Leadership is About Attention, Not “Employee Engagement”

How often do you hear someone say they wish they had more employee engagement? How often do you feel this way yourself, or wish you felt more engaged with a project you’ve been assigned? Surely, if we want to achieve leadership parity by 2025, we’re going to need to help women be fully engaged in their work and we’re going to need to be fully engaged in our work ourselves.

A “lack of engagement” is a real problem, yes, but we don’t achieve engagement by aiming for it or even asking for it. Engagement is all wrapped up in personal interest, trust, and relationship. So we would do better to lay a foundation for increased interest, increased trust, and better quality work relationships. We do this by making people feel welcome and appreciated and connected to each other, by respecting everyone’s hard work and ideas, and by (alone and together) making clear the purpose and nature of the work at hand.

Even better, we might work intentionally with our team members to co-create the purpose of the work we seek to do together and co-design the processes by which we do that work. Call all of these collaborative things soft skills, call them whatever you want, but they do more than make a difference in your organization’s workplace culture; they are what make the work people seek to do together possible.

Image via HealthMeUp.com

Image via HealthMeUp.com

A few collaborative leadership models come to mind. For example, the Art of Hosting’s participatory leadership tools, to some extent lean thinking’s hoshin kanri process (for creating vertical and horizontal organizational alignment), Holocracy’s distributed authority leadership model, and circle.

Some people say women are better at collaboration and collaborative leadership. Study after study comes out saying so, but I don’t think this is necessarily true (it’s really more about feminine leadership qualities, which women and men both have)… And last I checked, we don’t inspire increased engagement and active collaboration by saying “I’m actually better at this than you!” or “Us, over here! We’re better at these things the world needs now!”

So, how do you invite people to engage with their work differently? I like to focus on making the work visible, making everyone’s intention and the team’s intention for the work visible, and asking others to join me in taking our shared work to the next level so I don’t end up tackling the work alone.

When you focus on creating stronger relationships while keeping the work to be done at the center of the conversation, only then do you have chance at making the most of people’s time and attention. Once you’ve got people’s attention, before you know it you’ve got a much deeper level of engagement.

The days of going to work, keeping our heads down, and watching the clock until 5pm are over. If we want to do good work, solve real problems, create new products and services that do well by people and planet, we’re going need everyone to come to work and want to be there, bringing their full attention to the job.

Read more posts by Lex Schroeder.

About the Author

Lex Schroeder is a writer and speaker on gender equity, systems change, and the future of work. She is a Leadership Ambassador with Take The Lead and is based in NYC. She can be reached atlexschroeder@taketheleadwomen.com. Follow her on Twitter@lexschroeder.