Rethinking Employee Engagement: What If It Isn’t About The Boss?

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?

Three Paths to Inspiring Leadership: Lessons From Olympians

“In everybody’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit.”   –Albert Schweitzer, Philosopher and Physician

After winning a gold medal in the 10,000 meters in Rio, the Somali-born British runner Mo Farah was asked how he was able to muster the strength to pick up himself up and get back to his rhythm after being accidentally tripped on lap ten of the twenty-five lap race. “I just had to believe in myself and get through it… I promised my daughter Rhianna I was going to get her a medal and I was thinking, ‘I can’t let her down’. That’s all I was thinking about – her.”

Mo dedicated his two gold medals in London 2012 to his then baby twinsAisha and Amani. After his 2016 victory he said, “I’ve won an Olympic gold for three of my children – now I’d like to win the 5,000m gold for my little boy.”

What I love most about the Olympics are the inspiring stories – in both victory and in defeat. The parents, the coaches, the communities that raised these athletes – there’s a story behind every one of them. And then there is the inspiration in the athletes themselves. Rosie MacLennan, Penny Oleksiak and her teammates, the Rugby and soccer players, the track athletes – all have inspired an entire generation of young women in Canada.

Great leaders, like great athletes, inspire those around them. The word inspire is derived from the Latin root spirare, meaning to “breathe life into.” The need to inspire has never been greater than it is today, when many people feel afraid, cynical and stressed. Awakening the passion of others by speaking to the inner lives and deeper needs of those we serve is the work of leaders at every level and in every walk of life.

As I allow myself to be inspired by the Olympic games, my hope is that every one of us will allow ourselves to be inspired by the people around us – to enable us to inspire those we serve. Here are three pathways that inspire:

Pay Attention. The great philosopher Yogi Berra once said, “You can observe a lot by watching.” You can be inspired everyday if you s-l-o-w d-o-w-n, pay attention to what’s going on around you, and watch for inspired action. It isn’t just during the Olympics that you will hear inspiring stories. Every life has a meaningful story behind it when you care enough to take the time to pay attention. Last week I was working with a group of leaders at Emera Energy, an authentic maritime company with a down-to-earth, humble approach to business and was inspired by many of their leaders, especially the passionate young people who demonstrated commitment, ownership, and an accountable attitude. I was also inspired by how many of these leaders – mostly engineers – had mastered the simple skill of listening carefully to people. When I work with a great organization I come home inspired. What you focus on is what grows. If you focus on what’s wrong with your workplace or your life, you will soon find yourself with lots of reasons to be unhappy. But if you care enough to pay attention and focus on the goodness around you, you will find a reason to be inspired.

Choose Gratitude. I have been reflecting lately on the many people who have inspired me. I remember how George Nelson, a long-time friend of my parents and former boxer, would get up every morning and spend the first thirty minutes of his day skipping on our front porch when he and his wife Audrey visited. I always admired George, and he inspired me to get up early and start the day with some exercise. Years ago, the great motivational speaker, Zig Ziglar, inspired me to create a “Wall of Influence” – photos of the twenty-five most influential people in my life. My wall of influence has evolved over the years and as I reflect on these people, I am filled with gratitude for everyone who has helped make me who I am today through their love, their character and their example.

Care. It is inspiring to be around people who care, who choose service over self-interest, who have a sense of purpose beyond themselves, and who are passionate about making a difference in the world. People who care enough to keep their promises, to go the extra mile, and to be concerned and committed to serve the people around them make workplaces worthwhile, schools vital, relationships meaningful, and lives valuable. Caring makes all the difference. Caring is everything.

To be inspiring, you must be inspired. How do you get inspired? What inspires you? How do you inspire people around you?

SHINING A LIGHT IN THE DARKNESS: 5 Ways Caring Can Make A Difference

It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.     – The Christophers

Yesterday I received a note from a good friend and client of many years. It started a discussion on how, over recent months, we have both been gravely troubled by the violence in the world, the disregard for human life and politicians using fear to appeal to the darkest side of humanity. I don’t know what’s worse: the terrorism, shootings, and how people treat each other, or the fact that we are getting used to it.

While advancing age is undoubtedly a factor in increasing one’s concern about the world, I think it is more than that. There is a call to action needed. We need to be vigilant to create positive messages, thoughts and behaviors wherever and however we can.

