Monday, 25 September 2017

Rules of Engagement

Rules of Engagement

The popular TV show ‘Rules of Engagement’ had at the heart of its storyline; commitment; commitment between a married couple, a newly engaged couple and two single friends. I am quite familiar with the show as my husband often likes to quote Jeff Bingham, usually when he believes I am in the wrong! Although the humorous anecdotes do take the sting out of an argument situation, the bigger lesson to be learned is the commitment the characters have to make relationships work despite the challenges of everyday life.

This commitment otherwise referred to as engagement is a hot topic in organisational leadership today. Read any article on modern-day organisational challenges and statistics surrounding millennial engagement and retention will surely be mentioned. This got me thinking, what do we really mean when we speak of engagement and why does it matter. The writers of the show mentioned above, linked engagement with commitment, so how as leaders do we find this commitment?

For investigation purposes, I further define engagement as connection. The author and researcher Brene Brown in her book ‘The Gifts of Imperfection’ provides a more in-depth definition of connection;
‘the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgement; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship’.
How great is this definition! We simply need to ‘feel seen, heard and valued. Brown says we are wired for connection, it is in our biology. This connection is food for our soul, Brown refers to it as sustenance. It might be a simple definition of connection = engagement but not a simple task. It is not a one size fits all. For example, in my research into introverted styles of work I can see how differently we all approach leadership, communication and relationships depending on where we lie on the introvert-extrovert line.

The term employee experience is often used to replace engagement and I like it because it seems to acknowledge the uniqueness of each of our expectations of work and provides a broader term on which to explore connection, commitment and engagement. It would seem any strategy on employee experience needs to be agile and open. It needs to come from employees themselves and leaders need to continually reflect and ask for feedback from employees.

Many companies do a really great job on a large scale of engaging employees, from providing amazing workspaces, community involvement projects, social events, bonus schemes, mentor programmes, leadership development, learning opportunities and so on. But what if you are a small or medium sized business without a large dedicated budget to engagement? It can be done, invite your employees for tea and a chat or provide opportunities for employee participation and feedback. Remember, your introverted employees may prefer participation through paper and pen or e-mail rather than verbal. Support employees’ participation in community involvement on projects dear to them. Consider work-life balance compromises. Provide positive employee experiences by reflecting on styles of leadership and communication. Building connection doesn’t have to take a big budget but it does need a strategy and processes in place to ensure success.
If you are looking for support in this area send me a message, I am passionate about supporting organisations to create great places to work.

As ‘Rules of Engagement’ shows us engagement or experience starts on the ground, it is the commitment to make relationships work despite the everyday challenges, get that right and you’ll build a strong workforce with a great connection. 

Monday, 11 September 2017

The Leader in Me

The Leader in Me
It was the Summer of 1984. As CEO of my own airline, I was in my element organising staff and giving directions. My mother, on the other hand cringed as she watched out the kitchen window. I was only 8 years old bossing the neighbourhood kids around.

Leadership and management have always been my passion. My desire to be in charge as an 8 year old, would guide my career towards a Degree in Management and later a Masters in Communications. I followed that goal until I reached the working world and began to consider that I might not “have what it takes”. I wasn’t comfortable speaking up at staff meetings, I didn’t interrupt to get my opinion heard, I found it difficult to challenge management, colleagues, and even my own employees. I let others more vocal than myself tell me what to do and say. I was sensitive, took things personally and questioned my decisions. I found conflict very upsetting. I was an overthinker and it caused me stress.
I retreated from the working world, grateful for an opportunity to be a stay at home mother where I could manage my own schedule, have time away from the noise of corporate life and pursue another passion, raising my children. I later decided to open up my own business unaware that this would prove to be my most challenging experience yet. A business owner with employees who are motivated and passionate about their job will be continually challenged to stand behind decisions, to effectively communicate the vision for the business, to manage conflict and build a culture strong enough to create a sustainable business. I was naïve as I began that journey. However, I am grateful, as it pushed me to the limit, pushed me to find out how I could be the leader I wanted and knew I could be, pushed me to find my voice.

I found that voice when I began to understand that I was an introvert. I knew I was the quiet student in school, shy in large social gatherings, preferred in depth conversations rather than social chat, and was more comfortable in small groups. But what I didn’t know was that it was okay to be all those things, the enlightened moment being when I realised it wasn’t a failing, it was who I was. The most amazing revelation, I could still be an effective leader. I began to do what I do best, I connected on a personal level with employees, focused on building strong relationships. Leading a team doesn’t have to mean shouting louder, it means stopping, listening and understanding. I used my skills as a thinker to demonstrate I was an effective decision maker guided by not only analytical thinking but good intuition (introverts are good at going within). I managed stress by taking the time out for solitude when I needed it. I was good at sales because I could understand others, see their perspective and explain why we do our business not just what we do. Simon Sinek highlighted the importance of this in his book ‘Start with Why’. I was good at building relationships with customers because I connected on a personal level.

My most important lesson; to be true to myself. Now, I dedicate myself to supporting others in their own self-awareness journey and maximising their skill set to find their inner voice. Gandhi, one of the worlds’ most well-known introverted leaders said it best, ‘You must be the change you want to see in the world’.