UNDERWOOD: Caring relationships form strong leadership

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By Rick Underwood

One morning this week, I was watching the History Channel. There were two documentaries aired back to back. The first one dramatized the rise and fall of the Third Reich under Adolph Hitler and the second the life and violence of Charles Manson. Both told stories of how one man misused power and influence and played on the fears, insecurities and misguided human needs to gain control and get people to do horrible things.

Many thought of Hitler as the second anti-Christ, and Manson was referred to the devil personified. Manson’s story was told by one of the women who got caught up in his evil spell. Her husband had thrown her and her young daughter out on the street. One of Manson’s followers persuaded her to join their cult. Admittedly, she was looking for love in all the wrong places. Her desire to please others and to be liked / loved motivated her to steal and kill.

Back then – and unfortunately today – many people base their self-worth in terms of their usefulness to someone else. Whether with store clerks, business partner, or family members, relationships are quickly reduced to merely functional value.

These relationships are maintained because they need what they can get for themselves from them, whether it is a loaf of bread, stock options, or place to call home. Often times, when the relationship no longer serves a selfish interest, it ends.

This kind of self- interest led to violence and death in Hitler and Manson’s cases. Similar kinds of things continue to happen today. Just read The Sentinel-Newsor watch the TV news.  

It is no wonder then that there is a desperate longing for relationships in which people can count on one another, no matter what. Unfortunately, such relationships are rare. Some people are too needy to be caring of anyone else. Other people live in situations that are too hostile to risk investing much of themselves in other’s problems.

And then some especially as they grow older suffer from mental or physical pain that naturally preoccupies them. In spite of people’s inability and unwillingness to enter into and stay in genuinely caring relationships, the hunger remains. It is a hunger that only a caring relationship can satisfy. 


What the world needs now

No matter what our station or walk in life, all of us want to be involved in genuinely caring relationships. Obviously, the best way to find this kind of caring relationship is for us to extend ourselves.  Oh sure, some argue that if we put ourselves out there we run the risk of being exploited or taken advantage of.

And certainly it is important to know how to set appropriate boundaries with these kinds of folks.

All of us have had those experiences. But that is no reason to defer. We can learn to genuinely care for someone who is demanding without letting ourselves be taken advantage of (again).

Think for a moment about people that have provided genuine caring toward you. What qualities stood out? How would you describe that person to someone else? How much are you like that person?


Qualities of caring relationships

Four qualities of caring people that any of us can develop are protecting, leading, supporting and encouraging. This works for individuals and for business relationships.

We often say to each other when we depart, “take care.” This attitude and statement capture this sense of concern about the other in a world we know to be filled with threat and promise. It conveys our hope that the other will come to no harm.

Most professional counseling, medical and social work organizations have as one of the key tenets “to commit to do no harm.” We all know situations where this is not the case. A person in an authority position not only didn’t protect but inflicted harm on the person under their care. This leads to tragic outcomes for all involved.

On the other hand, we know many cases where a caring person has stepped in to protect another from harm or danger with wonderful outcomes.

A closely related quality is leadership. This includes the responsibility for guiding others toward worthy goals and away from what would be harmful to them. Caring for another includes desiring and actively contributing to what is genuinely in that person’s best interest.

None of us have the wisdom to know exactly what others desire so we have to be careful that we don’t impose our own wishes on them. But rather we can ask them what they want and where they want to go in their lives.

A great initial question is “What is next?” “What is the next thing you need to do to get where you want to be?”

Contrary to popular belief, leadership does not mean telling people what to do. We must remember to respect the right and importance of others to choose worthy goals for themselves.

Many times providing some leadership through a caring relationship means helping others get hooked up with those that can help them the most, such as a counselor, physician, or other professional. 

Naturally evolving from leadership and protectiveness is the quality of supportiveness. More specifically being supportive to another involves non-possessive warmth, accurate empathy and unconditional positive regard.

When these three behaviors and attitudes are extended to a person in need it enables that person to explore options for recovery and to find the courage to make choices that will increase their well-being. Again, we must remember that being supportive doesn’t not mean telling others what to do.

Encouragement is the last but not least of the qualities that demonstrate caring in a relationship. The unexpected crisis, hardships, and challenges that can bring out the best in us also can fill us with fears, drain our resources, shake our self-confidence, and raise doubts about whether we should hope for anything better. At times some of us might get overwhelmed with too many choices.

Courage can fail us at any time in life, whether we are about to be overcome by something threatening or by something offering us exciting new possibilities. Caring people seem to know this. They or we as caring people seem to know when to say “it’s going to get better,” “you’re going to be OK,” “hang in there,” “you can do this” and, perhaps most important, “I am here for you.”

It is as if we lend a little courage for a short period of time. Genuine encouragement helps people and us to overcome fear and to find strength in times of need.

In summary, caring people protect, guide, support and encourage. William Shakespeare summarizes what needs to happen this way: “A friend (caring relationship) is one that knows you as you are, understands where you have been, accepts what you have become, and still, gently challenge you to grow.”


Rick Underwood is minister at Hempridge Baptist Church and a performance consultant and managing partner of the Leadership Management Institute. He can be reached at nextlevelinstitute@insightbb.com.