Here are five ways you can implement some caring in your workplace and the world around you:

  1. Show you care before you show you’re competent. There is a growing body of research that illustrates when we judge our leaders we are looking for two primary characteristics: 1) How competentthey are, and 2) How much they care. It’s human nature to try to emphasize our strengths, abilities, and credentials to demonstrate our competence. We feel compelled to show others that we are “up to the job,” by striving to present the most innovative ideas in meetings and being the first to tackle a challenge. But this approach ends up backfiring. Trustworthiness is the first thing people look for in others and in leaders. Those who project strength before establishing trust run the risk of eliciting fear, distance and disengagement. And the first step in gaining trust is showing you care. In times of uncertainty, people look to a leader who they believe has their back. Those are the people we trust. Those are the people we listen to. Before people decide what they think of the message, they decide what they think of the messenger.
  2. Don’t wait for the boss to give you recognition and appreciation. Instead, get busy givingrecognition and appreciation to everyone on your team. I am a believer in peer recognition programs. Instead of waiting for the manager to acknowledge good work, each employee is encouraged to recognize positive attributes, stories of overcoming life’s challenges, and contributions at work that make a positive difference. I know of companies where staff are encouraged to give out actual certificates that recognize specific achievements of their peers either privately or at employee recognition functions. Done respectfully and meaningfully, these methods of appreciating and acknowledging each other can go a long way.
  3. Say thank you. Gratitude has transformative power. Gratitude is the antidote to hatred, fear, and entitlement. Next time you see a police officer, take a moment and thank them for their work. Next time you see a tired cashier at the grocery store, take a moment and express your gratitude. Thank a colleague for their contribution on a recent project. It’s easy to be grateful when you get what you want. The real challenge is being grateful when you don’t get what you want. It’s not a good life that makes us grateful; it’s being grateful that makes a good life.
  4. Apologize. To be human is to err. When you make a mistake and everyone knows it was a mistake, admit it, say you’re sorry, and tell the people who are impacted how you are going to remedy the situation. Having the humility to acknowledge when we are wrong and apologize for our errors is an indicator of strength, character, and integrity. Real leadership is impossible without a willingness to apologize and acknowledge when we make a mistake. It’s an act of caring to have the courage to take an honest look at ourselves, to take a truthful appraisal of the impact of our actions on others, and to have the willingness to make necessary changes.
  5. Create a circle of trust with your team. Whether your team is an executive team in a company, a project team in your division, a board of directors in a volunteer organization, or a family, a circle of trust is a helpful tool.  It revolves around kindness and understanding of the other person’s challenges and situation. A circle of trust is a process for taking the time to understand all the relevant and salient issues leading up to any particular decision or action in the team. The circle of trust approach ensures that each person on the team gives their peers the full benefit of the doubt until they fully understand why a decision was made. Complaining or expressing off handed comments concerning any team member has a negative effect on the reputation and wellbeing of all team members. Openness, honesty, and sincere caring for each other restores a sense of dignity and compassion until each person on the team can understand the challenges of the other.

How people interact, care and recognize one another impacts our lives and our world in unimaginable ways. A little human touch makes a big difference. Each of us may only be able to impact a small piece of the world through positive behaviors and influence. But eventually, with enough of us making some effort, we well might make a difference. This world could use a helping hand from all of us.

Let’s all do our part to make the world around us just a little better. What are you doing to bring some light to this darkened world?

It’s In Us To Care

Circumstances don’t determine a person; they reveal a person.  –Epictetus

Last week when the restaurant where my daughter works took a reservation, the customer tearfully explained that she was from Ft. McMurray and that this was the first time since the evacuation that their family could be together. “We’ll have daughters and parents with us as well. We don’t care what time the reservation is. It’s just important to be together.” My daughter had the good fortune of waiting on their table. After the meal the family asked for their bill and Chandra responded. “There will be no charge. Our restaurant is taking care of everyone from Ft. McMurray.” Chandra related the story with tears in her eyes, proud to work for such an organization.

While tragedy crushes the soul, it also inspires the human spirit. There is nothing quite so uplifting as the spontaneous eruption of human goodness and caring that emerges in the midst of a tragic catastrophe. Whether it is a flood or a fire, a tornado or an earthquake, a school shooting or the suicide of a person who lives next door, it appears to be the human code that every civil citizen, in times of crisis and calamity, becomes your neighbor. If you want to know what lies in the heart of people, watch what happens in and to a community following a catastrophe. I know enough about the residents of Ft. McMurray that they will rebuild with a firm resolve and emerge from this tragedy even stronger. Many, after all, are from Newfoundland, who know something about resiliency and caring. Regardless of how it expresses itself in the moment, or whether is lies so deeply within it cannot immediately be found, caring is in our bones.

