This post is part of the Leading for Engagement series by Susan Mazza. To learn more about the link between leadership and employee engagement and read other posts in the series, click here.
Attention leaders: did you know that YOU have the potential to become your organization's most engaged employee?
This might be shocking to read because most of us consider a low level of employee engagement to be an organizational problem. Yet even defining the problem at the organizational level somehow makes it seem removed from the everyday course of doing business.
A person on your team might start an employee engagement initiative, but somehow it then becomes the challenge for the people working on that committee rather than a challenge everyone must roll up their sleeves to address. If you ask Human Resources to lead the way, you will undoubtedly get some great data, strategies and guidance, but ultimately the change still needs to happen in the everyday interactions involved between people and their supervisors and managers.
I've found that poor employee engagement is not an organizational problem, it's a leadership problem. I say that because if we are to solve the rampant systemic issue of low employee engagement, there is only one place for leaders to look-their own everyday actions.
Those who lead engaged employees, whether as entry-level supervisors all the way up through the highest executive ranks, are easy to spot if we pay attention. You can recognize them because they relate to the world around them from a context of "OUR success is up to me." True leaders are the most engaged employees of all others regardless of their title or position. They care about both the people and the results, and their results tend to stand out. They aren't likely to be thinking about this thing called "employee engagement"-they are simply engaging with people to both make a difference and do great work.
Employee engagement at its most fundamental level is actually very simple: engagement either happens, or it doesn't. It's helpful to think of employee engagement as one interaction, one transaction, one conversation at a time.
What do leaders who naturally cultivate engagement specifically do that others do not?
I suggest they pay close attention to three things in their everyday actions and interactions. These leaders make sure that they:
1. Know what their employees care about and what challenges they face.
Engaged employees take their work and their workplace seriously. They don't just punch a clock; they invest themselves fully in doing great work and making the biggest difference they can make. Ask yourself, how much do you really know about those you lead-their aspirations, their challenges, what matters most to them?
Pro tip: If you want others to make their work personal, then you'll need to connect with them personally.
2. Ensure their employees know that the leader sincerely cares about them.
Engaged employees actively show how much they care about both people and results in everything they do. That's why as leaders, we must get to know them and show them that we care about them, too. Do those you lead believe you care about them as much as you do their results?
Pro tip: To tap into the potential of your organization, you need to tap into the potential of the individuals in your organization. You can only do that if you get to know who they are.
3. Actively nurture an alignment between what the employee cares about and what your business cares about.
A vision doesn't translate into a reality until people engage with the vision and somehow make it their own by making it personal to them. This isn't something you do with fancy presentations. It's something that can only be accomplished through conversations designed to make meaningful connections between what matters to them and what matters to your organization. This is not a one-time exercise, either. People get far too easily caught up in the day-to-day grind and lose their connection to why it all matters and how they fit into the bigger picture.
Pro tip: When was the last time you had a conversation with those you lead about how what they do connects to your vision for the future?
Engaged employees take their work personally. Therefore, if you want to lead an engaged workforce, you must engage with them personally.
What can you do today to engage more personally with those you lead?