I define engagement in the workplace as the desire and capacity of employees to go the extra mile to help their organization succeed while finding meaning and significance in the work they do. There are no doubt bad bosses and toxic work environments that deplete you, just as there are great bosses who inspire you. But engagement is ultimately about energy, not bosses. Our level of engagement is impacted by our level of physical energy, emotional connection, mental strength, and spiritual alignment to a purpose beyond immediate self-interest. Bosses and your relationship to them are just one form of energy. There are dozens of others. If you are committed to being engaged, be aware of your energy and how your perceptions, choices, and environment impact your vitality.
Physical Energy: What you eat for breakfast or lunch affects your energy, as does the amount of sugar you consume, the amount of exercise you get, and the quantity and quality of your rest and sleep. Because energy capacity diminishes with both overuse and underuse, it is important to balance energy outflow with a consistent habit of energy renewal. Energy is not limitless. And physical energy fuels engagement. What are you doing to renew your vital reserve?
Emotional Connection: We all know that the quality of our connections impacts our energy. Be mindful of the people in your life that drain you and those that inspire and sustain you. Be aware of how your perceptions and choices impact these connections. Who you choose to be around, just as how you choose to be around them will affect your energy. Making room for activities that bring you joy, just as making time for people who bring you joy, will increase your energy.
Mental Strength: A pessimistic outlook on life drains vital energy, while optimism is a life giver. It’s good habit to learn to be optimistic. I had to train myself to wake up grateful and positive. Learning to be disciplined, to do the difficult tasks first, to tell the truth, to keep a promise, or to stick to a challenging undertaking when it is easier to give up, are all habits that renew essential energy. Like eating sweets, blaming others might give you a temporary high, but it will drain you of energy in the long run. Personal responsibility, on the other hand, is energy producing. How you approach life will affect your energy.
Spiritual Alignment: Discovering and living in accord with your deepest values, aligning with a sense of purpose, pinpointing your passions, or making a contribution, are all energy enhancing pursuits that enable engagement. A life that is purpose driven is an engaged life. Expanding spiritual capacity requires subordinating our own needs to something beyond self-interest. Those who have found a reason for coming to work – beyond merely completing a task or carrying out a chore or getting a paycheck – are the ones who truly enjoy their work and being alive. Finding spiritual alignment fills you up.
While bosses and your relationship to them no doubt impacts energy, the more we take accountability for the energy we bring to the world, the more empowered, productive, and fulfilled we become. Blaming your boss for your lack of energy can be just as much of an energy drainer as having the bad boss to begin with. Maybe it’s time to rethink employee engagement: what if it isn’t about the boss?
According to the Greek storyteller Aesop, a little mouse ran up and down a sleeping lion who awoke, grabbed the poor helpless rodent and opened his big jaws to swallow him.
“Pardon, O King,” cried the little mouse, “Please forgive me. I promise never to climb on you again. And if you let me go, who knows what I may be able to do for you some day.”
The lion was so intrigued by the idea of a mouse being able to help him that he lifted up his paw and let the critter go. Some time later, the lion was caught in a trap, and the hunters tied him to a tree while they went in search of a wagon to transport him to the king. Just then the little Mouse happened to pass by, and seeing the lion’s sad plight, quickly jumped at the opportunity to help him. He gnawed away the ropes, setting the lion free.
We live in a society that values big. Big profits. Big paycheques. Big companies. Big titles. Big fame. Big offices. In this world of big it’s easy to get the crazy idea that you aren’t valuable if you are small, or perceive yourself to be small. But Aesop’s little tale of the lion and the mouse teaches a wise lesson. The tiny mouse is every bit as valuable as the lion. According to Aesop, importance is not based on size, but rather on the value you bring to others. It’s a simple matter of changing the context. The person who brings the most value is the most valuable.
One of my clients is a manager of employees who run the fitness centers, indoor tracks, pools, courts, and arenas at a university. They drive the Zambonis, keep the pools clean and look after students when they come to work out or play in the facilities. And, in an institution where the academic mandate is the highest priority, these employees don’t feel valued.
Who’s to say that those who provide for the health of a student and the health of the community in which that student lives are any less valuable than the professors who hand out the grades and grant the degrees? Without a healthy, well-rounded student, the degree doesn’t mean much. And without a great student experience, they are going to find other universities. Everyone is unique, and everyone has value. Everyone makes a contribution. And each person’s unique contribution is vitally important.
Value isn’t measured by the size of your office, the size of your paycheque, or the size of your business. Value is measured by your contribution to others. How do you make people around you feel valued? Here are five simple strategies.
- Believe in yourself.In order to believe in others, you have to believe in yourself. Henry Ford once said, “Whether you believe you can or you believe you can’t, you are right.” Everyone is talented, unique, and has something to offer. If you don’t believe that applies to you, then start hanging around people that do believe it and soon it will start sinking in.
