Why the Best Leaders Use Purpose to Improve Engagement

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There is this common belief that disengaged employees are bad employees. The reasons are numerous, but a few common behaviors include; laziness, boredom, uninspired, and limited productivity.

While it’s undoubtedly true these aren’t the habits that produce excellent results; it doesn’t mean a disengaged employee is a bad employee forever.

Take Mark, the CEO of a medium-sized manufacturing company, as an example. Thanks to his entrepreneurial spirit and relentless work ethic, he and a small team grew his business from nothing to $15M in revenue over ten years. But as the company saw revenue plateau for three consecutive years, Mark began to lose interest.  

He started working fewer hours, stopped holding daily huddles with his management team, and found himself just going through the motions. You could say he was lazy, bored, and uninspired, thus he became disengaged from an outside perspective.  

Thanks to his team and external coaching help, Mark began to recognize what his disengagement was costing his own company and how it was negatively affecting his people. Through a lot of hard work and soul searching, he rediscovered his passion and purpose and committed to new habits to replace the stale ones. Mark has transformed his leadership approach in just six short months and has breathed new life into the business and his team.  

He also provides an example that disengaged employees aren’t bad employees, and no one is immune to becoming disengaged, even the CEO.

Disengaged employees aren’t bad employees permanently, and no one is immune to becoming disengaged. 

How Disengaged Are We?

Now before we get into the state of engagement in the workplace, we must level set on a common definition of employee engagement. While there are tons of great definitions of employee engagement, I have come to define it this way, “Employees who are emotionally committed to the success of the team or organization, demonstrated through their actions.”

When employees are engaged in this way, they are more productive, happier, and fulfilled in their professional careers. This makes it hard to imagine why anyone would sign up to be disengaged, but unfortunately, it’s more popular than the latter. 

To give you an idea of how unengaged the workforce is today, Gallup research found only 39% of employees are engaged, and 14% are actively disengaged

Managers are Most Important

While the current engagement statics are no doubt a bit gloomy, I am an optimistic thinker. Instead of seeing it as a problem, I see it as an opportunity, much like many of the great leaders I have studied. Great leaders look for opportunities in problems.  

When you look at employee engagement through the lens of an opportunity instead of a problem, clarity emerges. The opportunity present is for managers to take personal responsibility instead of pawning it off on HR or relying on the bi-annual company-wide engagement survey. While Human Resources professionals are key and engagement surveys are essential, research indicates that managers affect 70% of team engagement variance. 

So if you have a title that comes with the responsibility of leading others at work, know the actions you exhibit today will reflect the engagement you get tomorrow.

The actions leaders exhibit today will reflect the engagement they get tomorrow.

How to Drive Higher Levels of Engagement

Most bad leaders assume that disengagement will take care of itself if you throw money at people (If only it were this easy!). In Adam Grant’s book, Think Again, he wrote, “Research across industry, shows once people are earning enough to meet their basic needs, paying them more doesn’t stop them from leaving a bad job and bad bosses. In most companies, if the pay were the carrot, that would have already solved the engagement problem.”

Grant is correct; while pay is essential, it won’t solve the problem. One key action leaders can leverage to drive higher engagement levels is to connect the team’s activity to a deeper purpose.  

Connect your team to a deeper purpose for higher engagement levels

Shared Purpose

Employees don’t get burned out because of their work; they get burned out because they forget WHY they do their work. Because of this, leaders of high-performing teams are constantly reminding their people of the deeper purpose behind the work they do.  

One of the most prominent mistakes managers make is believing it’s not their job to connect their team to a deeper purpose. Don’t fall into this flawed thinking. Embrace the responsibility that you are the connector of cause.  

On a recent episode of the Follow My Lead Podcast, Rodney Showmar, the CEO of Arkansas Federal Credit Union, said, “Engaged professionals don’t get up every day to do a function; they get up every day to fulfill a purpose.” Showmar and his team do a phenomenal job connecting every single one of their 350+ employees to “making a difference in people’s lives.”

A deeper purpose like Showmar articulates has been instrumental in achieving higher levels of success for his organization. Do not go another minute without being clear on why your team is doing what it’s doing. It’s easy for people to get lost in the monotony of their everyday work without considering how their work impacts the larger organization and customers. 

If you’re unsure how to communicate this to your team, start by answering these three complicated yet straightforward questions:

  1. What do you do? 
  2. Why do you do it? (Hint: it’s got to be more than making money)
  3. What positive impact does our work have on others?

It’s easy to skim past these questions, but I’m challenging you to pause. Reread them and ask yourself if each member of your team could answer it with clarity. If the answer is no, you have some work to do.

Closing

Disengaged employees aren’t bad employees. Before judging them, use your empathy skills and recognize disengagement can happen to any of us. Then look in the mirror and ask yourself, “What can I do to get them emotionally committed to the success of the team?” There is a good chance the answer to that question has nothing to do with money but instead reconnecting them to the purpose behind their work.

