Much of what’s written about “employee engagement” focuses on how to get your employees more involved at work. As a leader at your company, you’re also an employee; how “engaged” are you? And, are you engaged in the right things? Undoubtedly, you’re busy, but is that the same as engagement?
According to research by Development Dimensions International, 89% of leaders with strong interaction skills have more engaged teams. It makes sense that there is a correlation between your interaction as a leader and employee engagement. After all, when leaders consistently connect with their team members in a positive way, they create an environment of open communication. This connectivity has positive business results as well: the DDI survey indicated that “plugged in” leaders had three times less turnover and 83% led their teams to exceed their productivity goals.
Yet there’s an irony at play. Consider for a moment two possible meanings of the word “engaged.” One is: to be thoroughly involved, as in, “the employees were highly engaged in the customer service rollout.” Then there is “busy or otherwise occupied.” In order to have the first type of engagement with your team, as a leader it’s necessary to forgo the second. Leadership places many demands on you; are you sending “I’m too busy” signals without knowing it? Here’s how to tell the difference between an Otherwise Occupied Leader and a Plugged-In Leader.
Awareness of challenges. Plugged-In Leaders are able to sense when something’s amiss, either with the whole team or an individual, because they’re in touch with their employees regularly. Plugged-In leadership is not micromanaging; rather, it’s paying careful attention to individuals’ unspoken concerns and the friction points that typically occur in a department from time to time. Otherwise Occupied Leaders often fail to see the early clues that there’s trouble ahead because they’ve rushed through a conversation, or they miss the conversation completely because they’re overbooked.
Level of distraction. High-wire artist Nik Wallenda has said, “I’ve trained all my life not to be distracted by distractions,” and with good reason: attending to a distraction could kill him. Being distracted by phone calls, texts or e-mail while talking to your employees won’t kill you, but it will destroy your credibility. Otherwise Occupied Leaders think that their employees will cut them slack while they do a “lap glance” to surreptitiously send a text while in team meetings, but they’ve misjudged the situation. By falling prey to the many distractions offered by technology and the tyranny of the urgent, Otherwise Occupied Leaders telegraph that those right in front of them are of lesser importance. Better to be a Plugged-In Leader and silence the cell phone and give your undivided attention to the task at hand.
Attention to commitments. Plugged-In Leaders place a premium on connecting with their employees, even if it’s just a quick check-in every so often. How many times have you cancelled a meeting with your team in the past three months? Your answer may be a clue to how you’re perceived by the team. Plugged-In Leaders understand how important face-time is to their employees, so they rarely cancel one-to-one meetings, because it’s often the only chance they get time to cover important career-building topics with their team members. Otherwise Occupied Leaders continually have “last minute” changes that take precedence over time with team members. How many times can your team members hear “something came up” before they write you off as uninterested in them or their work?
It’s one thing to give your team members space to flourish by developing their self-sufficiency; it’s another thing entirely to be completely unavailable. The best leaders are still connected to those they lead, offering coaching, support and mentorship when needed. The best way to have an engaged team of professionals is for you to engage as well.
Jennifer V. Miller is a leadership development consultant whose writing and digital training materials help business professionals lead themselves and others towards greater career success. Follow her on LinkedIn and sign up for her free tip sheet: “Why is it So Hard to Shut Up? 18 Ways to THINK before you Speak.”
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