Some Humility Probably Wouldn’t Hurt

At 8:00 or so every morning I receive a list of links to articles about employee engagement—thank you, Google alerts—which I dutifully read and then call for my wife to talk me in off the ledge.  (This would be considerably more melodramatic were my office not in the basement of our house.)

Why?  Because however well-intentioned such articles may be, the advice they offer tends to have a common characteristic.  Not to put too fine a point on things, but it tends to be wrong.  And not just wrong, but exactly wrong.

For example, one of the articles in today’s list was titled “3 ways to win the battle for employee engagement”: Commit to listening, Commit to sharing, Commit to action.  To quote the estimable Charlie Brown, “Sigh.”

Don’t get me wrong.  Listening, sharing, and acting are perfectly respectable things to do.  They may even be necessary to achieving the levels of employee engagement we’re all after.  The problem is with the implication that too-low levels of engagement represent a problem that leaders must solve.  After all, isn’t that what good leaders are?  Problem-solvers?

Actually, no.  If leaders are spending their time directly solving problems then they’re not doing their job, which ought to be creating the conditions by which their followers can do the things necessary for those problems to be solved.  General Eisenhower put it much more eloquently than I just did:  “The art of leadership is getting someone else to do what you want done because he wants to do it.”

But I’ve been at this stuff long enough by now to know that the world wants lists of to-do’s, so that’s what I shall provide.  What can you do to “win the battle of employee engagement”?

1.     Stop fighting it. It’s not a battle to be won.  It’s an environment to be created. Plus which, battles inevitably have casualties, and that’s inimical to the whole point of engagement. 

2.     Be more humble.  It’s not about you; it’s about other people.  Engagement isn’t an item on a list for you to check off.  It’s a state of mind in which those other people—the followers whose very existence validates your status as a leader—are far better positioned to do great work.

3.     Be more respectful of those other people.  You may be north of them on an org chart, but that is the only sense in which you are above them.  Respect them—give them due consideration at all times—and their engagement will be much more likely to follow.