Sometimes You Need to Make Work Personal

Last Updated May 17, 2011 11:12 AM EDT

It is often said that leadership is a hard job.

Such a truism came to mind as I watched a 60 Minutes interview with outgoing Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. He makes it a practice to write a condolence letter to the families of fallen service members. Rather than generate a pro forma letter Gates asks his staff to gather "hometown news accounts," a photograph and recollections of people who knew the service person. "So I feel like I know them. In some ways, it makes the job harder. But I want the parents or the wives or spouses to know that I care about every single one of 'em."

The measure of a leader so often is not what he or she does when things are simple it is what that leader does when times are tough. Fortunately Gates' example is not unique. Many of the best leaders I have worked with are cut from a similar mold. Not only do they do their management jobs well, they excel as leaders. They go out of their way to connect personally and individually with their employees, especially when that employee is going through a tough time.

Such leaders can be counted on to show up at the hospital of an employee who is ill or related to someone who is. These are the types that show up at funerals, even when it means giving up office time, and traveling across country to do so. They are the folks that quietly counsel their employees experiencing tough times on the home front, not as therapists but as someone who cares about another individual.

On a lighter note you can find such leaders showing up to attend milestone events such as anniversary and graduation. They also show up at weddings and pose for pictures with the employee and his family.

You might think this is trivial, and indeed, it is not earthshaking but for a busy executive taking time out of a work schedule, or carving out space in their private lives, to make time for others requires a commitment of time and energy. I would also call it sacrifice.

Busy leaders need time for themselves and for their families. Working long hours and traveling frequently is tough. And so when they reach out to an employee in need it demonstrates a commitment to service, a willingness to put aside personal things to be with someone else.

There is a payback for leaders in personal commitment. Loyalty. Employees who receive support from their bosses when they are celebrating or suffering communicates that the leader cares about them as people, not simply employees.

Leadership can be a hard job, but it can be made a bit easier when you have the support of those you lead.

image courtesy of flickr user, isafmedia