PhD research identified 10 key leadership practices that engender trust, paving the way to compelling leadership. Caring for others is one of them.

I was in Sydney earlier in the week. I was surprised to see so many homeless. Still sleeping on the concrete in the tunnels leading out of the Underground you had to take care not to step on them, or trip on their meagre possessions. No one stopped. Neither did I.

Later that morning I listened to Tim Costello speak, CEO of World Vision. He urged educators to never lose sight of instilling a heart of compassion in the students we teach. His words caused me to stop and question my actions earlier that morning.

It stands to reason that you would trust someone more if you knew that they genuinely cared for you, trust is relational. However, I was surprised, when doing my research, that staff in large schools described their trust in the Head as a genuine care for the people he/she served. How can a leader care for so many people effectively, and how do they balance that with the requirement to make significant decisions that impact people’s lives?

To genuinely care means to have ‘compassion for’. The word compassion comes from the Latin word compati, which means ‘to suffer with’.

As a leader do I care enough to suffer with? What would ‘to suffer with’ mean to the staff member who has cancer, or whose wife has just left him?

To genuinely care is a significant challenge for leaders. It would seem to be a paradox: How can you be compassionate to the staff member you have to let go because they aren’t performing to expectations? To care shouldn’t paralyse a leader’s ability to make a decision, but it should impact the way they meet that person and suffer with them.

The key to real care is relationships. Unless you can look into someone’s face, to enter their world, it is very hard to have compassion.

As a leader to care is hard, particularly when so many things make demands on your time. But as a leader it is one of your most important roles to build genuine relationships with the people you are entrusted to serve. In suffering with others, trust will grow, paving the way to compelling leadership.