Amidst the horror of the Alberta wildfires, we witnessed the immediate outpouring of the human spirit. Men and women drove up and down the evacuation convoy with gas for stranded vehicles, food and water, baby supplies, and simple words of comfort. Within hours, schools, educational institutions, and sport facilities were transformed into shelters. Airplane hangers were filled with donations. The Red Cross received a record amount in donations.

I wish to especially pay tribute to the first responders. The firefighters, who, as described by our premier held off an “ocean of fire” and saved up to an estimated 90% of a city that otherwise would have been left to ash and rubble. I also want to recognize our amazing police force, the RCMP, who evacuated some ninety thousand residents in a few hectic hours without a single life lost. Incredible accomplishment. I just can’t fathom how that could possibly be orchestrated.

I’m reminded by my good friend Corey Olynik of a quote from our mutual favorite hero, Mr. Rogers: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’” It is indeed humbling to see all the helpers this past week – from across the province and beyond.

At some time in our life, we have all experienced those who help and those who hinder; those who lift and those who lean; those who contribute and those who consume. To give encouragement, offer support, show interest, and awaken hope in others is its own reward and returns to the giver many times over. Caring actions are noble and beautiful; they make the world a kinder, gentler place for all of us.

I hope the kind of action that came out of Ft. McMurray this week inspires us to not wait for a crisis, but to constantly watch for ways to jump in whenever and however we can, and be part of the solution. It can’t help but be an inspiration to all of us.

6 WAYS TO INCREASE EMPLOYEE ENGAGEMENT

I’ve never seen more “employee engagement programs” thrown at employees, and we’ve never seen lower engagement scores. So what’s going on?

One way to look at the challenge of employee engagement is to observe the relationship between three concepts: achievement, expectations, and happiness.

Happiness results when your achievements meet your expectations. For example, if your expectation of your boss is “100”, and she achieves only “80”, then we say your happiness score is -20. On the other hand, if you have an expectation of your boss of “80”, and she hits “100”, then your happiness score is +20.

What happens when this same boss, who meets the expectations of one employee, doesn’t meet the expectations of another employee? One employee will be happy. The other will be unhappy. Maybe the problem isn’t the boss. Maybe the problem is the nature of our expectations. While bosses and organizations certainly need to work hard to achieve a highly engaged culture, employees share the responsibility of hard work to achieve their own level of engagement while simultaneously decreasing their expectations. To paraphrase John F Kennedy: ask not what your organization can do for you, but what you can do for your organization.

Lazy employees (i.e. they don’t want to achieve much) combined with high expectations, is called entitlement. And entitled people are never happy. Have you ever noticed that the most entitled people in your office are the ones that are the most miserable? Many people bring enormously high expectations to work and to all their relationships. My mother had a scholarly word for this kind of person: spoiled.

It appears to be human nature that the more we get, the more we expect. Research will bear out that the societies with the lowest GNP are often the societies with the happiest people. They are likely happy because their expectations are lower. There’s something to be said about simply being satisfied with what we have.

While I’m all in favor of bosses developing ways to create environments that engage people, I know some leaders who could deliver the moon for their employees and they still wouldn’t be happy. This is because most people who are unhappy at work aren’t just unhappy at work. They are unhappy with all aspects of their lives. We all need to examine carefully our level of expectations. To increase your happiness and engagement at work:

1) Carefully examine your expectations. It has been said that expectations are premeditated resentments. Often, high expectations stem from unhappiness in your life and expecting others (e.g. your boss) to make you happy. This is a formula for discontent, both for you and for your boss who might be trying too hard.

2) Take 100% responsibility for your own happiness. Your life will change the day you decide that all blame is a waste of time. Taking 100% responsibility means that you take responsibility for getting your needs met instead of demanding that someone do it for you.

3) Be careful about over achieving. It’s good to set a goal and achieve it – providing it meets an expectation. But if you are an overachiever who continually expects more and more of yourself (and usually others too), you’ll never be happy. You’ll always be striving for the next achievement. The only way to fill that hole is to learn to be satisfied with what you have achieved.

4) Give what you expect. My parents used to say, “You don’t get what you expect. You get what you give.” No amount of employee engagement programs can possibly fill all the insecurities and unhappiness that employees bring to work. To counter the frustration of not getting what you expect, clarify what you expect, and then give that. For example, if you expect appreciation, get so busy appreciating others that you don’t have time to feel sorry for yourself. It was Zig Ziglar who said, “You will get all you want in life, if you help enough other people get what they want.”

