Leadership: Engaging Employees With Engaging Work (Part 3) – Grow Great Daily Brief #138 – January 18, 2019

Leadership: Engaging Employees With Engaging Work (Part 3) – Grow Great Daily Brief #138 – January 18, 2019

Today let’s talk about the things that can ruin higher human performance inside your organization. These aren’t in any particular order. And it’s only a few things to get you focused on what may be hindering your organization from reaching new levels of higher performance. As leaders, it’s highly likely we could keep adding to the list all our lives. These are the constraints to high-level employee engagement.

Let’s start with selfishness or people who seek their own attention at the expense of the team or company.

As the leader, YOU should be concerned with the individual and what they most want. It’s important for you to figure out what your individual employees want, then serve them by helping them achieve it. Yes, you’ll want to foster their highest performance, which means you’ll do what you can to help them achieve what they want in the context of the organization. And if you can’t, then you’ll help them find success elsewhere. It’s the only way you can properly lead growth!

When individual people put themselves first, ahead of their teammates or the organizational objectives, then you’ve got selfishness. And that’s unacceptable. A culture like that will result in disengaged employees who seeking only their self-interests. Admittedly, it’s easier for that culture to exist where leadership doesn’t know or care what the individual employees want or need. That’s another reason why your leadership has to be scaled at the individual level. When leadership demonstrates genuine care and concern for people, they have no reason to be selfish. You can’t tolerate it.

Ineffective, unclear or ambiguous communication can ruin success.

Go back and listen to the prior episodes this week if you’ve not done that because I’ve already spent some time talking about how important it is for you to provide congruency. This particular constraint is often at the heart of that problem. Employees and team members have to understand and be in on what’s real. The truth matters.

More than anything this problem, which exists in too many organizations, fosters doubt, fear, anxiety, and wonder. And it’s not the kind of wonder that’s productive. It’s people who wonder what bad thing may be going on that they don’t see, or aren’t being told about.

You think you’re being clear. You think people understand. The problem are your blind spots. Sometimes your blind spots exist because you know more than the team. Those hidden facts or feelings provide context for you that they lack. This is why feedback – honest, truthful feedback – is critical. It’s also why you may not be able to merely ask, “Do you understand?”

When people leave the meeting and are busy talking among themselves trying to figure out what was just said, or what is really going on, then you’ve got a problem. That scenario is played out millions of time every single hour across the planet. Some leader stands in front of a small or large group, says what she feels she must say. Gives whatever directives she wants. Everybody nods knowingly, then the meeting ends and nobody has a real clue what was said, how it impacts them, or what they’re now supposed to do.

Just because you’re the leader doesn’t mean you’re a clear communicator. You can learn it though. First, I suspect many leaders need to better understand their failings. Next, they need to learn how to improve. We’ll talk more about that later. For now, just make sure you’re shouldering the responsibility to be understood. And make sure what you say matches with what you do. Be congruent.

Minimizing contributions, or ignoring work will wreck high performance.

Years ago a buddy was telling me about being on a road trip and stopping by a Burger King for a quick bite. When we walked in the counter staff informed him they were out of beef. They had no burgers. We laughed at the irony of a place called BURGER King who ran out of burgers.

I don’t know who may have been responsible for making sure that Burger King had enough burgers, but until it was a problem I’m betting nobody thought much about that job. They likely took it for granted. Until it was a problem that essentially shut them down.

What about inside your organization? We take all kinds of work, and the people who perform that work, for granted.

Most often it’s the basic, foundational stuff – like the person responsible for making sure we have enough burger patties if we’re leading a Burger King restaurant. Don’t do it. Or do it at your peril.

Leaders who pay close attention to the individuals and focus intently on how those individuals fit into the bigger picture are more impactful on fostering higher performance than those who don’t. From the custodial staff to the IT person who keeps the Internet connections going, it all matters. That high paid SVP you lean on may earn more money, but when you’re Internet connection goes down, crippling your business, he’s a worm compared to the person who can get you back online quickly. 😉 Keep it in perspective and show everybody respect. Make it a daily habit to show them the proper love by reinforcing how invaluable their contribution is to what’s going on around there.

Familiarity doesn’t breed contempt, but distance will.

It can be humorous as I walk about an organization and get a sense of how the rank and file view the leadership team. It’s very common to hear things like, “Yeah, the folks on the 7th floor…(fill in the blank).” The executive team which occupies the 7th floor become known by the floor where they office and not much else.

Then, when I go to the 7th floor I’ll sometimes hear similar language about the rest of the organization, making me aware there is a 7th-floor bias that works up and down the food chain inside the organization.

That disrupts employee engagement. It’s a culture killer.

Most often I find the 7th floor doesn’t get out much. Oh, they wander around a bit when they have to, but mostly they stay to themselves. From their high perch, they can more easily assess the problems. Sort of like that camera on that high-wire during NFL games. It’s an overhead perspective they think serves them well. You know why the networks don’t show you an entire game from that perspective? Because it would annoy the snot out of you and because it doesn’t show you a clear enough perspective of everything going on. It’s just one camera. NFL games have about 20 cameras (the SuperBowl has many more). They’re constantly switching to give the audience the most engaging view. Does the NFL know something you don’t? Likely.

They know one view isn’t enough to keep the audience engaged, but sometimes leadership and executive teams think that view from the 7th floor is all they need. The result? They grow increasingly less familiar with the work and the people who do it. Over time they develop – mostly unintentional – contempt for the people doing the work, especially the ones they don’t feel who do the work very well. And the people on the floors below also develop contempt – again, not always intentional – for the 7th floor because they feel their leaders don’t understand or appreciate their efforts.

This monumental disconnect destroys what might have been, a major uptick in performance!

The more familiar leaders are with the individual people, the better. The more familiar people are with their leaders, the better.

This means you have to be willing to be familiar, which means you’re going to have to commit to being more vulnerable with your people. The best way to get to know them better is to allow them to know you better. I know you want them to think you’re invincible, but they already know you’re not. You will NOT lose by letting them see how human you are. And if you’re a good human, then you will really win by letting them see how human, and how good, you really are. Or at least how good you are trying to be.

Be a good human.

I think I’ll end the week there because I honestly can’t think of a better place to end any week where we’ve been talking about leadership. Be nice. Be kind. Make your mama proud. Make your grandmother proud. Behave yourself. Treat other people well. No matter what.

Be well. Do good. Grow great!

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Grow Great a public sector leadership podcastAbout the hosts: Randy Cantrell brings over 4 decades of experience as a business leader and organization builder. Lisa Norris brings almost 3 decades of experience in HR and all things "people." Their shared passion for leadership and developing high-performing cultures provoked them to focus the Grow Great podcast on city government leadership.

The work is about achieving unprecedented success through accelerated learning in helping leaders and executives "figure it out." 

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