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Engagement in Leadership – What is the Benchmark?

June 15, 2023
Jaap Hollander

Helping others build their future
In the first five articles in this series, we described the essential elements of leadership. First we focussed on vision and strategy and we developed benchmarks for both. Then we turned to fostering engagement. In this sixt article, we will create a benchmark for that third essential element.  

In his definition of leadership, former US president Bill Clinton is clear about the importance of engagement. “Leaders", he says, "need to … attract talented, committed people with a wide variety of knowledge, perspectives and skills. Another Clinton quote: "Hardly anything worth doing can be done alone".

What people want
We have said that people want:

  • Recognition
    To be seen, heard and appreciated.
  • Passion
    To do work that fits their passion and their personal mission.
  • Community
    To be part of a group or a team.
  • Rewards
    To be rewarded for their efforts as the culture prescribes.

MindSonar and engagement
So, given this,  what can we say about engagement in MindSonar terms? First of all, all the meta programs we described for vision are just as relevant for attracting and retaining talented people. An important ingredient to add to this is proactive thinking: taking the initiative, being self-motivated.

Richard Branson is vocal about the proactive thinking style for entrepreneurs. “Once you have an idea about a product that can make people’s lives better, do something with it. It doesn’t have to be perfect, you don’t have to get it right the first time, as long as you do something”. A leader needs to proactively voice their vision if they want to attract people.

Basically a leader needs to communicate their vision. In order to do that effectively, they need to adapt their presentation to their audience. They need to have at least some understanding of how the people they want to attract, think and feel. In MindSonar we distinguish between information thinking, activity thinking and people thinking. A modern leader certainly needs a good portion of people thinking.

And what once you have attracted them, what does it take to retain people? In the article before this one, we looked at what people want (repeated above) as well as what makes a good team. Here too, focus on people is very important. But also the together thinking style, as opposed to the proximity (rational task division) or solo (doing it all by yourself) style.

Regarding appreciation, the matching thinking style is important (What do I like about this person and their work?). Matching is also an important aspect of psychological safety.

And all of those things - thinking in terms of people, vision, building community and rewarding people - will have more impact with a kinesthetic focus, an awareness of feelings. One of Google’s most important team qualities, ‘respecting one another’s emotions’ would be difficult to foster if you’re out of touch with your own emotions.

Engagement Benchmark
So, in terms of what we can measure with MindSonar in terms of engagement, we are looking for:

  1. People thinking
  2. Together thinking
  3. Matching thinking
  4. Kinesthetic thinking
  5. Proactive thinking

To add ranges to our engagement benchmark, let’s say:

  1. People thinking > at least 6 points
  2. Together thinking > at least 6 points
  3. Matching thinking > 6 - 8 points
  4. Kinesthetic thinking > at least 3 points
  5. Proactive thinking > 7 - 8 points

The risk of extreme positions
If we are looking for predominantly matching or proactive thinking, why don’t we put the benchmark at 10 as an upper limit? Isn't it the more the better? The more the stronger the leadership? No. Extremes carry risks. Imagine a leader with a 100% ‘matching’ thinking style (100% focus on what’s good, just and correct). This might make for a very happy atmosphere in the short run. People love to be appreciated and the leader will greatly appreciate anything they do and say. Everything in the organisation is awesome, all arguments are absolutely right, all results are fabulous, every action is perfect and every thought is brilliant. With the possible exception of readers from North Korea, this sounds strange, doesn’t it? And risky. What if there is a serious obstacle? We have said (in article number one) that a leader needs to meet outer obstacles with inner resources. But a 100% matching leader might not even notice the obstacle. And if people point it out to them, they might just smile at their foolish but endearing pessimism. 

Or, another example, let’s take 10 points (100%) proactive. This leader will respond immediately. Without giving things a second thought. Not only would that be exhausting, it would also be dangerous. They’d be firing and hiring people without thinking. They’d be spending fortunes on whims. They’d be laughing half baked products of measures. That’s why in our benchmarks you will rarely find extreme scores.

Leadership Audit
With the benchmark described above, focussing on fostering engagement, we can do a third leadership audit. We can take a MindSonar profile for the context of ‘Leading X’ and then we can compare it with our engagement benchmark. We can look at the similarities and differences to decide the extent to which someone is showing the engagement aspect of the Leadership Mindset.

