Three Ways to Create a Culture of Engagement

Savvy business owners know that employee engagement has to start at the beginning of an entrepreneurial effort. It has to be a part of the culture created, communicated through the hiring process and cultivated in how employees are developed and how their engagement is encouraged.

Reesheda and Darrel Washington know this, which is why last week, after their brand new business closed its doors for the evening, L!VE Café and Creative Space was open for team development. I was privileged to facilitate the training and witness firsthand their intentionality about creating, not just a coffee café, but a transformational and inspirational space for “courageous, authentic and abundant L!VING” for their customers, the larger community and most importantly, their crew.

The L!VE crew was as engaged and open as I expected, so much so that the training spilled over the allotted time. Toward the end, one team member asked an unexpected question of the owners …”Why are you doing this [training]?

I found the question poignant because it implied so many more questions…
Why do you care so much about your employees?
Why is it important to know the individual and collective strengths of your team?
Why is the development of your staff so important?
Why were you working so hard to create a team?
Why are you submitting yourselves to training you could conduct?

Why…?

The question also implied the behavior was abnormal, which unfortunately, it is. Many companies claim customer service is a top priority. Many claim to care about their employees. Many claim to want more engaged employees but they don’t prove their claims with actual action.

The way Reesheda and Darrel answered these questions reflect so much about their desire to live their purpose using their God-given talents. It also indicated their understanding of how their employees’ engagement impacts their bottom line. Here’s what I heard:

Get to know and care about your people.
People know when you care about them. We have a sense from the oldest part of our brains about who is safe and who is not, who has our best interests at heart and who is looking out for himself/herself only. And we are less likely to be enthusiastic about the latter! So find something that you can celebrate and appreciate about each member of your team.

People won’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” ~ Either Teddy Roosevelt or John Maxwell!

Take care of the people and the people will take care of the mission.
This is one of those lessons I was first exposed to at my very first Air Force assignment. It made sense to me then because I wasn’t the one doing most of the work!

I saw the Washingtons demonstrate their understanding that, as the leaders, taking care of their people entails much more than providing the resources needed to get the job done in a relatively safe physical environment. They are actively providing their team opportunities to grow, providing recognition for a job well done, providing honest feedback when needed, and providing an opportunity to do something else when necessary! In other words, they are actively and deliberately developing their team.

Demonstrate your culture.
Teams tend to model behavior based on behavioral cues from the leader. And there is nothing like taking the time to participate in a training session to demonstrate the importance of individual and collective development to your team. In this instance, the fact that the Washingtons submitted themselves to training they could have conducted themselves, also powerfully demonstrated their dedication to their own continuous growth and improvement.

If you’re a leader who is not intentionally creating an environment that encourages your employees to care about the company, I have a question for you …why?

Renita Alexander, Leadership Unlocked

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Do This One Thing to Gain Your Leadership Equilibrium

Equilibrium: a state of intellectual or emotional balance

There are a lot of productivity experts offering systems to help you organize and act on anything that comes into your workspace. The best ones focus first on helping you find your purpose. Author Brian Tracy says “Once you know your purpose you can organize all of your activities around it.” Tweet this now!

Knowing your purpose is an important first step to gaining balance in your life, because if you align yourself with something that’s not what you’re supposed to be doing….

If you continue to say yes to things that are not aligned with your vision or values…

Or if you say no when you should to something that’s not in alignment with your purpose, but believe you probably should have done what you were asked me to do…

Then even if you apply some practical productivity tools, you’re still going to be out of balance and stressed out. Tweet this now!

Everything you do should be an expression of your purpose. If an activity doesn’t fit you shouldn’t be doing it. Knowing your purpose helps you laser focus your effort and energy on the things that matter… and ignoring or deferring the things that don’t.

Renita Alexander, Leadership Unlocked

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Serving Leader

All leaders are serving – either themselves or others.” ~ Global leadership guru and author Bill Hybels. Tweet

In his book, The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader, John Maxwell used the late General Norman Schwarzkopf Jr. as an example of servant hood. As a retired military officer, I love that one of my favorite authors, leadership guru Maxwell recognized this stellar officer as a servant leader.

For those of you too young to remember, the General led coalition forces during DESERT STORM, and was affectionately referred to as Stormin’ Norman. But I admit…I found the choice surprising given that even as military members are SERVING their country, many don’t see them as servant leaders.

