If You Want Greater Engagement, You Go First

The statistics on employee engagement are not good. They often show that a large part of the workforce as actively disengaged, and many passively seeking a new opportunity. Much of what people write about employee engagement puts the onus on the employee, an unfair assessment, even when considering the negative social media filter bubbles and a general increasing sense of nihilism in our post-modern culture. But the blame for the lack of engagement belongs somewhere else, with someone else. If you are a leader, it is your responsibility to create a culture that builds and sustains engagement.

The Truth About Engagement

The level of your engagement is what drives the level of engagement for the people in your charge. If you are not engaged, your people will not be engaged. More directly, if you do not engage deeply with your work and your team, they are not going to engage with you or their work. In all things leadership, the general rule to be followed at all times, now and forever, is as follows: You go first.

If you want to increase your team’s engagement, start by increasing your engagement. There is always going to be more work than you can accomplish in a day or a week, which means engagement is a matter of priorities. Of all the resources provided to you as a leader, none is more valuable than your people. How could anything be more important than ensuring your people engage with their work?

At some point, benign neglect can turn into something closer to malevolence.

Your Passion Is Theirs

If you aren’t excited and passionate about your business, you cannot expect your people to do anything more than following your lead. As a leader, you can have a day off, but you can’t have an off day. You are always the leader and ever the standard. Your people will look to you to decide what is good and right and true.

If you aren’t passionate about the business—especially your part of the business–the people who look to you for guidance will follow your lead. If you make negative statements, complain, or talk down your company, you are the primary source of the negative beliefs your people will hold and their disengagement. If you disengage, your people will follow your lead. Alternatively, if you are passionate about your company, your goals, and your clients, you will breed those beliefs in your people. Your passion will infect them with the same.

If you want passionate engagement, show people what caring looks likes.

Engaged in Getting Better

Why don’t your people read books? Why aren’t they taking courses? Why aren’t they growing? I am not sure why we allow ourselves to believe that we know everything we need to know and are doing everything we can to produce the results we want. I do know that no human being has ever reached their full potential, and it may not even be possible.

If you aren’t working to improve yourself, you offer your people no model of personal and professional development. The more you grow, the more you will force your people to grow with you, expecting more from yourself, and in doing so, expecting more from your people (and as a corollary, expecting more “for” them).

Look at any outcome you are responsible for creating, and there you will find, without fail, something you can improve. Before one can obtain a better result, they may need to grow. If you want people to do more, you may first have to help them become something more. Helping your people become something more than they are now may require that you become more, and become a model for the growth you want for your team.

Your people are only going to be engaged in growth if you step onto that path and bring them along with you.

Creativity and Resourcefulness

If you aren’t actively using your creativity and resourcefulness to solve hard problems, your team will not exercise their creativity and imagination to solve theirs. Resourcefulness and initiative are rarely found apart from each other. Initiative is what allows one to take action without any prompting. Ingenuity is what is necessary to solve hard problems. For a leader, this is an area where engagement is essential and critical to producing results.

Much of success is born out of solving problems and overcoming the quotidian challenges of work—as well as the more complicated, systemic issues that require more time, effort, and lateral thinking. Human beings are capable of accomplishments that are far beyond what they imagine—unless you lead them by engaging in making things better.

Ensuring you get the best engagement from your team means unleashing their resourcefulness and their initiative. Those two behaviors will tell you much about how engaged they are.

Resilience in the Face of Challenges

If you are not positive and resilient, the people who look to you for leadership will believe things are worse than they are. When there is not a vision of a better future, engagement dies. As Napoleon put it, “Leaders are dealers in hope.”

Some people believe that no matter how bad things get, they can always get worse (not the most helpful of belief systems for a leader). If you don’t believe you can stare down the reality of your circumstances, you provide the permission your people need to disengage–and maybe scatter.

Instead of all being lost, you need to engage in building what’s next. You determine what the future is going to be, and you share the vision and the mission and the urgency. You define failures as the setbacks that they are, engaging in changing approaches until you succeed. You represent a setback as temporary and something that your team will overcome. If you don’t believe with all your heart that a  future is not only possible, but inevitable, no one on your team will believe it either.

If you want a higher level of engagement, increase your engagement. If you want a culture that insists on commitment, make that level of engagement a standard you set and hold everyone accountable until the culture defends itself.

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