10 min read

Hurricane Ethics: How To With Care

Bruce Weinstein
· Oct 21, 2022

Hurricanes are becoming more frequent and destructive. When the latest hurricane destroys a community, we ask ourselves, “What can we do to help? How can we show we care?"

Those of us out of harm’s way would do well to consider the role that care plays in our everyday life, not just in times of crisis.

Let’s take a closer look.

What is care?

Care is, first and foremost, a strong feeling or passion. It means having a deep concern for the well-being and flourishing of people. Many include animals and the environment among the things they care about.

Of course, caring people do more than feel strongly about helping people. They put those feelings into action. Care without action is as meaningless as a G-rated Quentin Tarantino film. What’s the point? To care, then, is to actively contribute to the well-being and flourishing of people.   

The passion for making a difference in people’s lives has a profound implication in the business world. When care is talked about at all here, it’s usually focused on other people. But if you are a caring person, consider the following syllogism:

1.    Care is the application of your passion for helping people.

2.    You are a person.

3.    Persons are people.

4.    Therefore, care means applying your passion for helping people to others as well as to yourself.

Caring leaders are servants

A caring leader is, above all else, a servant. I’m using “servant” here not in the derogatory way that suggests exploitation or an extreme imbalance of power. Instead, it’s in the spirit of Robert K. Greenleaf’s pioneering work, Servant Leadership:

A servant-leader focuses primarily on the growth and well-being of people and the communities to which they belong. While traditional leadership generally involves the accumulation and exercise of power by one at the “top of the pyramid,” servant leadership is different. The servant-leader shares power, puts the needs of others first and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible.

Caring leaders serve their organizations, clients, and team members while also taking care of themselves. They understand that a strong work ethic does not and should not mean workaholism.

To lead is to serve. And to have a balance in our lives.

How care enhances the customer experience

When he was CEO of FedEx, Fred Smith told me via email how an employee demonstrated leadership through care.

“A customer who resides in Canada was visiting the U.S. and purchased two baby walkers for her new grandson,” Fred wrote. “She shipped both to her home in Canada. Unfortunately, the shipment did not have the appropriate paperwork, which prevented the package from being imported. The contents had also been damaged during transit. 

“A FedEx employee [whom I’ll call Jill] discovered that the damage was significant, the shipment had been destroyed, and replacements were not for sale in Canada. Jill took personal responsibility, located and purchased the two baby walkers locally, prepared the paperwork, arranged for shipment to the customer and monitored the shipment until it was delivered.”

What’s fascinating about this story is that Jill, the employee who went to such lengths to ensure that the customer got the merchandise she ordered, wasn’t involved in the initial paperwork that somehow wasn’t completed. But as a representative of the company as a whole, she still felt a responsibility to the Canadian customer. Here is a superb example of an employee who cared so much about the company’s mission that she went above and beyond what her job description called for, even though she had nothing to do with what gave rise to the problem in the first place.

The Canadian customer couldn’t believe the lengths to which FedEx went to get the shipment to her. If you were that customer, wouldn’t you tell the story to your friends for a long time? What company would you use the next time you needed to send a package somewhere?

Employees who care enhance the customer experience.

Employees who are cared for are good for business

Howard, a producer for a popular satellite radio program, told me how his bosses with employees who were sick. “I woke up with the flu one morning and was ordered to come to work,” Howard said. “I was new to the organization and didn’t want to let anyone down, but I was in no condition to work. For one thing, I knew I couldn’t be very productive, and for another, I didn’t want other people to get the flu from me.” Howard knew the smart thing to do would be to stay home, but his boss implied that his job would be at risk if he did that.

Requiring Howard to report to work when he was sick was just one of many examples of why Howard felt that his employer didn’t care for him. “I was just a means to an end for them, a way of getting the show produced,” he said. Howard eventually had enough of being treated contemptuously and left to work at a small non-profit organization.

“Gwen, the Executive Director, cares a lot about me,” Howard explained. “She would never expect me to do work when I’m incapacitated, and she allows me to have a flexible schedule. As a result, I work harder than ever for her, and I’m also more satisfied with my career than ever before.”

A successful radio show lost a good employee in Howard. Besides increasing the risk to other employees, this policy led to poor productivity. It’s hard to do your best work—or any work—when you have a 102-degree fever, are weak, and can barely speak.

Gwen’s non-profit organization is successful, and the caring way she treats her employees is a significant reason for its success. Her caring approach to management yielded another positive outcome: Howard has management responsibilities now, and Gwen serves as a role model for how he treats his own direct reports. 

Caring managers acknowledge good work

Remember the candy factory scene in I Love Lucy where Lucy and Ethel stuff chocolates into their faces after the conveyor belt goes too fast? Lucille Ball turned the drudgery of working on an assembly line into one of the most famous comic bits in television history. But a colleague of mine, who worked for years as a manager in an influential, multibillion-dollar company and whom I’ll call Paul, told me that his corporate job was similar to factory work, and it was no laughing matter. 

“I rarely heard when I was doing a good job, but my boss Bernadette had no problem letting me know when I made mistakes,” Paul said. “Yelling was her big thing. I was just a cog in the machinery, churning out products. As soon as my team would complete one project, it was on to the next, with no acknowledgment of what we’d accomplished. Would it really require a lot of effort for Bernadette to say, ‘Good job, Paul’? The lack of any recognition for my effort got to be demoralizing, and I left. My coworker Layne wasn’t so lucky. He ended up in the emergency room from all of the stress of the job. ” 

Is this sort of treatment of employees the only way to achieve excellence?

Jess Todtfeld, CEO of Success in Media, Inc., doesn’t think so. “Bosses like Bernadette think that praising employees amounts to mollycoddling.  In their minds, saying things like ‘Well done!’ is something you get outside of work, not at work,” Todtfeld told me.

We do our best work when our employers care for us. Showing you care can be as simple as saying “You did a great job!”. Bonus points for adding a smile. Even better: paying people what they’re worth.


Caring leaders:

  • Have a deep concern for other people and themselves, and they put this concern into action
  • View themselves as servants but not to the exclusion of their own health and well being
  • Understand that people do better work when they feel their employers care about them

When we watch the news of Hurricane Ian’s destruction, it’s easy to feel helpless. “What can we do?,” we ask. We can donate to organizations like the Salvation Army or American National Red Cross. That’s a caring thing to do.

We also have an opportunity to be more caring in our professional lives, just as Jill and Gwen did in the above stories.

Call to action

There's no better time to show you care than right now.

The hurricane will eventually dissipate, but the need to care for others and ourselves will remain. What is one thing you can do today to show that you someone in your life that you care about them? Now that you’ve finished reading this article, why not do it now?

Thank you for reading this post. I hope you're having a good day!

Bruce Weinstein, The Ethics Guy®
Forbes Contributor 

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