They see the military as a top-down, orders-driven and rank-focused hierarchy. The reality is much more complex.

The primary motivation to join an all-volunteer organization that doesn’t pay very well, that asks its members to leave friends and families and put themselves in harms way, an organization that sometimes requires its members to make the ultimate sacrifice…the motivation to join that organization is usually, not always, but primarily, the desire to serve. The desire is to serve something other than self…something bigger than self.

What those members who desire to serve and commit to serving learn as they grow into leadership roles is that serving is demonstrated in the care and development of those they are privileged to lead.Tweet

“Take care of the people and the people will take care of the mission” is the phrase I learned as a young officer…which made sense considering I wasn’t the one doing most of the work.Tweet

So I focused on doing what only I could do… identifying and sometimes fighting for the resources my airmen needed to do their jobs safely and efficiently.

Not only do servant leaders provide the resources needed to get the job done, they work on actively developing the members who will fill their leadership shoes, driving retention and compelling loyalty.

And yes, in the military, there is time for following orders without question. What ensures an order WILL be followed is the demonstration by leaders at all levels that they care about each individual entrusted to their care, about their families, about what’s going on in their lives outside of work… who ensure the members of their team have the resources needed and the development opportunities required to do the task they’re committed to complete.

People make sacrifices for those leaders.

Are you serving yourself or others?

Renita Alexander, Leadership Unlocked

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How is Your Leadership Impacting Your Team?

I once had a boss try to embarrass me in a meeting. I had been on the job about a month and was still trying to learn my way around.

I don’t really remember what she said, but I do remember hearing the roar of blood rushing to my face. I was stunned and momentarily immobilized. I managed to finish what I was doing (I think) but my emotions had been hijacked, rendering me unable to fully function. When I confronted her later, her response was basically, “Yeah, and I did it on purpose….”

Her action and response had a really negative impact on my desire to continue working for her.

Emotional Intelligence guru Daniel Goleman writes in Primal Leadership that the fundamental task of the leader is to prime good feelings in those she is privileged to lead and “that occurs when the leader creates resonance – a reservoir of positivity that frees the best in people”.

The opposite of resonance is dissonance; a dissonant leader throws people off balance and negatively impacts their performance.

A dissonant leader creates employees who don’t want to be there. According to Jim Clifton, CEO of Gallup, disengaged describes about 70% of American employees and employee disengagement is costing the U.S. an estimated $450-$550 billion annually.

The great thing about being in the military is that you get to experience leadership changes frequently. Either you or your boss will eventually move to another location. So the occasional dissonant leader may make your life miserable for a time … that you know will pass. I decided early in my career to try and learn from the good AND not-so-good leaders.

This particular dissonant leader reinforced for me the truth of a tenet I learned as a young officer…

Take care of the people and the people will take care of the mission.Tweet

I understood it to mean I was to provide what was needed to the people I was privileged to lead so they could do their jobs. Providing what they needed wasn’t just ensuring they had the resources they required, a safe physical environment and recognition for a job well done. It also meant creating a culture where people felt safe to make mistakes and being honest when the mistake was mine.

Taking care of the people meant being open and transparent when, for example, a unit I was leading was being outsourced.

It meant not asking my subordinate commanders to drop what they were doing to attend an emergency meeting…that was not an actual emergency.

A leader who understands how to take care of her people is going to attract and retain employees who want the organization to be successful and are actively engaged in creating that success.

Do you know how your leadership is impacting your team?

Renita Alexander, Leadership Unlocked

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The ONE THING You Can do to be a Better Leader

“Leadership is a privilege afforded to you, the leader, by the people you are privileged to lead.” Renita Alexander. Tweet this now!Tweet

Have you ever had a leader go off in a meeting? If watching your leader loose control felt scary that’s because it probably triggered some immediate, primitive emotions in your emotional center, the limbic brain. Your heartbeat may have increased; you may have felt stressed or even experienced an immediate need to leave the meeting. And if the outburst and your negative reaction to it impacted you for the rest of the meeting or even longer, that’s not surprising either; once your emotions have been hijacked like this, it takes concerted effort to reign them back in.

How you respond or react to any emotional stimuli is, of course, your responsibility; an emotionally intelligent leader tries to avoid YOUR negative reaction by controlling how HE perceives and reacts to input.

