Elevating Engagement: Engage, Inspire and Embolden

A quick glance at employee engagement statistics is enough to see that there’s plenty of room for improvement. Half of the workforce is disengaged and nearly 1 in 5 workers are ‘actively disengaged’ – actually against their organisation, their boss, or both - if you only had five people working for you, it would make for a lousy support team!

1. Engage – Connect Authentically:   

Relationships are the currency of the workplace, and so the stronger a leaders connections, the better placed they will be to engage their employees. Engaging authentically with employees and colleagues is therefore the first task of genuine leadership.  For leaders, this requires leaving their offices to connect with employees on the shop floor and front line where they spend each workday.  It requires a willingness to lay vulnerability on the line, share authentically, and engage in unstructured sessions of discussion where they risk direct criticism, tough questions, open hostility and even unsuccessful outcomes. Employees will be far more ready to go the extra mile for leaders they can relate to on a human level, rather than someone whom they perceive thinks of themselves as a ‘little bit better’ than everyone else.

2. Inspire – Enlarge the Context:

It’s an integral part of the human DNA to want a sense of purpose and meaning in our work, not just our lives outside it.  Sadly, millions see no utility in what they do beyond the income it provides. Research shows those same people tend to be less willing to put forth extra effort when it’s needed, are more prone to cutting corners, and more likely to cover up mistakes.  It’s therefore vital that leaders work to enlarge the context for those around them, providing employees with a bigger “Why” that reframes their role in the context of how it contributes to not only their organisation’s mission, but how that mission serves to the world at large.

A leader who does not inspire is like a river without water. Indeed, There is little more demoralising to workers than having a leader who can’t clearly articulate why employees should care about what they’re doing.  Leaders must continually work to ensure employees know that their role, however seemingly small relative to organisations output, is both valued and valuable.  When people know that there’s something bigger at stake as they go about their work, they will approach every challenge with greater resourcefulness and initiative than they otherwise would.

3. Embolden – Cultivate a ‘Culture of Courage’:

Given the accelerated pace of change and increasingly competitive global market, engaged workers who are constantly innovating provide a vital competitive advantage. However innovation can only occur when people feel ‘safe’ to take risks.  Given this, it’s imperative for leaders to  cultivate a ‘Culture of Courage’ where employees are encouraged to challenge the status quo thinking, step out of their comfort zone and take more courageous action.  As I wrote in Stop Playing Safe, “Leaders at all levels must encourage people to exit their comfort zone and create a psychological safety net that makes people feel safe to take risks, make ‘smart mistakes,’ challenge the consensus thinking, and provide candid upward feedback.”  When employees feel that their contribution is truly valued, and are challenged to experiment, and express their opinions openly (and constructively), it triggers greater ownership of their own success as well as their commitment to the larger mission of their team and organisation.  As Rex Tillerson, CEO of ExxonMobil said, "Leadership drives behavior that drives culture than eventually drives performance. If you create a courageous culture through fostering individual behaviour then you will get outstanding performance."

When leaders are committed and actively working to engage, inspire and embolden – they unleash untapped potential and raise the bar not just on productivity, but on the value their organisation contributes to all it’s stakeholders.  Additionally, and of no less significance, they nurture and embolden a new generation of leaders to take on the unseen challenges of tomorrow, clear in the knowledge that while what we do each day at work matters, it is the attitude we bring to what we do that matters far more.

Margie Warrell is a leadership coach, Forbes columnist and the bestselling author of Stop Playing Safe (Wiley) and Find Your Courage (McGraw-Hill). www.margiewarrell.com

****‘Connect, then lead’  in Harvard Business Review,  Amy Cuddy, Matthew Kohut, and John Neffinger