When I was first starting my career, I had a manager whom you might call a “don’t.” As in, just don’t do anything he did. At weekly staff meetings, he would ask all of us to go around and say what we were working on, but he would never share any details of what he was doing. Naturally we all wondered, “Uh, what ARE you doing?”
He often would add items to our lists by saying, “Somebody….YOU…needs to do x, y or z,” as he looked around the table and pointed a finger at the “lucky” person.
He often spoke derisively about clients.
And the kicker was that on many afternoons around 3 p.m., he would stroll through the office, stop by my desk and say, “I’m off to coach my kid’s soccer team. Can you finish these for me?” Wump. He would drop a thick stack of folders with sticky notes attached, detailing activities that I knew were going to derail any plans I might have had for post-work commitments.
What I learned from his poor example is that it really is all about you. The engagement that employees will feel in the workplace is based on the messages you, as their manager, are sending. In fact, a survey from Dale Carnegie found that there is an 80 percent chance an employee will be disengaged from their work if they are dissatisfied with their immediate supervisor.
Feel the pressure? The good news is that engaging employees is easier than ever these days IF you are doing it right. There’s been a sea change in employees’ perception of work, and much of it has been fueled by the rise of millennials in the workplace. These 18- to 33-year-olds (the largest group in the workforce today, BTW) are often misunderstood, but the truth is, they are after one thing, and so many companies are missing it.
It’s not more pay, and it’s not even awesome snacks. It’s meaningful work. So if you can show your younger cohorts how you, as a manager, are contributing to a larger mission, you will have them hooked.
But we all know actions speak louder than words. That’s why the secret to engaging, energizing and motivating your team takes courage.
Here are four simple tactics courageous leaders use that you can try today:
- 1. They focus on their customer.
We all know that change in any organization is constant. Whether it’s a reorganization, a pivot in direction or just internal politics as usual, employees who see their managers distracted don’t know what they should focus on. A courageous leader remembers that the rest is just window dressing. They make sure that no matter what the buzzword or focus of the day is that they stay tuned in to what really matters: The Customer.
- 2. They give people the keys.
Want to know why so many millennials job hop? A recent survey from Deloitte found that 63% felt their leadership skills were underutilized. And it’s not just our younger employees. So many of our organizations have created policies, procedures and the dreaded “rules” that are designed to make sure that consistency is maintained. But a courageous leader sees that employees need to have some leeway, and that the only way anyone can grow and learn is by failing a little along the way. The courageous leader will give their team responsibility and allow them to struggle and sometimes even fail a little, knowing it will ultimately lead to a more engaged, more skilled employee.
- 3. They inspire with their passion.
Passion isn’t a company motto or slogan. It’s not a ridiculous devotion to crazy hours. Passion is showing your team that what they are doing matters. A courageous leader creates passion by making sure everyone knows why they come to work each day – the mission they are supporting. They seek honest and open communication by sharing personal stories and examples of why they are invested in the company – and why their team should be too.
- 4. They recognize the process — not just the result.
The millennial generation is known for its creation of the “participation trophy;” in fact they’ve been hearing since kindergarten soccer that every team member matters. That’s why a courageous leader realizes that they can’t focus on just the wins or the losses, but rather the effort that it took to get there. Focusing relentlessly on a mistake, a missed goal or a failed launch is going to build negativity into your team. But only focusing on the wins, the superstar salesperson or the “employee of the month,” minimizes the effort that each team member has contributed. Reward success and celebrate the big wins, sure, but don’t neglect those efforts that might have fallen short. They’re the ticket to creating a team that is inspired to innovate and trusts that every innovation, regardless of the outcome, is a step toward success.
Have you found that your courage as a leader has impacted your team’s engagement? Let us know one of your best practices in the comments below.