders. We demonstrate care when we…..



Respect, and


One more thing.  It has a personal side effect. It eliminates stress and increases your longevity.  In other words, your biography impacts your biology.

Are you as smart as a fifth grader?

To develop a real team, an environment of mutual care and concern must be promoted.  This is what happened in Mr. Alter’s 5th grade class at Lake Elementary School in Florida.  All the 10 and 11 year old  boys in the class shaved their heads.  They did so without embarrassment.  Why?  Because one of their own, Ian O’Gorman, had cancer. He had to go through chemo.  As a side effect his hair fell out.  All agreed to have their heads shaved so that upon his return Ian wouldn’t stand out from the class.  No one would know who the cancer kid was.  Mr. Alter was so moved by their caring that he shaved his head too.  With that act the young students and their teacher leaped the chasm of acquaintance and became the caring environment of a family. A side effect was that the personal academic productivity of the students in the class grew exponentially.  I’m sure it made Mr. Alter a better teacher as well.

Does your organization have a Chief Caring Officer (CCO)?

Do you Dare to Care?

People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.

(Mick Ukleja is the co-author of the book Managing the Millennials: Discover the Core Competencies for Managing Today’s Workforce)

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6 Responses
  1. Ken Compton

    I had a great CCO (Chief Caring Officer) while working for the Seattle Mariners. We talked about work but he always asked how “I” was doing & always asked about the family. He made me feel valued not only as an employee but also as a person. He’s retired now but I’m going to call him right now & see how “he’s” doing. Thanks Mick

  2. Charlie Dieterich

    You might include the middle part of Dr. King’s words:

    “Make a career of humanity. Commit yourself to the noble struggle for human rights. You will make a greater person of yourself, a greater nation of your country and a finer world to live in.”

    Compassion which is received, but not passed on, will not make you a greater person. And yet, starved for compassion, how will you know what changes you CAN make in your workplace, our nation and the world?

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