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The quality of leadership is suffering. We see that in all types of organizations and at all levels. One of the many reasons for this deterioration of leadership quality is the lack of rigor and precision in many so-called thought leaders. Many people assume the mantle of consultant and thought leader in the field of leadership because they think there are no right answers. Just throw opinions up against the wall and see what sticks. While they are right that leadership is much more of an art than a science, it does not give us the right to be sloppy or imprecise in our definitions and approaches. It does not give us the right to ignore the principles that underlie leadership and which guide appropriate courses of actions.
One of the biggest consequences to this sloppy thinking is that leaders are led to take actions that they think are appropriate. When these misguided actions do no produce the results intended, both leaders and employees become frustrated. Leadership then discards their efforts in that area as another leadership fad that did not work.
The Murder Of Employee Engagement
Perhaps one of the greatest examples of this is the assassination attempt thought leaders have made is in the area of employee engagement.
Recently I read another misguided article on employee engagement. This article was published in a respected business journal with the involvement of a panel of eleven thought leaders (an esteemed council of leadership coaches no less!) yet the focus of the article was so far off base as to be laughable. The name of the article? “How Managers Can Balance Pushing A Team For Results While Keeping Them Engaged”.
The article’s title demonstrates a colossal misunderstanding of employee engagement that threatens to kill one of the most important tools of modern leadership. The article implies that employee engagement and performance are like a horse and buggy that are unhitched. Both are valuable separately but you might also need to bring them together from time to time. Not True! Engagement is always about results. There is no reason for engagement except to achieve results. Engagement is about unleashing efforts to create optimal solutions that lead to results. It is about providing optimal solutions while creating meaning and excitement of staff in participating in achieving challenging outcomes.
One might ask, “Why is a magazine article title so important? Isn’t it just for the purposes of getting readers’ attention?” The answer is simple. The title sends a false message and establishes in many leaders’ minds that engagement and results are two separate entities. It implies there are two foci, distinct and apart, that must be brought together because they are not related. In reality engagement is distorted and becomes superficial when it is separated from its partner, performance.
The Importance of Employee Engagement
Employee engagement is one of the most important acts a leader can create. Hitching employees together with the organization’s purposes and harnessing employee capabilities and mind share to obtain the best thinking and production/service possible is a recipe for unparalleled success. There have been multiple studies on the benefits of engaged employees. Genuine employee engagement produces results for the organization and its employees: a true win-win. False employee engagement creates damage. It creates leadership that focuses window dressing rather than substance. When one leaves the core of employee engagement out of the equation, it will not only fail but creates distrust in leadership. It also creates frustration on the part of both management and employees when the “engagement program” does not work.
Caveat Emptor: Trying To Fit What I Sell Under The Tent
Lets face it. Management consultants hock their wares under the umbrella of the latest and greatest fads. These consultants seldom change their services but only market them differently when a new fad arises.
Today we see employee surveys and happiness touted as employee engagement. Communication training is billed as a vital engagement tool. Recognition, relationship building and giving constructive feedback have all been reinvented as the paths to create employee engagement. How is a manager ever to decide what to pick off this “smorgasbord” of employee engagement technique treats? Never has the admonition, “caveat emptor” been more appropriate.
It’s All About Performance, Stupid!
So why did the title of this article create such a visceral reaction? Why distress over the fact that eleven “thought leaders and, God forbid, leadership coaches) would not see the fallacy in the question the article posed?
The major purpose of an organization is to produce products or services. This is the core of what an organization does. The term engagement implies the interlocking of two or more items to produce synergy. Results and outcomes are not something tacked on at the end of an engagement effort; it is the core of all true engagement efforts.
The engagement partnership is about harnessing the hearts and minds of employees around organizational issues and opportunities. It is a partnership between leadership and staff. Leadership defines or blesses both the opportunities and the definition of what success looks like. (One of the most significant actions of trust a leader can show staff is when they are given the opportunity to work on issues that are important to an organization). Leaders appoint or bless the people who are to participate on an opportunity or issue. They provide or bless the use of resources necessary to come up with solutions and outcomes. Employees, individually or in teams contribute maximum involvement and thinking to create solutions to meet those definitions of success. They innovate around the “how”. They present their recommendations to management by making their thinking visible. Management responds and accepts or modifies and coaches for additional work as necessary. The essence of engagement is shared decision making around significant performance issues. This is where partnerships are truly created. It is where innovation is produced and commitment grows. (For additional information on this core engagement competency of decision making, read http://9by9solutions.com/2016/04/leadership-nugget-20-the-intersection-where-direction-commitment-excellence-and-meaning-meet/)
Misguided thought leadership has done a horrible disservice to the profession of leadership in watering down the concept of employee engagement. They confuse and distort one of the most effective tools truly successful leaders have. They sell to leaders that picnics and happiness surveys are as important as asking for help on significant organization issues.
The worst damage created by this type or article is not to an old geezer who gets ticked off at the superficial thinking and imprecise definitions. The worst damage is to young leaders who want to know how to practice good leadership and true employee engagement but will now go down the wrong path.
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