“People don’t quit companies, they quit bosses.”
When most people begin working at a company, they have high expectations and high aspirations. They’re excited to be there, enthused about the work they’ll be doing, and they’re imagining how they’ll make a difference in the company. In short, people are highly engaged when they start.
Therefore, as a leader, we don’t need to worry as much about how to engage people as much as how to keep people from becoming disengaged!
Why does disengagement occur? Disengagement most often occurs because a leader does or says things that cause people to become disillusioned and less engaged.
Here are the five leading causes of disengagement and what to do about it.
1. Treating People Like Things
When a leader treats people like things, it sends the message that they are unimportant and that they just don’t care about them. And when people sense a leader doesn’t care about them, they start not to care about the leader. When the company tolerates leaders who don’t care about people, people tend not to care about the company. And when people don’t care, there is no engagement.
What does “treating people like things” look like? It’s when a leader is insensitive to people and interacts with them as if they have no feelings. A leader treats people like things when he or she ignores the fact that everyone has hopes and dreams and fears and stress. And leaders treat people like things when they don’t show respect for people or value their contributions, efforts, and potential.
A good leader understands that people’s hopes, dreams, fears, and stresses are real and matter to them. A good leader inspires people. A good leader interacts with people as people, helping them to be their best. A good leader has empathy. A good leader relates to people the way they themselves want to be treated. And a good leader helps people achieve their own goals.
2. Treating Adults Like Children
How does a leader “treat adults like children”? Think for a moment about how we relate to children and why we relate that way. We generally tell children what they need to do and when they need to do it by. And we do that because we don’t trust their judgment, their sense of responsibility, and/or their self-discipline. We regularly check up on children because we don’t trust them to follow through on their commitments. We don’t trust them to be responsible.
When a leader doesn’t trust people to do what needs to be done, and doesn’t trust their judgment, they are treating them as if they are children. When they micromanage people, they are treating them like children. It shows a lack of respect and trust. And when people feel they aren’t respected and trusted, they lose respect for the leader. When people feel they aren’t respected and valued, there is no engagement.
If someone doesn’t know what to do, then our job as a leader is to develop their knowledge and abilities. The shortcoming lies with the leader, not the follower. If someone lacks the necessary judgment for a task or decision, then our job as a leader is to develop their judgment. If their judgment remains inadequate, then either we aren’t as competent a leader as we need to be, or we just have the wrong person on our team. Either way, resorting to treating someone as a child is a poor course of action.
3. Not Treating People with Respect
The impact of showing respect is powerful, but not nearly as powerful as what happens when a leader does not show respect for others. When a leader doesn’t respect people, they lose respect for the leader.
We demonstrate respect to others by what we say, what we do, and by the actions we take. People want to be respected for their ideas and their efforts. We demonstrate our respect for them by listening to them and valuing their perspectives – regardless of whether you agree with them or not. In addition, we show respect by giving someone our full attention. When we do something like read and respond to emails while someone is conversing with us, we send the message that they’re just not that important to us. Instead, either stop multitasking and give them your full, undivided attention, or ask them to come back in 5 or 10 minutes so you can complete your task. By giving someone your undivided attention, you communicate that what they have to say is the most important thing at that moment.
4. Not Having Integrity
A leader who lacks integrity has a difficult time influencing and inspiring people. People assess us by our words and actions over time. A leader earns trust by how he or she acts in everyday situations. A leader’s words and actions will carry more weight and have greater impact if they’ve earned the trust (and respect) of others in advance.
Acting with integrity means doing what we say we’ll do. Committing to a deadline creates an opportunity to demonstrate your integrity. Regardless of the importance of the task, fulfilling your commitment on time cements your level of integrity in the minds of others. Only when you have consistently demonstrated that you are a person of your word can solid trust be established.
Acting in integrity is slightly different than acting with integrity. It’s about how we conduct ourselves and it relates to the values we claim matter to us. Acting in integrity means that if we say that treating other with respect matters, we are always respectful of others – regardless of the situation or the person’s position. Acting in integrity means that if we say that honesty matters to us, we are honest – regardless of the situation. If you say that work/life balance matters, then you go out of your way to strike that balance – not only for you, but for the people you lead.
Your values apply not only to your personal actions, but to the entire team you lead. We always lead by example. We establish “who we are” by our every word and action. I call these “moments of apparent insignificance.” To us, these moments are incidental, but they leave an impression on those around us.
5. Taking People for Granted
The issue here is the importance of appreciating the efforts people make rather than taking their efforts for granted or offering insincere recognition. The need for the esteem and respect of others is a key element of engagement.
Having one’s effort taken for granted can be disheartening. If a leader wants people to do and be their best, it’s important to demonstrate that he or she values them. There is a difference between appreciation and recognition, and the distinction is important to understand. Recognition is offered to acknowledge a person’s achievement rather than their effort. However, appreciation is offered for someone’s effort.
Most people want to be appreciated for their efforts more so than for their accomplishments. Appreciation is generally personal and heartfelt, given from one person to another. And it’s often spontaneously shown as a response to the effort someone has put into completing a task. It is an expression of gratitude for someone’s effort, and its impact is immediate and long-lasting. Telling someone you appreciate their effort in completing a project over the weekend has a far greater impact on engagement than offering a token of recognition for the end result.
If you’d like my help strategizing about how to improve engagement, please contact me.