- Get moving. Don’t wait to be appreciated or valued. My dad used to tell me that waiting is not a very good strategy. Instead of waiting, bring to others whatever you expect from others. Instead of waiting to be seen as being valuable, bring more value, every day, to the people in your life. If you want to be appreciated, get so busy appreciating others that you don’t have time to feel sorry for yourself.
- Stop to recognize beauty. Don’t take people for granted – especially your best people. We’re all busy. Like beauty, you don’t see the value others bring when you’re in a hurry. Slow down. The best way to recognize value is to stop and listen to what people have to say. Listen for their opinions. Listen for their input. Listen for their wisdom. Stop every so often to recognize the beauty and the value in the people around you. Express appreciation. You never know when you may be in need of their unique talents.
- Create space. Just as you have to recognize the value of others, you also have to pay attention to people or projects that aren’t adding value to your life or your business. When people or projects are sucking the energy out of you or your organization, it might be time to let go and move on.
- Choose quality over quantity. Don’t strive to be the biggest. Instead, strive to be the best. Don’t confuse the concept of doing big things with doing greatthings. It’s not about making the news; it’s about making a difference. Bigger is not the objective. Bigger is a side effect when you are committed to bring value instead of size to whatever you do.
When it comes to bringing value to others, the little things are the big things.
“Only when we learn to be humble about ourselves, can we begin to respect others.” – Lindsay Leigh Kimmett
A sign of great leadership is the ability to transform the inevitable losses of the human experience into something beyond the loss. While certainly not seeking pain, a person of character does find a special attractiveness in difficulty, since it is only by coming to grips with difficulty that they can realize their potential. Below is a story of courage and compassion, along with strategies to turn grief into creative endeavors that serve the greater good
Lindsay Leigh Kimmett was an athlete, a leader, and a medical student with enormous potential to do great things in the world. But her life ended when, as a seat-belted passenger, she was tragically killed in a single car rollover in 2008. Lindsay’s parents were consumed with unimaginable sorrow at her untimely passing, “but in an attempt to move forward positively,” they were determined to carry on her legacy. Lindsay’s family and friends created the Lindsay Leigh Kimmett Memorial Foundation in honor of her memory. To date, more than a million dollars has been invested into our community in Lindsay’s name through an array of initiatives, including Valedictorian Scholarships at all the three Cochrane high schools, the Dr. Lindsay Leigh Kimmett Prize in Emergency Medicine at the University of Calgary Medical School, and Lindsay’s Kids Minor Hockey & Ringette Sponsorships. Since her death, Lindsay’s family has also been very active in supporting Alberta’s distracted driving legislation and asks all to drive responsibly without distractions.
Great leaders have the willingness and capacity to turn sorrow and hardship into a gift that benefits others. Those who experience grief and have the courage to work with it and work through it, emerge a better person, enabling leadership qualities like perspective, patience, clarity, and empathy. Through learning to grieve in a healthy way, you open yourself to the capacity required to live in harmony and balance with one another and the earth.
Here are six ways to transform loss into a gift that benefits others:
- Make room to grieve. Let life touch you. Stop and allow grief to surface when it is present. Go to funerals. Allow yourself to cry. If you can, be with your pet when they die. Spend time with a dying relative or friend. Community can be built in tragedy. Don’t be afraid to grieve and share your grief with people you care about and who care about you. Allowing yourself to grieve enables you to accept loss as a part of the good life. Grieving is a lonely journey and should not be traveled alone. You may never “get over it,” but you can work through it – by acknowledging honestly what is happening inside you, and allowing your heart to open, both with yourself and with others.
- Accept what is. “Impermanence,” writes the poet Jennifer Welwood, “is life’s only promise to us, and she keeps it with ruthless impeccability.” Maturity means having the courage to face life as it is. Life, at some level, is a series of problems to solve. Do we want to spend our life moaning and whimpering about this, or spend our days living in the solution? At some point in our lives we have to be willing to grow up and realize that yes, life hurts. It’s hard. It’s all part of the human experience. The sooner we can accept that life is difficult, the sooner life becomes a little less difficult. Life happens. Pain is a part of our existence. At some point we have to build a bridge and get over it.
- Let go of the anger. Anger is often born out of suffering, especially when someone or something has caused your loss. While it is part of the process of grief, unacknowledged anger or anger that festers inside, turns into the bitter poison of resentment. The antidote to anger? Name it. Claim it. Take responsibility for your reactions. Then have the courage to let it go. An indication of strong character is the courage to bear an injustice without a motive of revenge.
