Can we look after our people too much?


26th May, 2018

Was it Theodore Roosevelt who said “Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.”? Whether it was him who spoke these words or not is a subject that’s been widely debated. Regardless, the sentiment behind the quote resonates with many people. When we work for a leader who we know genuinely cares about us it makes a difference. In a leadership role our primary responsibility is to serve and strengthen those in our charge so that they can perform at their best and achieve their business goals. But can we look after people too much?

The UK government recently published findings from a study on the impact of delaying school entry for summer-born pupils. This piqued my interest because I was a summer-born pupil. I was born on the last official day of school entry on 31st August, in fact. A friend also had this dilemma more recently with their son. At four years old, a year can make a big difference to a child’s physical and emotional development and it must be a compelling prospect for many parents to have another year with their child before they start school.

The study (read it here) reported that in 2016-17, requests to delay school start had increased by 84%.  Of those parents requesting delayed entry, 97% feared their child was not ready for school. Yet the report also showed that the average marks of delayed-start children improved by only 0.7, a negligible statistic according to them. As parents we make the best decisions we can with the greatest amount of love for our children. Perhaps then, for all the right reasons, the research indicates there are times we might be looking after them too much. I have no doubt our children will rise to the many challenges they face and will shine.  Sometimes without our best-intentioned intervention.

Doing too much

This reminded me of a time when my team was supporting our business through a massive expansion and recruitment strategy.  We were charged with developing a world-class induction and training programme. While we were rightly proud of the new programme, and the vastly increased knowledge gained by delegates, we also began noticing a downside. We found some of the newer technicians were less likely to manage their own continuous learning and were becoming over-reliant on us, or their managers, for the answers.

While our increased support was essential to the success of the business and our customers’ experience, we also needed to increase the challenge on our newer colleagues to take responsibility for their own learning and continuous improvement. We made adjustments to our approach and soon found the right balance.


Like many things in life, balance is key. Not for one moment am I suggesting we become tyrannous leaders (or parents!). Thankfully those days are long-gone. As Ken Blanchard expressed over 35 years ago in the original One-Minute Manager, as leaders we need to articulate clear goals AND what good behaviour looks like. We also create the conditions where people can thrive and watch out for the results. We offer praise and celebrate when we catch people doing it right. We redirect or healthily challenge those we find off-track.

We care enough to serve, support and make life as easy as we can for those we lead. We also care enough to challenge those same people at times in the belief this will also help them to shine and thrive.

“Much has been given us, and much will rightfully be expected from us. We have duties to others and duties to ourselves; and we can shirk neither.”  Theodore Roosevelt on Balance.

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