How to get full engagement as a leader

At Leaders Lab, we’re great proponents of Neil Crofts‘ posts on leadership – here’s an abridged version of his most recent one on how to get full engagement as a leader:

I am working with a great team at the moment, they are very capable, very professional and very well lead by their own leader. Recently they did an engagement survey of the people they lead and were surprised to find that the level of engagement was low.

We ran a Change Engagement study, (which looks at intellectual, emotional, physical and spiritual levels of engagement) with the team and found that they themselves where not wholly engaged in their work.

We did a session where we explored times in their life where they had been fully engaged with what they were doing and they came up with a really solid list of factors that enable full engagement:

Vision – Inspiration – Feedback – Recognition – Openness

Vision is a quality that is often misunderstood and visions are frequently difficult for a team to articulate. When you get a vision right it can be transformative. It is important to differentiate a vision from an objective – an objective is something we know how to achieve, a vision is not. If you know how to achieve it, it is not a vision, it is an objective.

A vision is a destination that the team are really motivated to achieve, a place everyone in the team (particularly the leaders) wants to get to and will make sacrifices, difficult choices and get out of their comfort zone to realise.

Teams that succeed have leaders who are the deepest, most sincere, whole hearted and authentic embodiment of the vision.

Inspiration is the ability to get people to achieve things that they did not think they were capable of. As a leader it is a way of connecting the vision with the unique capabilities of the individuals, and the team, and demonstrating and transmitting belief from leader to team in such a way that members of the team challenge themselves to succeed. They work harder, more creatively and more effectively to deliver results in pursuit of the vision.

Feedback is the skill of specifically upgrading the performance of the team or an individual. It is how leaders guide the behaviour and culture of the team to the level it needs to be at to deliver. Feedback is not a weapon or a way of airing frustrations. Sometimes feedback needs to be given publicly and immediately to make the boundaries clear to all. Sometimes feedback needs to be tough, direct and in private. Sometimes feedback needs to be supportive, nurturing and generous. One particularly effective mode of nurturing feedback is the “even better if…” As in, “that was a great piece of work, I wonder if it could be even better if…”

Leaders can only know which to use when and only use it legitimately if the ground rules and values of the team are clearly set out and agreed to beforehand. The ground rules and values provide a platform for all team members and particularly leaders to tackle difficult issues fairly.

Recognition is closely related to feedback and also distinct. My experience is that teams are often good at formal recognition, but weak on ad hoc recognition. Having said that recognition looses it’s potency if it is overused or platitudinous. Recognition is at its most effective when deployed to help a colleague see a quality or strength in themselves that they may not previously have understood or been aware of. Or to set a performance benchmark for the team. Ad hoc recognition is one of the absolute key tools for demonstrating belief in a team or team member.

Openness is a cultural dynamic that leaders create through their own behaviour. A leader who is opaque and political will create a team full of politics, gossip and rumour. To have a team which is open trusting and collaborative, leaders will often have to be transparent beyond their own comfort zone and will need to frequently test whether they need to be more open. People need to understand the context in order to be at their most effective, even if the context is that “this is all that I know” or “this is all that I can tell you”.

Being open as a leader is not just about sharing context, it is also about creating a culture of openness in the team. A culture where people will communicate mistakes and problems early, rather than covering them up, a culture where people will share knowledge and information with colleagues rather than using it as a power play. For the leader it is both about communicating and listening generously.

I believe that truly excellent leadership is generally poorly understood and poorly practised. And I believe in the totally transformative power of leadership. People can be influenced to do and believe things that they did not realise they wanted to do or think. Leadership can create appalling horrors or extraordinary beauty depending on the wholeness of the leader.

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