By now, everyone’s heard 70% of the workforce is checked out. That’s why employee engagement remains all the rage among management fads. Yet sadly, many of the fixes being offered amount to little more than superficial techniques that don’t fundamentally change how people experience their workplaces, and more importantly…
By now, everyone’s heard 70% of the workforce is checked out. That’s why employee engagement remains all the rage among management fads. Yet sadly, many of the fixes being offered amount to little more than superficial techniques that don’t fundamentally change how people experience their workplaces, and more importantly, their bosses.
That’s why I recently sat down with Mark C. Crowley, best-selling author of Lead from the Heart, to discuss the connections between leadership behavior and plummeting employee engagement levels. On a personal mission to radically change how leaders lead, he says, “We’re fighting a hundred years of outdated management thinking that says we should pay people as little as possible and squeeze as much out of them as possible. We’re still treating people as liabilities despite claiming they are an asset.” About prevailing leadership training, he says, “We are stuck with the “drip” method of offering leadership thinking. We are dancing around the fact that it is still controversial to lead in a caring way. We protect leaders from messy, human connections.”
Mark’s research for his book, and on workplace engagement, includes an impressive set of thought-leading experts. In one article that has gathered more than 350k reads, he talks with Jim Clifton, CEO of Gallup, a leading employee engagement authority. “Engagement largely comes down to whether people have a manager who cares about them, grows them and appreciates them. We’re now at just 32 percent engagement; and for all the people in management roles today, this is their scorecard… There’s simply no question that managers are one of the top root causes of low and flat-lined engagement.”
Crowley insists it’s time to significantly raise the bar on leadership requirements. “Today the bar is simply ‘I’m not a jerk.’ ” The absence of lousy leadership doesn’t produce great leadership. Leaders that care to their core about those they lead will ultimately change the abysmal results we’re currently getting on people’s low level of commitment. Here are four practices leaders must employ if they hope to lead people to give their all. While they may sound simple or like familiar platitudes, the remarkably horrendous engagement performance would suggest they are radical
1. Invest deeply. “ Leaders need to both give a lot and expect a lot .” Most leaders know they have some role in cultivating the talents and ambitions of those they lead. But if you followed them around in an average day to see how much time they spend actually doing it, what you would see belies whether they believe it’s a core part of their leadership. People who’ve been managing others for a while think they’re already “investing” in their people because they buy pizza once a month or approve funds for a training program. But deep investment means that “you are personally spending ample time ensuring people are learning, growing, and thriving. You have a high bar for performance expectations, and you are personally helping people reach it. Every. Single. Day.” Crowley views personal sharing of knowledge and wisdom as more than an act of development. It’s an act of caring. It lets people know they matter.
2. Connect personally. Prevailing management wisdom has over-taught the importance of boundaries in workplace relationships. Of course healthy boundaries are important. But the reality is, as my own research has borne out, distance does not lead to objectivity. It leads to ignorance. Leaders need to know their people. Know about their families, their interests, and their life outside of work. “You can’t truly understand how to lead someone you only know in one dimension of life.” This becomes especially true for Millennials, whose work life and whole life are highly integrated. Leaders must understand the aspirations of those they lead to ensure they are tailoring their leadership to those aspirations. “People we lead have big stories, and we are part of that story. We need to understand how they are thinking about the bigger story of their life to know what part we play.”
3. Hire for Heart. Crowley believes much of the problem with leadership today is who is being selected to take on those roles. “You have to hire people who are predisposed to care. If you hire for technical competence, or a track record of hitting numbers, that’s all you’ll get.” Organizations have to profoundly overhaul how they select people for leadership roles. One question Crowley urges all hiring professionals and managers to ask when selecting people for leadership is, “Tell me three people whose careers you personally helped promote and what did you do to invest in them.” People who can’t answer credibly are people you don’t want leading.
4. Love well. In one of his signature articles, Crowley talks about the difference between engaging people’s hearts vs. their minds. He emphasizes the criticality of leaders having absolute certainty people they lead feel like they, and their work, matter deeply, and that they are genuinely appreciated. He quotes noted psychologist Barbara Fredrickson’s definition of love. “People have emotions that range from unpleasant to pleasant. Positive emotions are on that pleasant side. Historically, we’ve misunderstood love to be one of the positive emotions that range from joy, inspiration, interest, pride, and hope. But love is the feeling of any of those emotions co-experienced with another person or group. Love transforms people into more positive, resilient, optimistic, persistent, healthier, and happier people.” Crowley concludes, “ The most informed advice I can give leaders is, “Love your people .”
While these radical practices may sound soft, you can’t argue with results. Leaders, and their organizations behaving this way, outperform competitors by large factors. So if you aren’t actively incorporating such practices, it means you are satisfied with mediocre performance and having 70% of your people checked out. But if you genuinely, and courageously, want to improve, take this test. Give this article to everyone you lead and ask them to grade you on each of the four practices on a 1-5 scale, 1 being horrible, 5 being perfect. Ask them to be hard on you and offer suggestions for improving problem areas. Take their advice and have them re-grade you in six months. If you are willing to do that, you count as someone truly committed to radically great leadership.
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