The MindSonar profile below is the same one again: Jonas’ thinking style for the context of ‘Being VeganMarket Director’. This time we will look at his profile from an engagement perspective.

Let's look at Jonas' profile once more. When we check Jonas’ profile against our strategy benchmark, we see the following matches and mismatches:

  1. People thinking > at least 6 points = Needs improvement (score = 4.2: difference = 1.8)
  2. Together thinking > at least 6 points = Needs improvement (score = 5, difference = 1)
  3. Matching thinking > 7 - 8,5 = Good (score = 7.4, difference = 0)
  4. Kinesthetic thinking > at least 3 points = Needs improvement (score = 1.3, difference = 1,7)
  5. Proactive thinking > 7 - 8,5 points = Needs improvement (score = 4,1, difference = 2,9)

Not all mismatches in this comparison are of the same size. Together thinking is a mismatch, but is only 1 point away from the benchmark. Proactive thinking is much further away from the benchmark.

From this audit we may conclude that Jonas could be a better leader when it comes to engagement.

We will describe possible changes in order of importance (in the order of their distance to the benchmark):

  1. Being more active in promoting his vision and interacting with people. 
  2. Focussing more on people, rather than activity and information.
  3. Focussing more on his feelings, rather than the stories in his mind.
  4. Focussing more on togetherness: starting to work on strengthening the bonds between team members. 

It’s doable!
As you can see from the list, this seems quite doable. We are not talking about changing everlasting all-encompassing personality traits. We are talking about thinking style elements that are coachable and trainable. Sure, Jonas may have some personal obstacles when it comes to being more proactive. But when he understands the importance and chooses to change this, he can. He might need some coaching, but a MindSonar professional is easy to find.

Combined Leadership Benchmark
When we combine the engagement benchmark with the benchmarks we already have for vision and strategy, we arrive at this combination:


  1. Future thinking > 7 - 8,5 points
  2. Towards thinking > 7 - 8,5 points
  3. Matching thinking > 7 - 8,5 points
  4. Visual thinking > 5 -8,5 points
  5. Some kinesthetic thinking > At least 2 points
  6. Internal reference thinking > 7 -8,5 points
  7. Internal locus of control thinking > 7 - 8,5 points 


  1. General thinking > 7 - 8,5 points
  2. Some specific thinking > At least 2 points
  3. Towards thinking > 7 - 8,5 points
  4. Some mismatching thinking > At least 2 points


  1. People thinking > at least 6 points
  2. Together thinking > at least 6 points
  3. Matching thinking > 7 - 8,5 points
  4. Kinesthetic thinking > at least 3 points
  5. Proactive thinking > 7 - 8,5 points

As you can see, we have overlaps in the thinking styles matching and kinesthetic. For matching this is no problem since both benchmarks are 7 - 8,5 points. For kinesthetic thinking it is more complex. For the vision benchmark we want a lot of inner images and movies. Vision literally means seeing things. But for the engagement benchmark, we want a substantial amount of feeling. Now we could set 7 points vision and 3 points feeling as our leadership mindset ideal, but that would leave us with a dumbfounded leader: 0 points left for auditory (sounds, words and stories). They would be all pictures and feelings and no words, which can’t be good. So we decided to set the bar at 5 for visual and 3 for kinesthetic, leaving 2 points for auditory. 

So in our combined leadership benchmark, we correct visual to ‘at least 5’ and we leave kinesthetic at 3.

In this combined benchmark we also reduced all the 10 point maxima to 8,5, to accomodate for the position that extermesre risky.

One good thing about this approach is, that we can now make a fine grained assessment of somebody's leadership mindset, using only a single MindSonar profile.

This concludes our sixth article on the Leadership Mindset. Next stop: resilience. 

About the author 

Jaap Hollander

Psychologist, living in the Netherlands. Founded MindSonar in 1995. Directs MindSonar Global, which manages the ICT development, applications and the curriculum of the MS Certification Trainings. Working part time as a trainer, writer and coach as well as being an expressionist painter (artist name JAAPH, see jaaph.com). Has written 10 books on NLP and Provocative Coaching.

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