Thursday, March 10, 2016

Engaging your Team: The Science of Inspiring Others to Give their All

Guest post from Suzanne Bates:

When I started my first career in television news so many years ago, the term “employee engagement” had been invented.  But it was irrelevant to me. I was jazzed about going to work every day.  Nobody had to give me a speech about going above and beyond.  I worked hard, stayed late, and gave my all, because I was on a mission to excel in my career and do something that mattered.  I’m willing to bet you felt the same way about your first job.

Along the way on that career path, most of us run into mediocre bosses and learn to work around them.  We all get it—a bad boss can be demotivating.  When we become the boss, we have a pretty fresh perspective on what people want from us.  We wanted it from our bosses—to know they care about our careers, are going to give us chances to succeed, value our opinions, and make us feel like our work matters and is connected to a greater good.
Why isn’t it easier to be that person?
I’ll tell you what—it wasn’t until I started a company and became the CEO that I realized the problem.  It isn’t lack of good intention.  As my company grew, I really didn’t always know how people saw me.  I wanted to do the right things but didn’t appreciate how my words and actions were getting translated at times.
Now, putting on my hat as a coach to other leaders, what our team decided to do is solve for this.  We committed to a research project to help us understand the science of executive presence.  Working with senior leaders around the world, we knew that they had the same problem—perceptions didn’t always match their intentions.   

The project we undertook was successful in that we were able to take a deep, broad look at research to identify the qualities of a leader that engage, align, inspire, and move people to act.  We call this executive presence, and it’s about influence and impact.  There has never been science around this, or a way to measure it, until now.  It was called an “X factor”– people said they know it when they saw it, but they always seemed to struggle to capture what “it” is.

Trough piloting the model and assessment in many global companies, we were able to show how  the qualities of executive presence track with employee engagement.  Our clients around the world are talking about this more and more.  It’s a pressing issue. 

Let’s face it. We’re all choking on published reports on employee engagement.  Gallup reports only 35% of managers are engaged in their jobs.  A Towers Watson finds that only 55% of employees agree that their top management provides effective leadership.  Dale Carnegie Training’s employee engagement study estimates 80% of employees who are dissatisfied by their managers are disengaged.           

Message received.  We’re smart people, leaders.  We can figure this out.

The first thing we need to do is stop surveying and start supporting managers.  Give managers a plan to do something.  We all know that this isn’t just about being “nicer.”  There are 15 qualities of leadership that are directly connected to engaging and inspiring others.

A solution to the employee engagement isn’t just nice to have.  Surveys discourage managers.  The reports land like a thud on their desks, and they don’t know what to do about it.  If you get dinged with a bad score, you feel disappointed… and vulnerable.  You want to do something—you just aren’t sure what.  

The solution is to provide each manager with his or her own roadmap, because there’s probably a slightly different issue for every manager.  Employee engagement isn’t a paint-by-numbers solution handed down from Human Resources.  Each leader needs to learn how to engage his or her team in an authentic way.

What we have learned is that by providing leaders with specific, measurable data on their strengths and opportunities to develop, they can and do improve.  The data, in the hands of a good coach and mentor, helps them create an actionable path forward.  We suggest they focus on just a couple of key areas.   

There are 15 qualities we know matter to engaging people and driving organizational performance. They fall into three categories, Character, Substance and Style:

            The Character qualities are fundamental—without these a leader cannot build trust with others.  People want to work for an ethical leader who follows through on promises (Integrity), one they feel they know and connect to (Authenticity), who cares about their career (Concern), makes room for their ideas (Humility), and is calm in a reassuring way (Restraint).

The Substance qualities earn us credibility with the people who work for us.  We do this by providing an inspiring picture of the future (Vision), understanding their thoughts and motivations (Resonance), being cool in a crisis (Composure), owning outcomes and making tough calls (Confidence), and helping everybody focus on what’s important (Practical Wisdom). 

Style matters, because it’s how we get others to get things done.  It’s the energy and vitality we bring into the room (Appearance), the way we get people organized and make clear what needs to happen next (Intentionality), get everybody’s voices heard (Inclusiveness), create a good quality and quantity of two-way communication (Interactivity), and have the tact to get sticky issues on the table and make them discussable (Assertiveness).

Nobody has every one of these 15 qualities in spades.  We all can improve.  We can leverage our strengths and get better in the gap areas.  It’s all about having the information and asking for help from trusted advisors that enables us to make progress.

The hopeful message is that it isn’t hard to do something meaningful.  All of these qualities can be improved.  Simple changes can make a big difference.  This is not an intractable problem.  Every leader can contribute to creating a culture where people are ready to go above and beyond.

Author bio:

Suzanne Bates is CEO of Bates, a leadership communications consulting firm with global clients.  Suzanne is an advisor to top CEOs, and speaks around the world.  She’s the author of five books including her latest, All the Leader You Can Be: The Science of Achieving Extraordinary Executive Presence (McGraw-Hill, March 2016).  To take a complimentary, pre-assessment survey, please go to

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