Engaged employees perform better, experience less burnout, and stay in organizations longer.
When we consider that disengaged employees cost U.S. organizations upwards of $450 billion each year*, it’s easy to see — we need to do something about it.
I had the opportunity to talk with Matt Tenney on the Business Leadership Today podcast about the top 7 most important things a leader must do to improve employee engagement.
It might surprise you that GRIT* plays a huge role! Stay with me on this…
Listen to the full episode here or read on. (Bonus: These are not show notes. This article highlights the concepts we talked about in the podcast and includes some additional info and links to resources).
Here’s a little backstory…
Years ago I was contracted to do some coaching work with a law firm. There was this one difficult partner who came off as rude and obnoxious. Employee morale was plummeting and people felt disengaged. I was asked to coach him individually.
The employees would say they loved him outside of work, he was fun and charismatic, but couldn’t stand him inside work. He ruled with an iron fist.
What I observed was that everyone was allowing him to behave this way, not holding him accountable. They didn’t have the courage to approach it. I realized this was a much larger issue. So I proposed working with the entire firm.
We started out by using the DiSC® Assessment so they could each understand their own behavioral style. We did activities around this and I helped them to see that by getting the whole team involved everyone would move forward in their development, not just the difficult partner. We went deep as a team providing them the opportunity to talk in a safe environment.
DiSC® helped the team understand each other better. They learned to connect, relate and communicate more effectively. And it stuck — yes, it was sustainable. They’re still using it years later!
That one difficult partner did get individual coaching to help him be more self-aware. Turns out he was a hard worker and just thought he had to push people to get results. He didn’t realize how this was affecting morale and productivity.
We tend to judge others on how we perceive their actions, while we judge ourselves on our intent. (You may have noticed, I said this backwards in the interview 😉.)
We make assumptions about why they did what they did, and then we go further and take it personally! Then we withdraw or behave in ways that are out of alignment with who we are.
If only we would pause, be aware of what assumptions we are making, and have the courage to communicate — it would save us a lot of headaches, lost productivity, and disengagement at work.
Did you ever consider that it’s the tough child that makes you a better parent? Well, it’s the tough employee that makes you a better leader.
So how do we harness the power of interpersonal struggles and improve employee engagement?
*That’s where GRIT® comes in!
But it’s not your typical grit… it’s 4 characteristics (Generosity, Respect, Integrity and Truth) uniquely combined that create GRIT — without the collateral damage.
Check out these 7 quick tips that I summarized from my book, Leading with GRIT® - Inspiring Action and Accountability With Generosity, Respect, Integrity and Truth:
1. Know Thyself, And Accept Who You Are. It Starts Inside (Truth)
Do you feel good in your own skin? Are you authentic? The path of self-awareness is critical to know our truth. That helps us to be more confident - genuinely confident - and that confidence is what inspires other people. It is almost impossible to be truly happy long term without being true to yourself.
In order to be true, we first have to know and accept ourselves. Not only is this the core of leadership, but it’s the foundation of a happy, successful life. Knowing yourself is the foundation for everything else. Remember DiSC® in the example above? That’s one way to start getting to know yourself better.
2. Be True To Yourself. Focus Your Thoughts, Beliefs and Actions According To Your Truth. (Integrity)
Do you walk your talk? Integrity means aligning your actions with what is important to you. But there’s an underlying cause to our actions that we can’t ignore — our thoughts and beliefs. Being aware of our thoughts and beliefs is critical. Managers and leaders are usually focused solely on changing behaviors when it would serve them better to look at underlying thoughts and beliefs. These are the drivers of behavior.
Integrity also reveals itself through intent. Your actions send a message. So, for example, if you say you value your people, you must truly value your people and your actions must align with that. It’s not about perfection; of course, we’ll all make mistakes now and then. It’s more about doing your best to put forth the effort. The practice of self-reflection can help you to see what you’re doing well and where you can improve. The partner in the example above had to align his behavior with his intent to be in integrity.
3. Respect Yourself First. Implementing #1 & #2 Shows Respect For Yourself. (Respect)
As the middle child of 14 kids, I grew up having to share everything and think about everyone else first. There was never any message or instructions about taking care of myself first. And it took me a long time to learn that taking care of ourselves is respecting ourselves. This is essential if we intend to show up to a position of leadership the best we can be. We can’t expect others to respect us if we don’t respect ourselves. Respect starts by knowing your Truth and having Integrity.
