Best Answer Ever

Posted: February 22, 2014

The Friendly City Files

I was struggling to engage the audience. Okay, forget struggling; I was dying. Maybe I was having an off day. Maybe they were having an off day.

Or, maybe it was the fact that every one of the 100 or so people in attendance was a CEO, an executive or the owner of a medium to large business, which meant they were more accustomed to being listened to than they were to listening.

So, I took a shot. “In one sentence, what is the key to leading people?” I asked.

Throwaway question? Sure. I knew no one would answer. That was the point. They would sit, and stare, and I would offer an intentionally against-the-grain answer intended to spark some heat and conversation. (Yeah, I know. Weak. But remember, I was dying.)

So, I asked the question and paused to read the room. Some looked down. Some looked away. Just when I was about to speak, a voice broke the silence.

“I think I know,” a man said. A few heads turned in his direction.

My head turned, too. I was a little surprised and very concerned. “Great,” I thought, “Now I’ve stepped in it. He’s going to whip out some leadership cliché and I’ll have to scramble to recover from the dead end I just created.”

So, I was only half-listening as he said, fairly quietly, “No one cares how much you know until they first know how much you care about them.”

Wait, what?

“Could you please repeat that?” I said.

By now a number of heads had turned in his direction. “We think we have all the answers, and maybe we do, but that doesn’t matter. No one cares how much you know until they first know how much you care about them,” he repeated.

He took the ongoing silence in the auditorium as disagreement.

“No, really,” he said, sounding more confident. “Yeah, we’re in charge, we talk about targets and goals and visions ... but our employees don’t care about that stuff. Not for long. We can try to communicate and engage and connect all we want but people don’t really listen. They just smile and nod and go back to doing their jobs the way they always do.

“Our employees don’t really care about what we want them to do until they know how much we care about them. When employees know — truly know — that you care about them, then they will care about you. When they know you care, then they will listen to you ... and then, they will do anything for you.”

Best answer ever.

And it holds true for your employees, or your colleagues, or your kids or for anyone.

Jeff Haden lives in Harrisonburg and is a ghostwriter and a columnist for Inc. Magazine. He can be reached at