The truth about ‘engagement’

Posted December 1, 2009 in Latest News & Insights

It’s always fascinating to me to see which organizational buzz words get the most play.  These days, one of the chart toppers had to be “engagement”.  Everyone seems to be worrying about how to “engage” their top talent; “engage” Generation Y; “engage” their aging workforce… I could go on.

Last Friday, Kathleen Redmond of The Centre for Character Leadership led a discussion with our members on the topic of leadership by engagement. The discussion was lively on a number of fronts, but the main take-aways for me were this:

  1. Engagement isn’t something that the Human Resources team can (or should) be responsible for.  Engagement happens by what YOU as the leader does to create engagement.
  2. Creating engagement is more than just “walking the talk”.  It’s about deeply believing in what you are doing… not just giving out the “right message” and going through the motions.  This is what creates authenticity and this is what, ultimately, people will connect to.
  3. The majority of organizations aren’t rewarding the right things.  We still overemphasize driving bottomline results and reward the “sometimes” bad behaviour used by individuals to drive said results.  We create sets of values that espouse behaviours like “respect” and then turn a blind eye on disrespectful behaviour as long as targets are being met.
  4. The majority of leaders aren’t great at describing the expected behaviourto their direct reports.  We say “be more strategic” to our direct report and expect them to get the message about what they need to do to present themselves as being strategic.  Sadly, it doesn’t work that way.

A great exercise to help you make your “behavioural” coaching statements more specific is to think through what you would expect to see people SAYING or DOING if they were demonstrating that behaviour.  For example, instead of saying “be more strategic” tell your tactical guy or gal: “I would like to see you share the business drivers that are behind each of your ideas when you present your recommendations.”  Or try the “what not to do approach”, as in… “when you blurt out “I had an idea in the shower this morning” at each of our staff meetings, you don’t come across as being very strategic.”

For more information on Kathleen’s work and book, check out her website at www.centreforcharacterleadership.com.

Happy leading!


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  1. Kendra Reddy says:

    Fantastic post – I agree with every point!

    Engagement is individual and deserves attention from the entire organization. What unlocks one person’s discretionary effort may not be what unlocks anothers.

    • LeaderTalker says:

      Thanks Kendra! We need a major re-think on so many of the archaic organizational structures we have in place that we’re still trying to force fit people into. Time to kill some sacred cows, me thinks! (ANNUAL performance reviews for example….)