4. Respect Others — Emotional Intelligence (Respect)
Mother Teresa said, “Never be so busy as not to think of others.”
A position or title does not entitle us to respect. It’s what we do that earns respect, and the key is to respect others. To respect other people, we have to understand other people, or at least have the willingness to try.
Emotional intelligence (EI), simply put, is the awareness and management of our own emotions, as well as others’ emotions. DiSC® helps in this area — it is a great tool to learn to respect each other and understand what’s driving us. And that’s exactly why we used it at the law firm in the example above.
People have different priorities, motivators, and stressors. When we start to understand that, we can start to respect and appreciate what we each bring to the table.
Consider the following examples to gauge your EI. How comfortable are you:
Accepting criticism and responsibility?
Moving on after making a mistake?
Saying no when you need to?
Sharing your feelings with others?
Solving problems in ways that work for everyone?
Having empathy for other people?
Demonstrating active listening skills?
Knowing why you do the things you do and how your own emotions influence your decisions and behaviors?
Not being judgmental of others?
5. Have A Servant Leadership Mentality (Generosity)
Servant leadership is simply considering what needs to happen as a whole, rather than just thinking of what needs to happen at the top. It's about clearing roadblocks for people and giving them what they need to be successful. Leaders tend to get bogged down with the stuff we are measured on, but servant leadership is not about checking boxes, it’s about investing in your team.
This type of generosity ensures that everyone has the resources and knowledge they need to meet their objectives. Think about the traditional leadership triangle with the C-suite at the top and the employees at the bottom. Now invert that and you’ll see how the servant leadership mentality is one that supports those you are leading.
We know that Generosity can only come from love, not fear. So if you’re in a mindset of lack versus abundance, or self-loathing versus self-acceptance, then it will be really difficult to understand and respect others, let alone lead them authentically and successfully.
But if you have Truth, Integrity, and Respect you’ll find that you want to give of yourself without expectation of getting anything back. Ironically, this will inspire others to want to go the extra mile, and you’ll end up seeing an even better return on your investment. And about 6 months into his coaching, it really clicked for that partner, and he started seeing people respond so much more positively and proactively.
6. Give And Receive. Keep The Flow Going. (Generosity)
Generosity goes both ways. It’s not just about the giver. We must also be open to receiving. When you are not able to receive, it stops the flow for people. I can’t give if you won’t receive, and that can cause problems.
For example, does the manager dish out constructive feedback but won’t accept it herself? This will be problematic. Not being able to accept compliments is another example. Those who block the flow of receiving can create resentment or regret.
Generosity is a powerful tool. It not only helps us see others in a more positive light, but we feel more connected when we are generous. As a byproduct, we actually feel better about ourselves and that attracts even more into our lives.
7. Celebrate. Take Time To Appreciate, Feel Gratitude, And Enjoy The Present Moment.
We all need to recharge our batteries periodically. Remember, we are here to enjoy the journey! Employees engage more when we stop and feel appreciation for what we did. When leaders extend gratitude to their teams for a job well done, it builds trust. It inspires us to continue following that person and continue giving our best.
Celebrate the wins, even the small ones. But if, like some leaders, you have the mindset that celebration promotes complacency or may distract people from their goals, it might help to know that research proves that celebration encourages creativity and innovation. It promotes employee bonding and engagement. It motivates us to keep going, to keep believing in the goal.
Take a look at these stats:
79% of US employees who leave their job do so because of feeling under-appreciated. That’s not surprising when you consider that 65% of employees claim they’ve received no recognition within the last year. 35% explicitly note that this under-appreciation negatively impacts their productivity; and a whopping 78% say they would work harder if only they were given more recognition. source
Let’s make sure we take the time to relax, have fun, and feel gratitude for what we’ve accomplished. As Andy Parker from Leapsome said, “Success can beget success, and celebrating at work helps to build momentum, improve morale, and make the hard times feel all the more worth it.”
These 7 steps show how important it is that we understand ourselves and understand others through GRIT: Generosity, Respect, Integrity, Truth. This is how we will persevere, because this is how we create an environment where people can be enthusiastic and stick around longer!