By Todd M. Wysocki, Ph.D. & Jake R. Goldblum, B.A.
Showing another that you care ultimately is not about you, it’s about the other person. Caring is not about what’s convenient for you; it’s about being present in the moment – present when the need is real and when evident in the future. While caring is a quality envious of all regardless of role, it is invaluable to the ideology of leaders and mentors. Effective leaders care about the organization, the cause and the members. Effective mentors care about their mentees. In doing so, they make themselves accessible to others.
Accessible leadership and mentorship is based on three principles – connect, care and change. Leaders and mentors become accessible when they connect with others, demonstrate caring, and influence change in others. While separate qualities, they are in essence interdependent. While all three qualities are important and necessary, the core of accessibility is built on the idea of being present and genuinely caring about the welfare and future of others.
The term caring is one that is thrown around frequently. It is a simple yet powerful idea. However, what is caring? How do you show you care? Caring can be defined as “feeling and exhibiting concern and empathy for others.” Saying I care is easy but showing it is a completely different story. A prerequisite is an understanding of the power of genuine concern. Never underestimate how your interest and concern can have a significant impact on others. Of course, perception is important. Actions speak louder than words. Through actions, others then recognize your concern. This completes the cycle.
There is no magic formula here, but it is not complicated either. You may be reading this thinking “easier said than done”. While there is some truth to this since it is contingent upon your actions and subsequent recognition by the target of your concern, it is actually pretty straightforward. We care when we are compassionate, genuine, empathetic and non judgmental. These ideas are fundamental to most definitions and honestly make sense. However, caring transcends these ideas because there is no schedule in showing that you care. Caring is “being present”. Being present even when it is not convenient, not a good time, and not congruent with your schedule.
It’s about taking time for others, making time, going the extra mile, being active in your interactions, actively engaging, and reaching out. These simple ideas can be applied across settings. In higher education, it can take many forms: staying after class to talk, replying quickly and thoughtfully to emails and messages, meeting beyond office hours, walking together in between classes, extending an invitation to talk, or actually arrange a time to meet. Sometimes it is the unexpected that is most salient. Randomly and without provocation reaching out to someone to touch base, offer support, or just to let them know you are there if needed. Regardless of the setting and context, simple words of encouragement can have a real impact. Your words become actions, and actions are undeniable. Others then see you do actually care.
You become more than just the leader, the mentor, the teacher, the administrator – you become real, a real person who also cares and is genuinely compassionate. Simple yes, cliché maybe, but powerful – without question.
Knowing someone genuinely cares about you and your welfare is indeed powerful. When we are present and real, that level of concern becomes evident. And yes, that can make a difference.