Attributes of a caring leader

Think bigger than yourself. Caring is thinking about what is good for the employee, for the company, and for customers.

I have worked for many businesses across ABB ranging from the manufacturing of products that cost a few dollars to supplying multi-million-dollar projects, spanning across various geographies with cutting edge technologies and having varied go-to-market approaches including distributors, OEMs, utilities, etc. Over the years, these businesses became highly successful and the common attribute for success was the authenticity of the leaders, in how they approached their teams. Within our company, one of our core values is Caring. This involves taking care of our customers, employees and the work environment. It is about respecting our differences and operating with integrity. For me, caring as a leader includes three key areas: trust, transparency, and creating a successful working environment.

Trust transcends

A caring leader builds trust.  Trust is a universal attribute that transcends across cultures, demographics and geographies. Trust is the magic key if you want employees to succeed. Actions speak louder than words. Think if you will for a moment about infants. They exist in the hands of their parents. An infant is full of trust and confidence that they will be cared for. At that age they do not understand words yet, only actions.

It is possible to get the full 100% commitment from the team when you speak through your actions. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the business. If you are consistent in your approach, you will build trust.

Transparency and opportunity

Leaders have to make tough and sometimes unpopular decisions. However, a caring leader listens to the viewpoints of others and encourages them to participate in the overall process. Even if the end decision is not what they had hoped, they will appreciate that you weighed different suggestions and data in the decision. Being tough and being aggressive are two different things. A strong leader can be tough while still being polite. You don’t need to raise your voice or use bad language; your knowledge and skills should help you take a strong, possibly unpopular, position.

Transparency is also about providing equal opportunity to everyone, with no set agenda. For example, in a prior role, a good opportunity came up for one of my direct reports. Supporting that employee’s pursuit of the opportunity at the time would have been a challenge for our team. However, from the moment we learned about that opportunity, we went out of the way to make sure the person got fair treatment in the process. After the employee  was offered the new role, we made a special effort to facilitate  an early transition so the employee could start their new role and not worry about trying to straddle two roles. This support created a positive environment for the rest of the team members – they saw that if they worked hard, good opportunities would come, and they would be supported and encouraged to seek them.

I joined ABB in 1998, as part of the management trainee program. After that, I changed roles six times with different businesses. In every new role, a direct report of mine was promoted to my former position. While it can create pressure on the team for a few months until that role is filled, the motivation of the team increases significantly because they see career progression and opportunities for growth. As leaders, we should strive to create better leaders than ourselves to keep moving the business forward.

Successful working environment

Diversity is key to building a healthy work environment. It helps us get better ideas, increase the team’s knowledge, and understand and serve customers in better ways. In the same situation, two different people will provide two different perspectives. It is all about people and how we empower them.

As an early advocate of work and life balance, I have always focused on ensuring that all employees have the opportunity for flexibility in their day to day schedules. Providing alternative working arrangements, levels the playing field for colleagues of all cultures and genders.

In the 22 years of my career, I have never said no to any employee for any request for leave, no matter how important the work situation was at that time. If you built the right team, you should trust that the person has already analyzed the situation, considered alternate ways to achieve critical business objectives before making the request for time away.

Final thoughts

To be a successful leader in a successful business, you must think bigger than yourself. Caring is thinking about what is good for our employees, for the company, and for our customers. The most important thing in this competitive world today is to deliver differentiated value to the customer and we can do this only, if we take care of our employees through a culture of trust, transparency and healthy work-life balance.

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About the author

Nirmal Gupta

Nirmal is the CFO for ABB Installation Products Division.
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