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Engagement Stems from Attentive Leadership

We want to pick up on a topic we started to get into in our blog earlier this month. We were weighing up the extent to which LinkedIn is a useful resource for the jobs people have as opposed to a networking tool for the jobs people think they might want in the future. It follows that this raised the important issue of how engaged people are, on a day to day basis, by the work they do. In business schools and management courses around the world, this is a topic of some serious discussion. And not only is engagement a big issue, it’s also big business: according to a report by Deloitte, companies spend upwards of three quarters of a billion dollars trying to monitor, measure and improve it every year.

But to do that, you first need to understand what engagement means. On one hand, it means caring about the work you do and recognizing that it is either a) important in and of itself and b) that your work contributes to overall organizational performance in a small but essentially valuable way. It also means feeling inspired, absorbed, dedicated to the role you fulfil and more broadly the core business or principles or commercial activities of the institution you work for. It’s hard not to feel, however, that while this might be achievable in higher-level employees – people who have chosen their career paths and landed jobs which play to their strengths – it’s asking a lot for, say, unskilled workers or very junior appointments.

In fact, you could argue that the whole concept of engagement is fundamentally connected to much bigger philosophical questions about, say, happiness and meaning and self-actualization (to use a phrase from the famous ‘hierarchy of needs’ by Abraham Maslow). But the important thing is how you bring it down to a day-to-day level. What is an engaged employee? Can you test or screen for it? Can you teach it? Can you mandate it?

The only reasonable answer is that, just as it is for execs you cannot simply divide people into those who are inspired by their work and those who aren’t. We have good days, weeks, months and years. And no matter who you are or what you do, you have periods where you seriously consider other options – opening a B & B or becoming a math teacher or whatever.

We think that engagement thrives where CEOs and other internal leaders pay careful attention to the people who work for them. If you treat them as replaceable, they will in all likelihood need replacing (although, naturally, some of them want replacing). Giving people the time of day, if you are their superior, is incredibly important – it’s easy to forget that people look up to you, can be intimidated by you, but ultimately can profit in very meaningful ways – can be inspired – by a little bit of interest, from you, in them.

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