5) Realize that you can’t meet everyone’s expectations. Like a request, an expectation is not an agreement. Realizing this will un-complicate your life. It is absolutely impossible to meet everyone’s expectations of you because it is physically and mentally unattainable for any human being to be all things to all people.

6) Practice gratitude. The antidote to entitlement is gratitude. We all need to look at ourselves when it comes to employee engagement. It’s a shared responsibility. Yes, positional leaders have a responsibility. But so do employees. What you focus on grows. What you appreciate appreciates.

7 WAYS TO DEVELOP UNSHAKABLE CHARACTER

There is no real success in the world that can be separated from being a good person.

In 1944, in Marzobotto, a small town near Bologna, Italy, two thousand civilians were massacred by Nazi troops. The Nazis were retaliating for acts of sabotage committed by members of the Italian resistance. One young German soldier, however, refused to take part in the massacre and was shot.

While few of us will ever face losing our life to live in accordance with our conscience, everyone of us have opportunities every day to choose character over comfort. In our leadership and cultural alignment programs we teach that great character is the foundation of great cultures. Like the roots of a tree, character is hidden to the world, but is vital to an aligned, sustainable organization and life. It’s not the fierceness of the storm that determines whether we break, but rather the strength of the roots that lie below the surface. And, like that German soldier, having strong roots of character determines our strength and our courage.

Twenty-three centuries ago, Aristotle distinguished between what he termed “external goods,” such as prosperity, property, power, personal advancement and reputation, and “inner goods,” what he referred to as “goods of the soul,” including fortitude, temperance, justice, compassion, and wisdom. He taught that the good life is not one of consumption, but of the flourishing of these deeper, hidden virtues.

Unshakeable character calls you to shift from being the best in the world to being the best for the world, to strive not for what you can get, but what you can be, to endeavor to be a better person, before you attempt to be a better leader. Respectful and civil societies, organizations, and families depend on the self-respect, dignity, and the civility earned by their members, acquired by living with strong character.

Below are seven ways to develop unshakable character. Take a little time to notice the effect of these simple choices on your self-respect, your well-being, and your responses to those you love and serve.

  • Take a character assessment. Take a personal inventory of your character. How are you doing in such areas as compassion, reliability, honesty, courage, prudence, contribution, and maturity? Are you one person in public and another in private? Like a business that takes regular stock of its inventory, this is a fact-finding process. There can be blind spots to seeing yourself, so get feedback from the most important people in your life. Being a good person precedes being a good leader.
  • Let go of what you want. Prudence is the common sense – that unfortunately is not so common any more – to live with what you can do without, and the ability to find joy in what is here. Every so often it’s good to surrender something we want, but don’t need. In a world that confuses wants with needs, debt continues to rise as character continues to erode. Practice enjoying not getting everything you want, and find freedom in enjoying what you have.
  • Do something difficult every day. “Do the hard stuff first,” my mother used to say. The earlier in the day you get the difficult work done, the better you’ll feel about yourself and the rest of your day will go better. Whether it’s having a difficult conversation, getting up and getting some exercise, or taking a risk, character is built on the foundation of overcoming the natural tendency to take the course of least resistance.
  • Clean up after yourself. Something eats away at your character when you leave your messes for someone else to look after.
  • Look beyond yourself. Character means choosing service over self-interest. Character grows in the soil of concern for others and the commitment to act on that concern. It is always a win-win when we find ways to make life better for someone less fortunate than ourselves.
  • Spend less than you earn. This is truly one of the best character habits you can develop. Spending less than you earn, whether it’s reflected in your home, your car, or the stuff you buy, is another version of prudence. The space you create in your life by doing so will give you freedom, renewed worth, and contentment that money will never buy.
  • Practice gratitude. Gratitude is integral to strong character. It’s the antithesis of entitlement, the poison that contaminates character. Be an appreciator, rather than a depreciator, of everything that shows up in your life, including opportunities disguised as problems. What you appreciate, appreciates.

Character is not developed over night. It’s a life-long process. Just as it takes years of unseen work to have an “overnight” success, great acts of character come from years of small habits, diligently and persistently lived each day. The payoff is profound: self-respect, freedom, peace of mind, and the courage and clarity to build a better world around you. The nineteenth-century British writer William Makepeace Thackeray captured the essence of character in four lines:

Sow a thought and you reap an act;

Sow an act and you reap a habit;

Sow a habit and you reap a character;

Sow a character and you reap a destiny.