Emotional Intelligence (EQ) guru Daniel Goleman writes in Primal Leadership that the fundamental task of the leader is to prime good feelings in those she is privileged to lead and “that occurs when the leader creates resonance – a reservoir of positivity that frees the best in people”.

“The fundamental task of the leader is to prime good feelings in those she is privileged to lead.” Daniel Goleman. Tweet this now!Tweet

The ability to consistently prime the pump of positivity requires EQ competencies like self-awareness and control. The opposite of resonance is dissonance; a dissonant leader throws people off balance and negatively impacts their performance.

I once worked with a visionary leader, which is considered to be the most effective leadership style. Unfortunately, in a crisis or when his triggers were activated, this leader often TURNED ON and then TUNED OUT others. That prevented him from being able to hear what people were saying at the very moment he MOST needed to listen. He lacked the ability to recognize his triggers or the self-control to respond instead of react in a crises and instead of priming good feelings, frequently created dissonance among his team. The resulting culture was one where other team members were reluctant to speak for fear of setting off an explosion. I personally left many a meeting discombobulated, disengaged and unable to do what I needed to.

Dissonant leaders can be effective in the short term but the toxicity they create usually negatively impacts the forward movement of the team as well as the bottom line. You can avoid negatively infecting your team by learning to lead yourself!

The ONE thing, the most important thing, and the hardest leadership challenge is leading yourself.

The hardest leadership challenge is leading yourself. Tweet this now!Tweet

That requires some understanding of you! What drives you bonkers? What do you believe about leadership? Who are some leaders that you admire? How did your immediate, intimate leadership models make you feel? You CAN become a better leader but it requires some self-development and maybe some outside, objective assistance.

Follow these steps to leading a better YOU!

Step 1: Study YOU!

Before you can become the leader you want to be, you have to know the leader you are. Self-awareness is the first step to leading yourself so spend some time understanding you…what makes you feel elated…what makes you want to stick a pencil in your eye? How do you like to receive information? What do you need to make decisions? Are you empathetic? When talking to others, are you listening to what they’re saying or just listening for a break in the conversation?

Be cognizant of your triggers, the words and actions that set you off but understand ultimately, your reaction is all about you! Do people who play the victim role make you crazy! And then make sure you’re not projecting your own experience; are others really being victims, or are you seeing victims because of your OWN victim experience.

Step 2: Study Leadership!

What makes a good leader? Many entrepreneurs focus on a business plan, attracting capital, hiring employees with no thought as to how they will LEAD their enterprise. Leadership is an art that comes easily to many people, however it can be learned and even natural leaders can fine-tune their skills to be even better.

Leadership can be learned and even natural leaders can fine-tune their skills to be even better. Tweet this now!Tweet

We can only be really good at something we have a talent for so find out what leadership characteristics come naturally to you and focus on developing those. And then try to minimize the possible negative impact of any weakness in key leadership characteristics like communication.

I was blessed to be a part of an organization with a unique tradition of experiential leadership development. None of the military branches have the luxury of hiring a “CEO” at any level from an external source, so the leadership training starts early and happens frequently. As I young officer, I was exposed to formal training, informal and formal mentoring from my superior officers and the special “polishing” that can only come from the senior non commissioned officers! I learned what worked for me, what fit my personality and I looked at each new assignment as an opportunity to reinvent myself as a leader, to take the good and not so good experiences I created or witnessed and apply them with a new team.

Step 3: Listen to Feedback!

Your mom and MAYBE one of your grandparents are the only two people who believe you’ve never made a mistake, EVER. Everyone else has some constructive criticism, an observation, and some feedback they’d like to share about something you’ve done or said. If you truly believe they have the best interests of the enterprise at heart then try to listen to what they’re saying without judgment.

Feedback was an informal, then formal part of the leadership development I experienced in the Air Force. Sometimes the feedback was hard to hear but it gave me a glimpse as to whether what I thought I was projecting was actually being perceived in the way I intended. I had to work on not being defensive and just listen to the lesson and then decide if and how to incorporate it into my leadership.

Leading yourself well is the first crucial step to leading an any enterprise!

So be intentional about how you’re leading by learning yourself and learning from others.

Something to think about:

Do you know how your leadership is affecting your team or your enterprise?

Renita Alexander, Leadership Unlocked

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