Magazine Article | June 2, 2014

Leadership Lessons: The Essential Leadership Practice to Inspiring Employee Engagement

Source: Life Science Leader

By Mark Crowley, leadership consultant, speaker, and author of Lead From The Heart: Transformational Leadership For The 21st Century

Recently I gave a speech to a group of CEOs from all over the world. When it was over, I received a standing ovation. It was exhilarating to experience such a validating reaction to my work — and to know that everything I’d done to ensure the success of that presentation had paid off. You see, I’d spent weeks mapping out a script, thoughtfully building compelling slides and rehearsing my remarks over and over until they became instinctual. And while no one in that room could have known how much time, energy, and heart I’d devoted to preparing for that one speech, the resounding response afterwards assured me that every bit of my effort had been worthwhile.

While still standing (and glowing) on that stage moments after my presentation, an inner voice reminded me that our job in leadership is to ensure all of our employees — the people who invest so much of themselves in their work — routinely feel as I felt at that moment. The simple truth is that recognition is essential to the spirit that motivates human performance, and without it, our engagement withers.

However, in our day-to-day operations, we often forget how important recognition is to sustaining the passion, drive, and initiative in people. Following a successful month, quarter, or project, we direct our focus to the next goal and completely ignore the hard work and effort just made by our subordinates. Employees are given no time to catch their breath, savor the moment, or feel a sense of satisfaction with what they just accomplished. And without validation that their recent efforts truly mattered, our once high-performing and committed people instinctively lessen their determination to excel going forward.

To help ensure your team routinely knows their work is appreciated and never taken for granted, here are three ideas I hope you’ll always remember:

1. Never Assume Your People Know You Appreciate Them
I’ve had leaders tell me, “My people already know I’m grateful,” and use this as an excuse for never expressing it directly. But, unless you have a team skilled at mindreading, there’s no way employees can know with certainty that you do value them. Ambiguity in this regard is highly destructive; so never leave your people in doubt as to how you feel about them and their work.

2. Get Comfortable Telling People Directly How Important They Are To You
We think we’ll be exploited if we tell our people how much they matter and how much we depend on them. The truth is few things affect people more deeply than knowing their boss thinks the world of them. So tell people directly, “I’m so grateful you’re on my team. The work you do here makes an incredible difference to our success.” That kind of honesty is uncommon, as will be the engagement it inspires.

3. Institutionalize Recognition
People will work extremely hard when they know they can count on receiving your recognition. So build a routine; devote the start of every team meeting to acknowledging achievements, and tell people in advance what specific performance you’ll consistently honor. Then get ready for soaring performance.