Coaching for Excellence: The development of your coaching skills will make a tremendous difference in helping you lead your best in 2021. Join me for the next Coaching for Excellence Workshop. Sign up and get “8 Questions to Leverage to Be a Better Coach” for free today! https://bit.ly/3goZLv2

About the Author: John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a leadership development company helping executives and managers to lead their best. He was named one of LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Management & Workplace. John is also the author of Building the Best: 8 Proven Leadership Principles to Elevate Others to Success. You can follow him on Instagram @johngeades.

How to Lead a High Performing Team

Innovation and creative idea concept

Traditionally, people were promoted into leadership positions because they were viewed as a top individual contributor, a type-A extrovert, and/or a supremely confident professional. This results from what’s called a “promote to retain” strategy implemented by many organizations. 

While retaining top talent is vitally important, it’s also critical for organizations to promote people into positions of leadership that can drive performance and make a positive impact on the people they get the opportunity to lead.

There is one predictor of leaders like this regardless if they were a top individual contributor or not, and it’s not where organizations have previously focused. Leaders who have a servant’s heart sustain positive business results and achieve high employee engagement scores.  

After studying so many leaders with a servant’s heart in all different industries, roles, and backgrounds, it turns out they are doing many things right to have a high performing team. It’s what I refer to as “The Great 8 to Lead Your Best.” These are a list of things which by themselves are important, but they tend to compound and build upon each other. Here they are with a brief description of each to help you leverage them with your team as well.

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Leadership Methodology

Over the last 30 years, methodologies have skyrocketed in popularity because they provide a backbone and structure to do any difficult job. From sales to research to project management and now leadership.  

Many of the best modern leaders we have studied either knowingly or unknowingly use a servant leadership methodology and use high levels of love and discipline in the way they lead. Robert Greenleaf said it well, “Servant leadership always empathizes, always accepts the person, but sometimes refuses to accept some of the person’s effort or performance as good enough.”

Relationships

The key to leadership is relationships because, without strong relationships, you can’t lead. High performing teams have bonds of mutual trust and respect. Where most leaders struggle is in understanding their responsibility to earn those two things. Long gone are the days of a title commanding respect. In today’s workplaces, a title should only be a reminder of your responsibility to your people.

While this seems obvious, many leaders skip relationship building and jump right into accountability to drive performance. This is a massive mistake because 

Rules without relationships lead to rebellion. 

Instead of assuming the relationships with your team members are strong, make time with each team member to ask this powerful question: “How are you and your family coping during the pandemic?”

Communication

Effective communication is at the heart of effective leadership. James Humes famously said, “The art of communication is the language of leadership.” Leaders of high-performing teams not only leverage the proper amount of communication but also are clear, concise, and conclusive. 

Effective leaders are great communicators.

The best modern leaders are constantly looking to improve how they communicate by evaluating their verbal, written, and body language.  

Shared Purpose

People in organizations don’t get burned out because of their work; they get burned out because they forget WHY they do the work they do. Because of this, leaders of high-performing teams are constantly reminding their teams of the deeper purpose behind the work they do.  

One of the biggest mistakes managers make is believing it’s not their job to connect their team to a deeper purpose. Don’t fall into poor thinking. Embrace the responsibility that you are the connector of cause.  

Standards

For teams to keep getting better, leaders must raise the bar of what’s expected. The reason is that team members’ behaviors and habits are always going to default to the bar set. The best modern leaders embrace this by relying on standards. 

A standard is defined as “what good looks like.” If you want to leverage standards, don’t define what good looks like, but to go beyond that and define what great looks like.

Be crystal clear, concise, and focused. Limit yourself to as few standards as possible so they can be remembered and applied.

Execution

The teams that execute their strategy and plans to near perfection will always achieve more than teams who do not. George Patton famously said, “A good plan, violently executed now, is better than a perfect plan tomorrow.” As right as Patton is, it’s the leaders on a team who are responsible for removing barriers and putting people in the right positions to execute to the best of their abilities.  

Accountability 

Accountability is one of these words that has been hijacked. I define it in Building the Best as; the obligation of an individual or organization to account for its activities, accept responsibility for them and disclose the results in a transparent manner. 

It is the obligation of leaders to account for their actions and the actions of their people.  

Leaders are obligated to care for all their people equally and to serve their hearts, not their talents. 

 If you want to model how the best modern leaders leverage accountability, get comfortable with having difficult dialogues, which I wrote about here.

Coaching

One way a leader separates themselves from being a manager in today’s modern business environment is by coaching their people. A coach, by definition, is one who trains and instructs. The late great John Whitmore took the formal definition even further, saying:

“Coaching is unlocking people’s potential and helping them learn rather than teaching them.”

Leaders who coach have never been more critical than they are today. A strong, dedicated leader plays an integral role in elevating people to new heights, exactly how John Whitmore envisioned it.  

Closing

Every leader began somewhere. Regardless of whether you were promoted to a leadership position because of a “promote and retain strategy” or for some other reason, now is the time to embrace responsibility and develop servant’s heart. Once these are in place, work hard to understand, master, and apply “The Great 8 to Lead Your Best” on an ongoing basis.

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About the Author: John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a leadership development company helping executives and managers to lead their best. He was named one of LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Management & Workplace. John is also the author of Building the Best: 8 Proven Leadership Principles to Elevate Others to Success. You can follow him on Instagram @johngeades.