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Connection, Caring and Trust are foundational to exceptional leadership


When I graduated from business school in the Dark Ages of the 1980s, many leaders I met early in my career fit a particular old-school management style: top-down, hierarchical, and male.


They weren’t as baldly ruthless as some of the bad bosses from the era’s pop culture, as exemplified by Wall Street’s Gordon Gekko, a shameless corporate raider who famously declared, "Greed is good.”


Yuck. Gekko is a somewhat exaggerated example (unfortunately, we’ve met worse!) of the worst kind of leader, but in the decades since, I’ve met many others who, while less toxic, hurt their teams and their leadership by micromanaging, passive-aggression, lack of empathy, authoritarianism, and… well, you get the idea. I’ll bet you’ve had a boss who ticked some of those boxes.


Both leading and as a consultant, I’ve had a front-row seat on hundreds of leaders at all levels of management in companies ranging from family businesses to multinational corporations. I've seen it all: good, bad, and everything in between.


And in a few cases, exceptional.


Meet my co-author

Art Smuck is one of those. He's one of the most original, dynamic, challenging, and compassionate leaders I’ve known, and he’s been a key collaborator and a close friend.


Our history goes back nearly 30 years when I was a consultant working with the Perrier Group of America. Art was the pain-in-the-ass who’d been relegated to corporate Siberia for daring to question his higher-ups. (You can see why I wanted to work with him!)


His manager was surprised but accommodating when I tapped Art to be part of my project. “Take him” was the unspoken message.


But Art was precisely the kind of person I wanted to work with: bright, creative, challenging. He did not accept the status quo for the organization or, crucially, himself. He rightly saw both as works in progress.


We vibed. We both hated the egotism and opportunism we saw in many leaders and how promising emerging leaders often felt pressured to fit the prevailing command-and-control mode. We knew there was a better way, both at the human level and for performance. In the nearly 30 years since we’ve explored that together: What does it take to create organizations that are both the best in their industry and the best place for people to work?


We have lots of experience to draw from, including Art’s career, which took him from the front lines, to executive roles in private and public growth stage companies, to startups in emerging categories, to the CEO role of FedEx Supply Chain. For years, we’ve been field-testing our ideas with companies big and small, public and private, in various industries. They hold up.


For the past year, we’ve been collaborating on a book with the working title Care to Lead™. It synthesizes our stories, experiences, observations and learnings into a single source. Call it our unified theory of leadership. It’s what I wished I had when starting my own leadership journey many years ago. As we’ve field-tested the concepts and practices in the book, many other leaders have said that they, too, would be better leaders today if they’d been exposed to the thoughts early in their careers.


Connection rules

Most leadership philosophies and frameworks focus outward on processes and systems, tactics and strategies. Care to Lead is different because it turns inward first. It’s a bit of a paradox: leadership is not about you, but it is about who you are. Yes, it's about your team, but to be effective, heck, to be great, you’ve got to work on yourself before you can effectively lead.


Our book is premised on the belief that the most influential leadership is more about who you are – your character, mindset, and values – than what you do. We believe how you get things done is as important as the results. Caring, respect, trust and even love – yes, love – are part of leading great organizations and helping people be their best.



So, why are values and character so important? They are the only thing that can generate respect and breed trust, creating those powerful connections that inspire people to move with you toward a goal. Values create clarity around what is accepted and expected in pursuing those goals.


When you care about your team and its shows, you'll build trust, respect, and loyalty. When people feel heard, understood, and valued, it will motivate them to go the extra mile and take ownership of their work. Caring and empathetic leaders promote a culture of accountability, where everyone takes responsibility for their actions and learns from their mistakes. With this approach, the team becomes a collective unit that strives towards a shared purpose instead of just following orders.


Love is in the air

For a long time, these ideas felt almost radical. Today, more people have realized caring is not a sign of weakness but a testament to a leader's strength and wisdom. A caring leader can transform a group of individuals into a cohesive and motivated team driven by trust, a shared purpose, and a commitment to personal and professional growth. Caring leadership fosters innovation, supports empathy, and creates more prosperous and harmonious organizations.


Leadership is not just about managing resources and achieving goals; it is about nurturing people and helping others reach their full potential. Care isn't just a leadership quality—it’s the heart of leadership.


We are writing this book for any leader who wants to dig deep, challenge their thinking, and embrace leadership as an ongoing opportunity to grow as a person rather than a title or a fixed destination. It won’t provide answers so much as give valuable questions and habits of inquiry that can radically alter your leadership for the better and set curious and compassionate leaders on a new path.


Want to be the first to know when our book is published? Care to Lead and sign up for the WhiteWater newsletter.


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greg rutledge
greg rutledge
28 nov. 2023
Noté 5 étoiles sur 5.

Cant wait to read it!!!

J'aime
Sean Ryan
Sean Ryan
28 nov. 2023
En réponse à

Me too! 😂

J'aime

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