Leadership and engagement – keeping it simple

Some people say that you can’t teach leadership in a classroom. In some ways I agree, because learning leadership should be like learning to walk – something a baby finds difficult and scary, but evidently possible as there are so many role models doing it.

I have been teaching leadership for five years and one of the benefits of teaching, is that your “radar” is on continuously looking for real-life examples of theory. In my class I use two models from Dr Peter Cammock’s The Dance of Leadership. I love these models for their simplicity. My students have road-tested them and found them to be powerful and easy to use.

The heart of leadership

This model harmonises the two core fundamentals of leadership, knowledge of self and concern for others. Great leaders, from parents to more public examples of leadership are exemplify this. I think of Sir Peter Blake, who was so confident in his own ability, and so caring of his crew. Or my mum, who I never heard speak ill of anyone.

Surrounding the heart of leadership are four “qualities of character”. Peter Cammock has chosen integrity, faith, courage and passion. We could just as easily choose other qualities of character as I suspect that they all link to one another.

The envision, engage, enact model (3 Es)

While the “heart of leadership” models who we should be, the 3 Es model shows us how to lead.

At its simplest it is a three-step model: envision – engage – enact. This is easy to remember and relate to. Peter Cammock weaves these three core leadership roles into a prescription for leadership and change that is applicable to most human endeavour.

The three-step model elaborates to 10 steps. Good leaders follow this process naturally. They know when to talk, they know when to roll their sleeves up and get involved, and they can zoom out and zoom in to see the big picture as they need to. This is reminiscent of Ron Garan’s “orbital perspective” and Muhammad Yunus’s “worm’s eye view” from an earlier post.

The link to engagement

Engagement is at the heart of the model through the processes of connecting, listening and engaging, team building and networking and communicating.

Notice that Peter Cammock uses “envision”, rather than “vision”. This implies that the vision evolves through engaging and enacting. The vision may have originated with, or been adopted by the leader, but it is an organic vision that can grow an adapt as the engagement process happens. It is said that people own what they create, and if they have input into the vision, they are more likely to engage with it.

If you imagine “knowledge of self” as an aspect of an organisation’s engagement ethos, “concern for others” balances the organisation’s needs with stakeholder needs.

Leadership and change

The 3 Es model exemplifies leadership of change. The leader is in there helping people to create shared vision and working with the willing.

These models are simple and accessible. People understand them quickly and are able to implement them in simple leadership roles. It is preferable to quickly learn simple models such as these and put them into action, rather then take on lots of theory. The corollary of this is accepting that everyone can lead and the need for leadership is everywhere, from leading oneself to global change.

Do you know someone who exemplifies these models, or do you have an example of how they align with your leadership?

Engaging the engagers

Your staff are potentially your best ambassadors. If they are positively engaged, both at work and outside work they will be leading your stakeholder engagement. Improving staff engagement is a win-win that will improve internal processes and strengthen external engagement.

Ideally, your staff are great ambassadors for your business. When they are at work, they interact with a range of stakeholders, and outside work they interact with the wider community. We know from the 2010 Hay Group Report, that the best leadership companies harvest knowledge and best practice from wherever they can, and staff, and contacts of staff are sources of this knowledge.

Fostering better staff engagement has great synergy with external stakeholder engagement. If staff are feeling good about the company, they will project that goodwill into both their workplace and social interactions. Both activities require the same skill sets – so by improving staff engagement capacity, external engagement improves.

But staff engagement is not in good shape. For example the Tower Perrin 2007 Global Workforce Study, based on nearly 90,000 employees worldwide found 21% of staff engaged, 41% enrolled, 30% disenchanted and 8% disengaged – a total of 38% in a negative space.

The Hay Group reported that 59% of employees in the UK started 2010 resolving to find a new job.

