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The Formula Every Leader Must Learn: The Four A’s of Caring

By Susan MacKenty Brady
October 8, 2021
Man waving during Zoom meeting


Most experts now agree: the future of the workplace is hybrid. But when CEO of Microsoft Satya Nadella recently deemed “care” as the new currency of hybrid working, it stopped me in my tracks. Finally, I thought. Now we can talk openly about the connection between leadership and love: CARING.

Leadership Is Relationship

Those of us who have been mucking around in the leadership space for a few decades will remind you that leadership is a relationship – a social construct. We also know that at the core of a healthy and prosperous relationship, there is CARE. But what does it mean to show you care? How do we as leaders do this in action?

I turned to a few trusted colleagues and friends who are experts in the field of relationship wellness and found that all of the advice out there boils down to a formula of sorts. Borrowing from a particularly powerful conversation I had with a mentor and friend (and relationship therapist of 40 years) Jack Kakolewski, I have come to believe there are four core ingredients to caring as a leader.

What Are the 4 A’s?

The Four A’s of Caring, are Acceptance, Appreciation, Attention and Accountability. When received, they leave you feeling valued and cared for:

  1. Acceptance: You feel that your experience, thoughts, and feelings are valid even if they differ from another. Your uniqueness is valued.
  2. Appreciation: Your thoughts, opinions, achievements are affirmed and respected. Your contributions are valued.
  3. Attention: You are asked to weigh in, you are listened to, sought out for input. Your presence is valued.
  4. Accountability: You do as you say and own your impact and trust others will too – especially in moments where there is unintended or poor impact. Your awareness is valued.

Practicing the 4 A’s as a leader can be a powerful team-building tool. But don’t stop there. You can also practice these at home with those you love.

Create a Culture of Caring

Only when we accept, appreciate, pay attention and hold ourselves accountable for moments when we aren’t perfect do we feel cared for. That’s also when relational and psychological safety are possible. People want to work for leaders who demonstrate respect and warm regard in word and action. I suspect most leaders who practice the Four A’s of caring don’t know exactly what they do that works. Now that caring is a more accepted and expected part of leadership success at work, I wanted to create and share a simple-to-remember formula.

Flex your relationship muscles

When your uniqueness, contributions, presence and awareness are valued, chances are you feel cared for. Let’s do more of this. Those of us who have been shy to talk about the connection points between love and leadership now have an opening. With the backing of top CEO’s – who are willing and wanting to talk about empathy and care at work – we need to flex some of our relationship muscles. The relational and inclusive leadership needed to navigate our hybrid future means our right-now job is to care more.

When is the last time YOU felt cared for at work, by your manager or leader? How can you practice one (or more!) of the 4 A’s of Caring today with a colleague?


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