Employee engagement is an oft-discussed endeavor. As leaders, we work to engage our employees, creating an environment where employees feel valued, where they have a sense of purpose and work together to help achieve organizational objectives that align with the company mission. We inherently understand that our organizations are better when our teams are cohesive, collaborative, and committed. That understanding fuels us to foster a culture that cultivates engagement.
Engagement is subjective. It’s demonstrated in how we show up, how we communicate, how we support and encourage. How do we engage? How do we stay engaged? We are leaders! We set the example. We create the tone of our organizations. If we are not demonstrating engagement, we cannot expect our employees to do so.
I once participated in an activity where I evaluated my team’s engagement through a lens of “rent versus own”. Renters were at work for the paycheck. They might enjoy the camaraderie of the organization, and often worked hard to fulfill the requirements of their job. They were good, solid employees who met expectations; however, they did not often look beyond the scope of their position to plan or to dream. Owners, on the other hand, demonstrated a deeper commitment to the success of the organization. They considered how their role impacted the organization at large, working for their own success as well as the success of other team members. Owners participated in planning, were unafraid to dream, and reflected on objectives in relation to the broader mission.
It was interesting to evaluate my team through that perspective. More importantly, it caused me to consider how they would evaluate me. Did I rent or own? In every day, every decision, every interaction, was I fully engaged? Committed? Was I acting as an owner? In most cases, I could honestly answer yes. However, I also recognized that there were some areas that I could improve. As a leader, I needed to be completely immersed, evidencing complete engagement in every conversation, memo, and meeting.
So I did. I reflected on why I’d chosen the organization I was working with, how my values aligned, and then reconnected my sense of purpose to every aspect of my position. When I re-engaged – 100%, not just 99% – my entire team felt it. We all worked a little harder. We all recommitted to the mission of the organization. We all sought to serve our customers, internal and external, just a little bit better. And each team member, whether a renter or an owner, experienced a bit of elevation.
Elevation? Yes. To elevate is to move or raise to a higher position (Merriam Webster, 2017). When fully engaged, each team member was elevated. Each felt the importance of their position and worked to help each other. Each recognized the danger of complacency and chose to do and be better.
The first step of employee engagement is leader engagement. And, when we are fully and completely engaged, we will elevate our teams. The leadership lesson? If we want more for ourselves, our teams, our organizations, we must engage in order to elevate.