Out of the many pillars of employee engagement, the one that stands out the most is leadership. Leaders impact engagement within an organisation both horizontally and vertically, and as identified in many research reports in the last five years, engaging leadership is fast becoming a non-negotiable.
It seems that now is the time to be rethinking the way leadership development occurs from an engagement perspective and there is a very good reason for this. Ask most leaders and they will be able to tell you ‘why’ employee engagement is important. They will most likely be able to tell you ‘what’ they should be doing as well; after all most leaders have at some point completed some form of management or leadership training that has provided some great ideas on what to do. But there is a missing link.
The secret to really good leadership engagement lies in ‘how’ we choose to deploy the skills and tools learned in the courses that teach 'what' to do. I've come to realise that in this respect, the answer has been in front of us for a number of decades without realising it. Eric Berne, in his work with transactional analysis, identified a series of hungers that drive us into action. Three of these are integral to employee engagement; stimulation (being intellectually and emotionally stimulated), recognition (being acknowledged for who we are and what we do - acknowledgement of our existence in the group and in society) and structure (how we make time for relationships, activities and to give and receive stimulation and recognition).
As a coach, mentor and leader in the people field for many years now, I have often found myself working with actively disengaged employees and teams with the objective of helping them get back on track. In this time I've worked with many underpinning causes of disengagement, such as, lack of challenge in the role, no vision for the future of the employee, lack of trust, inability to connect and integrate with new teams. You can imagine that these causes are a synthesis of many different variants; and the reality is that they are all related either directly, or indirectly, to each of the hungers mentioned above. Or rather, they are related to a lack of fulfilment of these hungers.
'How' we choose to engage as leaders should therefore look to addressing these basic hungers:
If you are an organisational development or professional development leader, the challenge is to take a fresh look at your leadership development approach through the 'how' lens. Another way to consider it is like this; if the way we have viewed leadership development until now can be considered structural and content driven, perhaps we need to match this with an approach that could best be described as relational and emergent.
The engine room of engagement is often perceived as a complex beast; but it doesn’t have to be this way; and it probably never has had to be this way. If you can keep it simple and focus on the above three elements, then you are perhaps making it easier for leaders to tap into and harness their potency, and become more naturally engaging leaders.