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Nobody sets out to be an uncaring leader, but they exist in many workplaces.

There are a lot of sources out there that suggest that people often leave jobs because of a dysfunctional workplace culture, or poor management. Here is one of them.

You’ve also probably seen or heard the quote: “People don’t leave jobs, they leave their boss.”

Part of this in my experience is that many leaders don’t really seem to show respect or appreciation for their people.

In some cases, there is still a “command and control” style of leadership which forms the default management approach. This in turn leads to a lack of autonomy, and a slump in motivation.

The only difference is that nowadays, it’s making a big difference. Before, people used to put up with it. And now, they’re quitting in droves, looking for better opportunities elsewhere.

A callous, uncaring leader will often alienate people and destroy trust. But here’s the catch. I don’t think it’s intentional.

What Is An Uncaring Leader and Why Does It Matter?

For me, an uncaring leader is someone who shows a lack of interest in their people.

Bored manager in 1 to 1 meetingSomebody who displays significant self-interest. Looking out for themselves, rather than the people who work for them.

An uncaring leader might also appear aloof, detached or simply uninterested in getting to know their people, or hearing about what they think or feel.

And why does this matter?

It matters because if you work for someone who you think doesn’t care about you, you’re unlikely to go “over and above” for that person. If anything, you’re likely to put in the bare minimum of effort just to get by… or what is commonly known these days as “quiet quitting”.

In short, you’re unlikely to see much commitment from people who don’t think you care about them.

Learn More:  4 Ways Leaders Can Build Empathy in the Workplace (and Why It Matters).

Innocent Actions That Make You Seem Like An Uncaring Leader

Unfortunately, when it comes to looking like an uncaring leader, perception is reality.

You might consider yourself to be a supportive leader, but if other people don’t think so, then you’re out of luck.

But we don’t usually intentionally go out of our way to look like we don’t care. It can just happen if we aren’t careful.

So here are some of the most common innocent actions I see leaders take that can make them seem like they don’t really care about the people who work for them.

1. Checking That Phone

Technology has changed the game at work. It has given us the potential to be more productive and effective.

It has also increased the likelihood that we’ll be distracted and interrupted during the work day.

I’ve started with the phone, because that’s the most common device everyone has. But you can also add the laptop, tablet and the smart watch to that list.

It’s all the same when it comes to distractions.

Leader who doesn't care looking at phone

Nothing says you don’t care quite so much as looking at your phone when you’re supposed to be engaging in a conversation. Or rather, it says “what is on my device is more important or interesting than what you are saying”.

So what to do? Simple.

Either turn it off, put it face down or mute the notifications. In most cases, you won’t miss anything too important. And if you’re a manager that needs to be “always contactable”, well – that’s another issue.

Learn More:  The Cult of Busyness: How Leaders Can Kill It.

2. Bumping Your 1 to 1 Meetings

“Can we please move our meeting to next week? I’ve had something come up.”

The number of times I’ve noticed managers bumping (putting off) their 1 to 1 catchups with their people is staggering.

You might say “they don’t mind”, but do you really think they’d tell you if they were upset about it? Probably not.

1 to 1 meetings are a golden opportunity to find out what’s going on for your people. Without them, you’re flying blind.

“But I see my people in lots of other meetings.”

OK, but do you see them in a forum where you can speak to them individually about their feelings, concerns, aspirations and challenges? Or are you always just talking about progress reports?

1 to 1 meeting

I worked in a busy consultancy years ago where my manager would often reschedule my 1 to 1 meetings. And I wasn’t the only one. It left myself and many of my colleagues with a bitter taste in our mouths.

If you’re not getting enough out of your 1 to 1 meetings with your team (and therefore are tempted to cancel them), you can listen to some of my tips for improving them in the podcast episode below.

Learn More:  Thoughtful Leader Podcast #130: How to Make Your 1 to 1 Meetings Better.

3. Not Taking On Board Team Member Feedback

Leader giving feedback about behaviour issuesSometimes leaders will ask for feedback and input from their team members. This is a good thing, and can help people feel more valued and that they’re helping to shape how the team and organisation functions.

Of course, we can’t always take on the suggestions of our team members. They might cost too much money, involve too much time and effort, or simply be unworkable for other reasons.

However, when you consistently fail to make improvements based on team feedback, you are potentially sending a message that the feedback is not valued or appreciated.

At the very least, a response including some clear (and valid) reasons why the feedback can’t be adopted is the bare minimum to ensure that team members at least feel like their voices have been heard.

Learn More:  Thoughtful Leader Podcast #112: Why Smart Leaders Seek Continuous Improvement.

4. Delegating Mostly Unpleasant Tasks

I’d say that most leaders know that they should delegate.

However, in my experience, it seems as if many leaders mainly see delegation as a way to get work off their plate and onto somebody else’s. That is, to free up their time.

While of course time management is one side-benefit of delegation, it shouldn’t be the primary focus. Another important benefit of delegation is to develop and up-skill your team members. 

This might be through delegation of improvement projects, or of higher-level tasks that help them understand more about management and leadership. These types of tasks can be interesting, challenging and possibly quite engaging.

So when you instead choose to delegate boring or unpleasant tasks, you run the risk of seeming like you have no interest in the development or motivation of your team members.

Instead, you look like your primary focus is to reduce your workload. Is that the perception you want to give people?

Learn More:  Why Leaders Don’t Delegate (and How to Do It More).

5. Being Constantly Unavailable Makes You Look Like An Uncaring Leader

To round out the top five, I’m going with being unavailable as a very common innocent uncaring action.

Many leaders are stuck in back to back meetings for long periods, having little time to engage with their people (or even do the actual work they need to do).

Unfortunately, the issue is that you appear to be constantly unavailable.

And while you might say “but my job is very busy”, it’s still something that can make you appear to be an uncaring leader when you’re simply not around to support your team.

Being too busy - taking on too much - social

The key to this is to be able to safeguard your calendar. Pre-booking slots where you can do your own work or make yourself available is a useful strategy. To sustain this, you’ll also need to be able to push back and say “no” from time to time.

One of my very busy former colleagues used to book out “team time” in her calendar where she’d make herself available each week. This meant she always had a spot available, even if she was in meetings for the rest of the time.

You can say you’re “too busy”, but instead, I think it’s time to take accountability and commit to spending quality time with your team.

Learn More:  5 Ways to Say No Without Getting Fired.

Uncaring Leaders Aren’t Born… They’re Made

Uncaring leaders aren’t born that way.

They’re often created by stressful and busy work environments, full of distractions and interruptions that take away your focus.

Don’t let yourself appear like an uncaring leader, because if you’re reading this… you’re probably not one!

What are some other actions that make leaders seem as if they don’t care? Let me and all the thoughtful leaders know in the comments!

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