- Be willing to not know. Sometimes the best you can do is accept what is. Although it is human nature to seek control through answers, sometimes the answers simply aren’t there. Often you have to delete your need to understand. A sign of maturity is the courage to accept the vast and inevitable unknown of the human experience, and the willingness to let go of the need for complete comprehension.
- Let grief be your teacher. In the arduous journey of grief, if you pause every so often to open your heart and look within yourself, you will discover that the grief is guiding you to be a better person. While you may not be able to find your gifts in the immediacy of tragedy, keep an open mind to what life’s adversities can eventually teach you. Loss and subsequent grieving can foster, among other things, the ability to be compassionate, to connect more meaningfully with others, and to gain perspective and clarity about what matters most.
- Turn sorrow into service. In an effort to move forward constructively, find ways for your loss to fill a need in the world. While establishing a foundation was the Kimmitt’s way to transform grief into positive action, there are many ways you can make the world better through your loss. Being open to what grieving can teach you will amplify your ability to impact others through a stronger leadership presence.
I have deep admiration for what the Kimmett family has done for our community and more in light of their tragic loss. Their willingness to turn sorrow into service is authentic leadership in action. May their story inspire you to embrace the inevitable and at times seemingly unjust and often unanswerable tragedies of life as you stumble forward – with courage, conviction, and compassion – on the journey to being a better person and a better leader.
The other day a flight attendant asked me if I was connecting. This is a good question to ask yourself every so often. “Are you connecting?”
Life depends on connections, and the quality of your life depends on the quality of your connections. Every system depends on connections. Circulatory systems, nervous systems, organizational systems, ecosystems, family systems. Connection is to relationship what breathing is to life. If you can’t make a connection, not much else matters.
While we all, at some level, understand the importance of connection in our lives, what exactly does it mean to be connected? Like beauty, it’s hard to describe, but you know when it’s there. There’s a difference between communicating and being connected. “Everyone communicates,” writes the leadership guru John Maxwell, “but very few people connect.” Today, with all of the high-tech tools such as email, text messaging, Linkedin, Facebook, and Twitter, we are certainly in better contact with each other, but are we better connected? High tech requires an equal high touch. With all this capacity to be in contact are we actually making contact? In this high tech, so-called “connected” world, do we feel more loved; more supported; or more at peace with others and ourselves? Do we live with a stronger sense of community? You can’t fully connect without looking a person in the eyes, hearing their voice, reaching their hearts, and knowing them as unique people with needs, values, and dreams. Technology is a great tool to stay connected; it’s not such a good tool to get connected.
Connections have a life of their own. You can actually stifle connections like you can a living organism, or you can breathe life into them.
Here are some conditions for connections to flourish:
- Focus: Identify the ‘significant seven’ stakeholders in your personal and professional life. A stakeholder is a person who depends on you or upon whom you depend. You will have a list of ‘significant seven’ in both your personal and your professional life. Take an honest inventory of how connected you are with these people and how much personal investment is needed at this time. Don’t confuse peripheral relationships with significant relationships. Think about who will be with you at your deathbed.
- Understanding: Your goal in connecting is understanding, not necessarily agreement. Connection isn’t the same as agreement. You can agree without connecting, just as you can connect without agreement. What are you doing to really listen to the people in your life? Empathy is a critically important aspect in connecting. To see a quick review of empathy take a few moments to look at a three minute video with the words of Brené Brown: www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Evwgu369Jw
- Accountability: Take accountability for your own emotions, reactions, and needs – in all your relationships. See all blame as a waste of time. Ownership breeds openness. Take a careful inventory of yourself: Are you a person who can be counted on? Do people experience you as accountable? Do you take 100% responsibility for your life? Have you stopped hiding behind such statements as, “They need to listen better”? No, they don’t have to listen better; you need to communicate better. Nobody but you cares about the reason you let someone down.
- Disconnect: You have to disconnect to connect. Turn off your devices at times during the day. Leave your cell phone in a drawer when you are with the important people in your life. Disconnect to connect. Create time and space to be together without interruptions. I find it interesting that in our society, the value of pets – who cannot use technology yet are completely present -is increasing along with the value we place on technology.
- Rituals: Regularly scheduled dates, breakfasts, teas, and uninterrupted, unstructured time to hang out and just be with the important people in your life all allow connections to grow. Don’t worry about making it “quality” time. Sometimes it’s quality; sometimes it isn’t. Just be sure it is time. Connection is a four-letter word: t-i-m-e. If you want to know how your connections are, look at what is scheduled in your planner.
- Be Vulnerable: Develop a habit of sharing your challenges, your fears, your dreams, or your insecurities with the important people in your life. Connections strengthen with vulnerability by sharing what is going on in your life. Conversations are the path to connection. But remember, connection doesn’t have to be big or dramatic. It simply has to be consistent and honest.