Identification, citizenship and engagement

Another dimension of engagement is how staff identify with the organisation. The following diagram illustrates four different types of identification. Some staff as in the second column, will identify strongly with the organisation. Another possibility is ambivalent identification as illustrated in the fourth column; in this situation the staff member identifies strongly with their work team, but not with the organisation itself. An example might be engineers or health clinicians, who identify strongly with their professions, but are disenchanted with the organisation. They might be technically engaged, but not engaged as corporate citizens. Thus, while they are happy in their work, they may not be good ambassadors for the organisation.

Having disenchanted or disengaged staff costs. I think of it as the company never quite managing to shift into top gear. The Hay Group found that “employees who are both highly engaged and enabled are 50 per cent more likely to outperform expectations”. So when times are tight, while the cost cutting game may yield a few percentage gains, raising engagement has greater potential benefits.

The Towers Perrin research identified drivers of engagement:

  • senior management sincerely interested in employee well-being
  • opportunities to improve skills and capabilities
  • the organisation’s reputation for social responsibility
  • employees able to input into decision-making
  • the organisation quickly resolves customer concerns
  • the organisation sets high personal standards
  • excellent career advancement opportunities
  • challenging work assignments to broaden skills
  • good relationships with supervisors
  • innovative thinking encouraged

In the previous blog, leading engagement, I shared the Hay Group findings about best leadership practices for engagement. The companies with leadership worth emulating, are good at reaching across boundaries to learn from people and to connect people. They help people to find meaning in their work and link their tasks to a greater good. The story of the stone-cutters illustrates this: A traveller encountered two stone-cutters and asked them what they were engaged in. The first said “I’m cutting a stone”. The second said “I am building a cathedral”. For effective engagement, we need more cathedral builders and fewer stone-cutters.

[1] adapted from Kreiner, G. & Ashforth, B. (2004) Evidence toward an expanded model of organizational identification. In Journal of Organizational Behavior 25:1, 1-27.

Leading engagement

It’s no surprise that the attributes required for effective leadership are those required for effective stakeholder engagement. My website, Stakeholder Engagement offers resources for developing capability for stakeholder engagement. Alongside specific stakeholder engagement capabilities, I have identified leadership, organisational learning, communication and adaptive capacity (change) as four essential capabilities to support enhanced engagement.

Compare this to the findings of the Hay Group 2010 Best Companies for Leadership research. The top twenty companies collectively, from General Electric at number one, to BASF are huge, and therefore have potential to do a lot of good by modelling leadership excellence.

Hay Group’s Ruth Wagemen pinpoints the practices the twenty best companies are more likely to do than the rest of us:

  • “developing structures and practices that locate the best practices wherever they are, and whoever has them, and make sure that that’s what’s getting used throughout the organisation”
  • they were “far more likely than everyone else to have an ex-pat programme that is intended to help people learn how to operate really effectively in a different culture and to lead effectively in that context”
  • “were more likely to actively collect the best practices in leadership development throughout their subsidiaries, throughout the world, and to harvest those lessons and to share those practices with the rest of the organisation”
  • “were much more likely to pay men and women the same, for the same kind of work.”

Organisational learning to the fore

What is particularly encouraging is the strong thread of organisational learning through these findings. The idea has been around for a long-time, but is yet to become mainstream. Bob Garrett relates how organisational learning emerged after World War Two, with the work of Reg Revans, Fritz Schumacher and Jacob Bronowski. Chris Argyris gave it impetus and Peter Senge popularised it in The Fifth Discipline. It appears that organisational learning’s potential is being tapped in these trail-blazing companies. Peter Senge urges us to “stop thinking like mechanics and to start acting like gardeners”. One interpretation of this, is to leave behind industrial age practices of organising and management, and embrace the more organic and emergent processes of the knowledge age.

Businesses can scour their internal environment for knowledge as is modelled by the top 20, and seek learning from external stakeholders too. Fostering stakeholder engagement capability can only benefit this process.

Hay Group links

Organisational learning links