Only You Can Own Your Own Engagement

“Seek small improvement one day at a time. That’s the only way it happens. And when it happens, it lasts.”
– John Wooden

I recently spent a half-day working with executives from a global technology company. Our goal was to develop ways to heighten the engagement and drive of their team members. The executives in the room were responsible for immense teams. The twenty or so executives assembled that day were responsible for the work and livelihood of thousands of people around the world.

To kick things off, we reviewed results from a recent company-wide engagement survey. The results were so-so. While the ratings were fairly high in response to the question about being proud to work for a famous and well-known brand, the results were poor regarding levels of personal engagement, and also low regarding a sense that the company leadership was open, accessible and communicative.

Many respondents claimed there was a lack of communication between the higher levels and the lower levels in the company. The survey revealed that many people in the company felt like they were left in the dark, out of the loop.

One of the participants in the survey commented anonymously, “Now what are the executives going to do about the lack of engagement around here?”

“The secret of getting ahead is getting started.”

It Starts with Choice
There is a simple truth about people who become great leaders. They step up. It doesn’t start at the top. You can’t sit around and wait for the culture to change, or the engagement to start magically happening. You have to make it happen. It starts with you and your own personal attitudes and behaviors.

Yes, it is true that your manager often defines the personality of the company for you. You experience the company through the quality of your relationship with your boss. And it’s also true that the greatest attractor of outside talent is great managers.

But this doesn’t absolve you of the responsibility to be accountable, and to be as present as you can in your work. Each of us must accept responsibility for our own “engagement.” A manager only creates the circumstances and the opportunity for you to do your best work.

Make it Easy on Yourself
The expression “activation energy” was coined 150 years ago by a chemist. The terms refers to the minimal amount of energy required to stimulate an interaction between available reactants. Make things easy on yourself. If you want to start jogging more, lay our your gear and your shoes by the bedside before you go to sleep. That way, it will be right there staring at your in the morning. And if you’ve been wanting to become a better public speaker, block off time on your calendar that will alert you to focus on that activity for just thirty minutes.

When you make things easier to begin, you lower the amount of energy it takes to get started. And if it takes less energy to get started, you are more likely to do it.

“Turns out it’s not where, but what you think, that really matters.”
– Dave Matthews

Not Where, But What You Think
Hip workplaces and free cafeterias are cool, but ultimately it’s not where – but what – we think, and how we behave, that matters. I recently had an interview with Paul Hiltz, CEO of Springfield Medical Center. The staff of two different hospital systems came together and moved into a brand new five hundred million dollar state-of-the-art facility in Springfield, Ohio.

Thinking perhaps the new building was somehow inspirational to the staff, I asked him what role the new facility played in helping to bring about high levels of engagement and patient focus. He explained that the new hospital, equipment, and facilities were all very nice, and definitely increased their ability to effectively treat patients, but it was not a big player in the developing the collaboration and camaraderie of the staff.

In his opinion, the facilities are a nice-to-have advantage in their work, but the deep and meaningful team collaboration and heightened patient care came from conscientious work of the staff and leadership, it didn’t come from simply working in a fancy building.

When we point fingers at the management, or the CEO, or this crappy workplace, we are placing blame on people and circumstances. To begin a path to engagement, fulfillment and effectiveness, we have to own our own engagement.


Shawn Hunter is President and Founder of Mindscaling, and the author of Out•Think: How Innovative Leaders Drive Exceptional Outcomes. It’s about how to lead joyfully in life, and also to lead cultures in your company to drive great results.

Twitter: @gshunter
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