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Fostering Engagement in Leadership – Developing the Team

Talented and committed peopleIn the first four articles in this series, we described the essential elements of leadership. We focussed on vision and strategy and we developed benchmarks for both. In this fifth article, we will focus on engagement. Of course, both vision and strategy are useless if there is no one to embrace the vision or to execute the strategy.

In his definition of leadership, , former US president Clinton is clear about the importance of involvement. “Leadership”, he says, “means bringing people together in pursuit of a common cause …. Leaders need to … attract talented, committed people with a wide variety of knowledge, perspectives and skills. (Fortune magazine, 2014). By the way, it is interesting to note that he explicitly stresses diversity here.

A world to which people want to belongIn order to attract anyone, be they talented or not, a leader needs to actively communicate their vision. Just thinking about it won’t cut it. When it comes to attracting people, a leader minimally needs to be active in promoting their vision. And they need to infuse that promotion with enthusiasm and confidence. ‘Leadership is creating a world that people want to belong to’. (Robert Dilts).Talented people usually have many causes they can devote their energies to and many job opportunities. And people are not as stable in their work involvement as they were 20 years ago. Millennials, for instance, have a reputation for moving from job to job, being constantly on the lookout for the next best thing. Polish researcher Monika Kwiecińska notes that generation Z significantly less often chooses the ‘matching’ meta program. In other words: they are harder to please. The more talented somebody is, the more compelling and inspiring the leader’s mission needs to be to attract and retain them. 

What people wantAn aspect that Clinton doesn’t mention is retention. Not only does the leader need to attract talented people, they need to keep these talented people engaged. Basically, you retain people by offering them what they want. And people want four things in a job – and in life in general -.

  • RecognitionTo be seen, heard and appreciated.
  • PassionTo do work that fits their passion and their personal mission.
  • CommunityTo be part of a group or a team.
  • RewardsTo be rewarded for their efforts as the culture prescribes.

RecognitionTo keep people engaged, the leader – and their organisation – needs to offer these four benefits. They can only do that when they connect with people and spend time and effort to understand them. For key people, this connection will be immediate and personal. For people who have little or no direct contact with the leader, they can connect indirectly through speeches and texts.

More importantly, the leader needs to be a living example of the values that are part of the vision and the strategy. Values are very important criteria: the principles or standards that you use to evaluate things. Leading by example is important especially on the level of values.

Let me, if I may, use myself as an example here. In MindSonar Global ‘understanding’ and ‘equality’ are important values. So if a team member protests against a change in the MindSonar system, I as a leader need to demonstrate understanding and equality. Take, for instance, a national distributor protesting against an international online MindSonar training. They feel the international training will undermine their national marketing. What does it mean to be  ‘a living example of our values’ in this case? First of all, I will do my best to understand how exactly the international training threatens their marketing. Also I see their protest as valuable contribution. So in this case I set a rule for MindSonar Global, saying that international online training would only be made available to countries that have no national distributor. This turns out to be valuable for other national distributors as well.

Psychological safetyWhat needs to happen in a team to foster belonging? In 2012 Google ran ‘Project Aristotle’. It included interviews with hundreds of employees. “We looked at 180 teams from all over the company. …The ‘who’ part of the equation didn’t seem to matter.’’ says Abeer Dubey, from Google’s People Analytics division. In the best teams, members show sensitivity, and most importantly, listen to one another. Google now describes psychological safety as the most important factor in building a successful team. The best teams make sure that all members contribute to the conversation equally, and respect one another’s emotions. So thee are qualities a leader needs to promote and guard, both in their own teams and in teams led by their managers.

This concludes part five of our series on the Leadership Mindset. In the next article we will be constructing a benchmark for fostering engagement.

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