- Presence: Listen carefully as you feel with people. What are their dreams? What matters to them? Don’t just deal with people. Feel with people. Before you can touch a person’s heart, you have to know what’s in it. The best present you can ever give another person is to be present in the present.
- Slow down: Slow down in order to focus on the people you meet. Practice walking through crowds slowly. Whether clients, customers, or colleagues, take a few minutes to stop and listen. Everyone has needs, values, and dreams, and people generally like to talk about themselves. Focus on being interested rather than being interesting. I learned from my daughter who taking a course in agriculture that the most valuable tool on a farm is a five-gallon pail. Turn it upside down, sit on it, and observe the animals.
- Tune in. Listen for messages that people send without talking. Words aren’t the only way to connect. We communicate with our eyes, our body language, our unspoken messages. Practice tuning in by spending time in nature or with animals. Once again, you have to slow down to tune in.
- Authenticity: Make time to reflect and connect with the voice inside of you. You can’t connect fully unless you have a good sense of self-worth that comes from being true to yourself – in the service of others. As you live in accord with your values, your self-respect grows, and connections with others strengthens. Connection with others begins with a connection to yourself.
A first-grade teacher recently told me of a sad trend among her students. At the end of the day, she stands in the playground waving good-bye as her kids climb into the backseats of their parents’ cars. As they excitedly scramble into the car seats she witnesses their enthusiasm as they can’t stop talking about their day. The parents, however, are becoming increasing non-responsive. Instead, they are looking, not back towards their child but down, absorbed in their electronic devices.
When I heard this story I was imagining what the relationship between these children and their parents would be in a few years when the parents want their teenager’s attention.
The distraction of these parents is a symptom of how we have allowed technology to capture our attention and disrupt our connections. Daniel Goleman in his book, Focus, tells us that in 2006 the word pizzled entered our lexicon: a combination of puzzled and pissed, it captured the feeling people had when the person they were with whipped out a BlackBerry and started talking to someone else. Back then people felt hurt and indignant in such moments. Today it is the norm.
The onslaught of incoming data leads to an inability to focus on a simple task like reading or attending to people before we get an urge to go online to check our email or texts. The volume of the messages leaves us too little time simply to reflect on what the messages even mean.
This inability to attend was foreseen in 1977 by the Nobel-winning economist Herbert Simon. Writing about the coming information-rich world, he warned that information consumes “the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.”
Learning to make contact with people in an attention impoverished world works like strengthening a muscle. If the skill isn’t developed it can wither; exercise it and it grows. Here are three ways to develop your capacity to attend to what matters – a vital leadership and relationship skill in our complex, demanding world.
1) Turn off technology. I know people who, after reading two pages or talking with someone for two minutes, become anxious or have a craving to check email or incoming texts. It’s addictive. Schedule times to check your email, and turn off the message alert in between. Make a pact with people at work that you will be present during certain times in the day or the week – without technology interruptions. Remind those who depend on you that the world won’t stop if you take a few hours before responding to an email. When you get home from work, practice leaving your phone in a drawer while you are present for the people you care most about.
2) Practice a little dose of empathy every day. Empathy is the ability to “feel with” another person, to convey understanding from another’s frame of reference. Empathy isn’t about trying to “fix” somebody or rescue anyone from their unhappiness, but means putting yourself in their place, and attending to them with caring presence. Every day presents opportunities to express empathy and connect with someone on an emotional level, even for a few moments. You can even do this at a bus stop when you recognize that the person standing next to you is cold, or pay some attention to a colleague down the hall who is nervous about the possibility of being laid off. This is how you cultivate trust, give others a sense of belonging, and make room for human contact. Devices will never be able to convey empathy.
3) Get on the bench. I heard once that when Wayne Gretzky sat on the bench between shifts on the ice, he could lower his heart rate from 180 BPM to below 50 in less than a minute. He was able to completely unplug from the intensity of the game during these rest periods. For many of us, it’s a luxury to get some uninterrupted private moments during the day when we can lean back, rest, and reflect. We are always “on the ice,” in the midst of nonstop emails and demands from others. Without time to rest, our brain is thrown into a state that opposes the open focus where innovation flourishes. In the tumult of daily demands and to-do lists, there is no room for creativity that comes from focused attention. The stories of significant discoveries are rife with tales of brilliant insight during a walk, in the shower, or on a vacation. Down time lets the creative juices flow. Tight schedules kill innovation and connection. Take some unproductive time daily to simply tune in and attend to the natural world around you. Or just stop for a few moments at your desk. Sit back. Close your eyes. And take a little non-thinking time for yourself. What Daniel Goleman calls a “creative cocoon.” Get off the ice of demands every so often and onto the bench.
How do you strengthen your attention muscle? How do you practice being present and tuned in to the world around you? How are you there for others? How does increasing your ability to be attentive improve the quality of your life and relationships?