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5 habits leaders should adopt to energize employees

Mark Gregory and Alex Lewis   

5 habits leaders should adopt to energize employees

This is a book excerpt.

To build high engagement, there are two fundamental principles you must accept.

The first is that engagement is a set of habits, and the second is that trust is at the root of every relationship.

If you don't accept these principles, you can try to build engagement by following the advice in this book but be warned; it will feel as though you're pushing water uphill with a fork.

We lay down five fundamental habits for CEOs.

1. Provide a compass, not a map

People protect what they build. Leadership is characterized by initiative and action. It traditionally presents an example for others to follow, a route to a particular place.

As leaders, our instinct is to take our teams by the hand and help them safely across the battlefield. Our logic is to show them how to do what we managed to do, and it's natural to want to save them from common landmines. We have the belief that if we did it, they can too.

Isn't it the responsibility of the leader to explain to others the best method to achieve the goal?

As the leader, your job is not to explain the steps to achieve the task, but to be clear about the generally non-negotiable destination. Be ready to give guidance so your people won't take unnecessary and potentially dangerous risks that you can help them to avoid, but apart from issues of safety, stand back and manage from a distance.

This takes self-discipline if you're used to a different leadership style, but it is a new habit that will pay-off in terms of productivity, peace of mind and employee engagement.

Like any new habit, the first few times you try something new, it may be unsettling but the reward will be worth the initial discomfort.

People crave autonomy, and they develop by solving problems on their own. Mistakes will be made, but they only serve to strengthen the learning process and are a worthy investment of time and patience.

Over time people will grow from the experience of figuring it out, and because it is their method (not yours) they will feel greater ownership for its sustainment and improvement.

2. Nurture your circle of safety

Humans are social animals. Deep in our evolutionary makeup, we are hardwired to rely on each other to protect ourselves against danger.

We do not have sharp teeth or plated skin, what we do have are innate superpowers to collaborate, innovate, and problem-solve.

This gives us the ability not only to be shaped by the environment but to shape our environment to stay safe.

It's essential your teams have the utmost confidence in their job stability and also feel they have the freedom to work autonomously.

If they don't have confidence in the company, they'll be paralyzed by fear, afraid to innovate and problem solve.

As CEO, one of your key roles is to provide that stability, a belief that the company will do the right thing and protect your team.

3. Know your people and let them know you

How well do you know your team? We once met the managing director of a large retail chain who memorized the first names of every employee in the company stores as well as one thing about their personal life.

The reason he did so was that he wanted an effective way of starting a conversation so his staff would know he cared. He would also share basic information about himself, such as the name of his wife.

He was amazingly well informed about the current challenges in the stores. Due to the genuine connection he had formed with each of the employees, he was able to focus on problem-solving while skillfully evaluating when they had more to offer or when they needed additional support.

This is a simple, but profound habit to practice. It is amazing how sharing your humanity and being vulnerable, allows others to connect with you on a deeper level.

This powerful cue will change the conversation; both your personal exchanges as well as the conversation in the organisation.

The reward is that over time a more open culture will emerge.

4. Allow time to engage

Every business leader has a list of mandatory tasks; those necessary activities to get their job done. But if a leader's role is client strategy, it's more challenging to achieve the desired outcome without new data on what the company's doing.

While leaders believe their job is to get stuff done, they prioritize their to-do list and underestimate the importance of investing time and energy into the areas of the business that arguably need it the most.

Never underestimate the value of making time for your people. We all have an innate desire to be heard, so it's a great idea to block-out your engagement time before your other tasks.

Apart from boosting your employee engagement it also, with no additional effort, makes you more productive because you'll know exactly what's happening in your organisation, rather than trying to push blindly through your to-do list.

5. Never miss an opportunity to connect people with your vision

In our consultancy, we often come across leaders who talk at great length about how difficult it is to connect their employees with the direction, strategy and vision the business is working towards.

When we ask how often they talk about their vision with the team, they tell us not much. When we delve deeper, we discover that they point to some kind of graphic at the start of meetings, or a statement of intent etched into the glass in their reception area.

The problem is that visions don't come alive by looking at a poster on the wall. You have to take every opportunity to connect your people with the big picture of your vision.

To translate the vision effectively, the boss has to understand how that individual will find purpose, something that will only come from human conversation.

From the book "The Engagement Habit". Copyright © 2021 by Mark Gregory and Alex Lewis. Reprinted by permission of Engage & Perform Publishing. All rights reserved.

Mark Gregory is managing director of consultancy Unleash and Engage. He has previously worked with thousands of business leaders in leading brands including Toyota, Lexus, BAE systems, John West and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Alex Lewis has worked in senior HR management roles at Siemens, EDS, Airbus and BAE Systems, where he was HR Director in both the air and maritime divisions, responsible for 20,000 people, as well as director of employee relations and engagement. He was a founder member of the UK Government Employee Engagement Taskforce. He is now a director of Unleash and Engage.


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