Employee Engagement –It’s Not About Them, It’s About You

Guest post by David O’Brien

Ray was quite frustrated with his team and their apparent lack of engagement. After listening for almost 15 minutes to a litany of problems caused by their carelessness and lack of follow through, I asked  what he wanted. He explained that he was inundated with multiple demands on his time, and he needed his team to be able to follow through independently.

Ray’s situation is not atypical from many of my coaching clients. He was focused on “them” – wanting to fix his team – without awareness of his own role in the equation. Ray needed to start by examining his own engagement as a leader.

The best way to increase employee engagement is to increase leadership engagement.

Here are 7 things you can do to increase employee engagement by increasing your leadership engagement.

    1. Assess your leadership. As a leader, you set the tone for your team. Everything you do or don’t do impacts employee engagement at some level.  How well do you model the behavior you want from your team? Do you demonstrate the critical leadership characteristics of openness, integrity, resilience, trust, and respect? What are the top five characteristics of your leadership style and their impact on your team?


    1. Show employees that you value them. Research shows that one of the chief influencers of motivation and engagement is feeling valued. You don’t need a complex program to show employees you value them. Connecting with people on a personal level and building relationships can take you much further. Schedule 20 to 30 minutes of Leadership By Walking Around time on your calendar every week to let your team know that you’re there for them and that you care about how they’re doing.


    1. Communicate clearly and frequently. Another key factor in engagement is providing information that enables them to do their job and information about what is happening in the organization, especially around change.  Keep them informed about what is happening, why it is happening and its impact on the team so they don’t have to depend on the rumor mill.


    1. Ensure performance expectations are clear. Develop specific measures by soliciting input from employees. Hold everyone accountable for team success. Aligning talent capacity with interest, needs and motivation allows each team member to understand their contribution to team and organizational success.


    1. Link each person’s role and contribution to the key goals of the department and organization. The more each employee understands how their efforts impact the greater good of the group, the more likely they are to find meaning in their work.


    1. Give timely and specific feedback. No one knowingly chooses to fail. People need feedback in order to improve their performance. Make sure your feedback helps and motivates them to improve.


  1. Involve employees. Hold a discussion with your team about their view of engagement and what they think are the key actions and behaviors that support success for the group and organization. Identify the top 3 shared motivation drivers of the group. Involving them helps build a common language, clarify purpose and increase their ownership.

David O’Brien, president of WorkChoice Solutions, is a highly respected executive coach, consultant, speaker and author. He works with a wide range of corporate and nonprofit clients to help bring about sustainable improvements in organizational productivity.

An in-demand keynote speaker on the topic of leadership excellence, David is author of the popular leadership book, The Navigator’s Handbook, 101 Leadership Lessons for Work & Life. You are invited to sign up for David’s quarterly newsletter The Leadership Compass and to connect with him on LinkedIn.


18 comments to Employee Engagement –It’s Not About Them, It’s About You

  • 8. Don’t be the leader, be a leader. Allow employees the freedom to step forward and take the lead when a situation calls upon them to do so. Don’t feel threatened. They don’t want your job, they want to make a difference. Don’t feel your losing control. You never had it, never will. Teach them good followership by modeling good followership.

  • David,

    Your thoughtful post serves as a concise reminder of the characteristics of an effective leader. We are born imitators, so we may as well model what we all want to see in the world!



  • 7 Easy steps to effective leadership – a succinct reminder to all leaders. Great post David.

  • Nice summary David. Wanting to fix a team is a powerful urge among many leaders. I use the line, ‘The more you insist…the more they resist.’ And, they’ll resist in unseeing ways that further undermine you. Better to build reciprocity by letting them find their own solutions and have them reward you by supporting your ideas.

  • Garrett Zimmer

    This is a fantastic blog on Leadership.
    I especially like point number 2. All too often managers forget that it’s the little people in the organization that allow a company to succeed or fail. For example:
    They are often the customer’s first point of contact. Show them they are valued and they will show your customer how valued they are in return.
    They are often the people who see firsthand and everyday the areas of inefficient operations. Showing them you value their input can illicit some amazing solutions, if not simply inspire them to improve their own efficiency.
    They are often the ones who’s lower wealth, position or apparent success can hinder their feelings of self worth. To help them value themselves will always add value to your organization in a variety of ways.
    Garrett Zimmer

  • Thu K On

    Fantastic post Dave! I always tell management that people don’t hate work but they do hate being told to work. All these points greatly emphasize inclusiveness to create a sustainable environment. I strongly believe that these are the exclamtion points of getting employees to care to shift away from the mentality of “what’s in it for me”. Being said, I do believe in natural accountability since your point #5 is a key indicator to how employees should behave. But, what seems to be self-explanatory as dictated by key point #3 is quite complex varies from culture to culture. Transparancy is the domino effect of key points 2, 4, and 5. This brings to the point of being an adaptive leader of maintaining authenticity to build trust and committment from your team and collegues. All these are quite common challenges that we must face as a member of an organization to sustain environmental changes.

    • Hello Thu – Thank you for the kind feedback and for sharing so many wonderful observations and reminders for each of us on the leadership path. To be sure, these are universal challenges faced by all leaders but as you know so well, they are valuable opportunities too.


  • Marco A. Arenas, Ph.D.

    Congratulatons David! A terrific reminder of the points to help members of a team realize that “self actualization” is the top place to be. Overt recognition by the team leader of imagination, dedication and commitment of team members, translates into pride in belonging and partaking in the growth of the organization. Excellent views!

    • Hello Marco – Thank you for the positive feedback and for sharing your wisdom. Indeed, wanting to belong and to be proud of the organization is an inherent desire shared by all employees regardless of level or function.


  • Bethany

    David, once again you inspire me!
    You remind me that I am a navigator in my own right. I lead our small 500-employee team in the area of leveraging data to inform effective practice. While it’s a humble role, I am inspired every day by the progress I can make as a single link in the chain to success.

    In your opening anecdote you so elegantly shared that the opposite of leadership is not followership, but negativity! It isn’t until we all don our ‘can-do’ hats of intrinsic leadership that the greater goal of progress is achievable.

    Thank you for your energizing blog – please keep writing.

    • Hello Bethany – I am thankful for your kind feedback and for the opportunity to inspire your deeply rooted leadership wisdom. A true gift for sure. While the “can-do” hat is heavy at times, the rewards are far reaching.

      Never stop Navigating,

  • And the first, and maybe easiest, thing to do to know where to focus on is start measuring employee engagement.

    • Hello Emile – Thank you for sharing your insight. I agree that assessing a team’s level of engagement is an important early step in the continuum. Not surprisingly, the success of which is driven by a well defined set of culture specific measures.


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