What It Takes For True Leadership to Happen – and Loyalty to Take Place

By Dov Baron

If we genuinely understand that our people are our greatest assets, then as forward-thinking leaders, we must become masterful at dealing with individuals as just that: Individuals.

What does this mean? It means that, despite what we’ve been taught about keeping ourselves separate and making sure we don’t allow people to break the chain of command, we must get down in the trenches and get to know our people. We need to understand what matters to them.

This is way beyond the “open door management” of the past. This is about seeing the humanity of people, having them see your humanity, and coming at your personal and business relationships from a place of genuine caring.

Staying emotionally distant

Many years ago, I was trained as a counselor/therapist. Very early on in that training, I received one fundamental tenant regarding what it took to be a great therapist: The insistence upon our keeping professional distance.

That meant as therapists, we were supposed to stay emotionally distant from our clients (I never liked or used the term “patients” as it implied sickness.)

To be completely honest with you, I was never able to do it. When my client was in pain, I felt that pain. When they had success, I felt their joy and celebrated their success along with them.

And despite my original educators’ insistence that being emotionally invested would impair my ability to help, the evidence was completely contradictory: I was a highly successful and in-demand therapist with a significant waiting list.

In the beginning, I thought that I should feel bad about caring so much, and I even wondered if I had made a good career choice because of it. Then, fortunately for me, I read a book that was first published in 1978, written by an ex-military psychiatrist.

The book wasn’t specifically about how to be a better therapist; however, it did dramatically impact my approach to the work, and it removed the guilt I had carried about how I did what I did.

Taking The Road Less Traveled

This book was The Road Less Traveled by bestselling author M. Scott Peck. The book sold somewhere in the region of 7 million copies in the U.S. and Canada alone. It was, and is, filled with what I believe are brilliant insights and strategies.

However, there was one piece that remains with me to this day, and as much as it impacted my therapeutic style, that same piece has profoundly impacted my leadership style, too.

Here’s the excerpt:

If the psychotherapist cannot genuinely love a patient, genuine healing will not occur. No matter how well credentialed and trained a psychotherapist may be, if they cannot extend themselves through love to their patients, the results of their psychotherapeutic practice will be generally unsuccessful.

Conversely, a totally uncredentialed and minimally trained lay therapist who exercises a great capacity to love will achieve psychotherapeutic results that equal those of the very best psychiatrists.”

It takes caring to truly lead

I know, I can hear you: What the heck does psychotherapy have to do with leadership? You may even be saying: I have absolutely no interest in being the therapist for anyone, let alone someone on my team.

Good news! I am not suggesting that. However, there is a lesson here for the leaders of tomorrow, and to make it clear, I will rephrase Dr. Peck’s words into a leadership context:

If a leader does not genuinely care about a team member, genuine loyalty will not occur. No matter how well established and or trained that leader may be, if they cannot extend themselves through genuine compassion, empathy, caring, and vulnerability, the results will be that their team will never know the fruits of lasting success and they will be generally unsuccessful in the ways that will matter most.

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Conversely, a totally untrained or minimally trained leader who exercises a great capacity for genuine compassion, empathy, caring, and vulnerability will achieve bottom line results that will equal and often exceed those of the most established leaders.

Attracting people who become fiercely loyal

It is the capacity for genuine compassion, empathy, caring, and vulnerability that will define the leaders of tomorrow. But to have those qualities takes far more courage than to be a dictatorial, distant leader.

Moreover, authentic caring, compassion, empathy, and vulnerability can only be genuinely delivered by a leader who has had the courage to “take a look under their own hood.” Only a leader with genuine self-awareness can have real awareness of another. Only leaders who can be honestly vulnerable and compassionate with themselves can have genuine compassion for others.

Such a leader not only attracts great people, but those people become Fiercely Loyal.

Excerpted from Fiercely Loyal: How High Performing Companies Develop and Retain Top Talent, by Dov Baron. Copyright February 2015 by In-Phase Publishing. Reprinted with permission.

Dov Baron
Dov Baron was named by Inc Magazine as one of the Top 100 Leadership Speakers for Your Next Conference. As the leading authority on Authentic Leadership and the founder of "Full Monty Leadership," he works with leaders in creating teams that become fiercely loyal. A bestselling author, Dov's latest book is Fiercely Loyal: How High Performing Companies Develop and Retain Top Talent. Learn more at FullMontyLeadership.com. FullMontyLeadership.com