A huge range of qualities are needed for effective leadership, from problem solving to strategic vision. But leaders will find themselves alone in any feat unless they have the ability to really engage their followers.
So, here are 7 tips for how to be an engaging leader.
You can also watch our recent webinars about how to engage employees.
1. Encourage group ownership
An organisation isn’t just about its owners or shareholders. It belongs to the people who work within it and keep the cogs turning. Work is a massive part of people’s lives, so give them a voice, and the chance to shape the way things work. The more they feel it is ‘theirs’, the more it will matter to them.
Let those within your team or organisation know that everyone stands or falls together. If the organisation succeeds, everyone should benefit. If it fails, you’re all out of a job. Creating a sense of belonging and cohesion is important. Powerlessness corrupts, and people need to feel that they can influence their own destiny and that of the organisation.
People want a clear idea of what they are part of, why it matters, and what it hopes and plans to achieve. The technical term is a ‘strategic narrative’, but really it’s just about clarity of purpose, with everyone understanding what they and their team need to contribute.
Engaging leaders are constantly communicative. They want to share information and ideas with everyone and they understand the need to keep people engaged in the journey through constant feedback, updates and information on progress towards the vision.
How to engage your team members
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3. Create a great atmosphere
No-one wants to spend 33% of their life somewhere lifeless, hostile or unpleasant, and the atmosphere at work is hugely significant. Your organisation should be a fun place to be, where people genuinely get on and like each other. This in turn is conducive to a highly-productive, innovative and high-performing atmosphere.
Don’t burn people out, don’t use and abuse them, and don’t treat them as replaceable components or that archaic term ‘human resources’. They are human beings, and therefore pre-disposed to respond to ‘positive psychology’. Put simply, people do better work, are more creative and learn faster when they are happy. Don’t underestimate this.
4. Enforce values, not just targets
People want to be associated with strong values, and to know that they are doing something important. For many, it isn’t enough just to ‘earn a living’: they want to know that their organisation and their daily work has genuine value, not just to shareholders but to society and the lives of those around them. They want to be associated with something meaningful and worthwhile, so help them understand why their work matters.
5. Empower people
The biggest problem with command and control is that it disenfranchises people. It tells them their thoughts and ideas are worthless, and that their job is to get on with the tasks they have been given. If you want engagement, you need to allow freedom; freedom to think, to act, and to decide. Your job is to turn the pyramid upside down and be the one supporting everyone else to be the best they can be.
Engaging leaders create a climate where people feel encouraged to think, reflect, share and generate ideas. That needs space and time. If the focus of managers is squeezing every last ounce of work out of their people, then that’s all you’ll get. Ideas won’t flow, morale will be average at best, and staff turnover is likely to be high. And it will be the best ones that leave.
6. Act as a mentor
Engaging leaders are mentors. They seek to bring out the best in everyone and to use their experience, skills and expertise to develop their colleagues at all levels. If you’re spending less than 10% of your time on this, you’re missing a huge opportunity to engage and enthuse.
7. Recognise and reward
The best leaders are always trying to catch someone doing something good. They want to celebrate people’s good performance and achievements. They know that success breeds success and raises morale, and they want people to understand the difference between high performance and average or poor performance. They do so not by simply punishing the underperformer, but by recognising the people going the extra mile. Praise, especially public praise, such as recognising achievements in newsletters and meetings, has huge engagement power.