In the 21st century, those who are changing the world aren’t just leaders; they’re engagers. The same theory applies to the corporate sector.
Managers try to get others to do what is needed. Engagers create conditions and cultivate a team that is fully energized to achieve the organization’s purpose.
If you are an old-timer, you would have been taught that the skills of management include recruitment, alignment, coaching, feedback, recognition, project planning, and problem-solving.
Those skills also include thinking strategically, making decisions, casting a vision and inspiring excitement about it, setting goals, and designing systems and structures to support the goals.
All of that is really good stuff. But it essentially boils down to command-and-control. Today, lots of research had proven it no longer drives high performance over the long term.
The buzz word in the corporate sector today is ‘engagement.’ In a team that is fully engaged in the business, followers are both delivering the results that matter most and enjoying the work they do.
According to the researched data, the most critical leadership drivers of employee engagement are the following:
- establish direction and shared purpose
- demonstrate character and integrity
- develop and retain talent
- apply knowledge and sound judgment
- interact with others
You might ask: “So what? What is the big deal in this theory? Any leader needs to be doing these things.”
And you would be right. But the point is not all do. And what makes engaging leaders different isn’t merely that they’re doing these things, but how they’re doing them. Engaging leaders are “nearby leaders” - they are accessible to their people, they show genuine concern for their people and they enable their people.
In simple terms, they stay connected.
The leaders’ physical interactions in the workplace is very important. The natural leaders are “charismatic connectors” who “circulate actively, giving their time democratically to others, engage in brief but energetic conversations and listen at least as much as they talk.”
Engaging leaders have three fundamental similarities: They had early experiences that shaped them; they have unique belief systems and personality traits; and they behave in unique ways that positively and exponentially impact the engagement of those around them.
Let us go through these qualities in detail:
1. Critical experiences. Engaging leaders had experiences that transformed them as individuals by shaping their core beliefs about people, about work and about what it means to lead. These early experiences commonly entail deep learning from taking on tough assignments that required navigating throughdifficult transformations.
2. Guiding beliefs. A strong set of core beliefs that are shaped by one’s personality - but also by these early experiences - guide how engaging leaders approach work and, more important, their behaviours and interactions with people they lead. They believe that leadership is a responsibility - not about status or reward - and that relationships and trust matter.
3. Displayed behaviours. Engaging leaders act in a way that shares their own engagement and purpose; they strive to stabilize and energize their people; they act in service of their people - taking time to connect with their followers; and they conduct themselves with authenticity because their behaviours are aligned with their beliefs.
In order to engage others, leaders must first be engaged themselves. This is an important prerequisite concept that seems tobe grounded in both the guiding beliefs and displayed behaviours.
We cannot create a ‘model’ with a checklist for how to be an engaging leader. The experiences, beliefs and behaviours “show up” differently in each such leader. What is consistent, however, ishow these leaders bring their experiences and beliefs to bear in order to engage.
- Step up by proactively owning solutions where others cannot or do not,
- Energize people by keeping them focused on purpose and vision with contagious positivity,
- Connect and stabilize by listening, staying calm and unifying others,
- Serve and Grow by empowering, enabling and developing their people,
- Stay Grounded through humble, open, candid and authentic communications and behaviour.
So, where do we go from here? How would a CEO take this new perspective on engagement and put it to gooduse in an organizational context?
- We can suggest a rough path.
Measure employee and leadership engagement. A prerequisite to making engagement happen through engaging leaders is to understand engagement levels and engagement driversfor both employees and leaders. This provides greater insight into where leaders need to focusbehaviours to engage others. In addition, this measurement is required to understand whetheror not you have the baseline level of engagement in the leadership ranks to be successful andwhat you can do about it.
- Assess and select for engaging leadership. There are both personality-based and behavioural aspects to engaging leadership. A CEO can use measures like personality tests (personality attributes like positivity, achievement orientation,enthusiasm, sensitivity) and 360-degree reviews to measure leader behaviours and perceptions fromothers’ points of view.
- Coach and develop. While some aspects of engaging leadership may be hard-wired, others canmost certainly be learned through coaching and development. CEO can start building engaging leaders fromwithin. The process of getting leaders to reflect on howthey engage others (or don’t) are incredibly impactful. Getting the leaders thinking about how theycan be part of the solution doesn’t cost a thing…and it gets the conversation started. Powerfulcoaching and development events for emerging leaders become the critical early experiencesof tomorrow’s engaging leaders.
- Engage the disengaged leaders. Until leaders themselves become engaged, it’s unlikely they willbe able to engage others. And if they aren’t capable of being engaged, then they probably shouldn’t be leaders in your organization. However, there are many engaging leaders out there, andorganizations have a great opportunity to seek help from the engaged in order to engage others. That is tosay, utilizing your engaged leaders as change agents to drive and increase engagement among theleadership ranks is a good starting place.
Assessing leaders and future leaders through these means will allow companies to (1) identify engaging leaders; for example, to use them as multipliers in their leadership team; (2) identify development needs for those leaders who have the potential to become engaging leaders; and (3) select leaders into the organization and promote internal candidates who demonstrate engaging leadership.
Building a critical mass of engaging leaders through assessment and selection will help drive employee engagement, but also will change the face of your organization by building a culture of engagement
These recommendations do not constitute a program—they’re a culture change. And the change starts andends with individual leaders.
So,if you are a leader, ask yourself:
- How energized, motivated and engaged am I in my job? What drives me?
- What were my experiences as a leader that made me grow and become engaged? How can I support others in being exposed to similar experiences?
- What are my beliefs about the role of the leader?
- What are my beliefs about people and work?
- How present are you with others?If not you, then who?
One important point: Before a company can look to their leaders to engage the followers, they must first understand and create an engagement atmosphere in the leadership ranks. Like most people, leaders are engaged by career opportunities, pay and recognition, and working for a company with a strong reputation. However, leaders are uniquely engaged by their own leaders, the quality of the other senior leaders around them, and the people and work processes that enable them to do their jobs.