Engagement Is for Leaders, Too!

In yesterday’s Advisor, Clint Swindall, president and CEO of Verbalocity, Inc., shared thoughts on employee engagement and how you can inspire employees to live for the weekday. Today Swindall looks at another perspective—the leader side of engagement.

Swindall shared his thoughts on engagement at the Society for Human Resource Management’s (SHRM) Annual Conference and Exposition, held this past summer in Washington, D.C.

The key to engagement is creating a culture where people want to be instead of a place where people have to come every day, says Swindall. Swindall admits that he couldn’t believe that employees didn’t feel the same enthusiasm about work that he did until he found a Gallup study revealing the extent of employee disengagement.

[See yesterday’s Advisor for these Gallup statistics, along with Swindall’s grouping of employees by level of engagement as the “Oh, Yeahs,” the “Oh, Nos,” and the “OKs.”]

Unintended Contributions to Employee Disengagement

There are three unintended actions we take every day as leaders that contribute to employee disengagement, says Swindall:

  1. We bounce all over the screen at work. “Are you a leader? In your life, with your job, relationships, and friends?” asks Swindall. “If so, you lead all day, every day.” Because of this, you don’t get to bounce all over that screen with your engagement level. People you lead look for consistency. If your employees don’t know who’s going to come in, you’re not a leader.
  2. We keep people guessing. Is the quality of your day tied to the mood you’re in? Then you probably have this problem as a leader, says Swindall. Is your inability to deal with external (i.e., personal life) problems affecting disengagement at your company?
  3. We misread our own engagement level. People you work with may give a better answer than you can when it comes to your engagement level, says Swindall. Leaders who think they’re “Oh, Yeahs” may actually be “Oh, Nos.”

The Leader’s Role

Swindall notes, however, that engagement is a shared role between leaders and employees. It doesn’t all fall on the leaders to deal with those employees (you know who they are) who come in on Monday, their arms crossed, and say in a challenging manner, “Engage me.”

But leaders can help. In an engaged leadership model, you will need these qualities, says Swindall:

  • Directional. You need a direction or vision, says Swindall. Something that tells your employees about where you’re all going and that every single employee knows how what they do every day ties into this direction. Let people know how they contribute, says Swindall. If they don’t feel tied to something bigger, they’ll never feel connected. The challenge is setting expectations and consequences. When it comes to consequences, no leader wants to be the bad guy, but remember: There are good consequences as well as bad ones.
  • Motivational. Motivational leadership is inspiring people to want to do what they need to do to pursue the company’s vision. Swindall says the most commonly asked question he is asked is, “How do I motivate my people?” His answer is simple: Ask them! What motivates one person is going to be different for another. Don’t give a Starbucks® card to someone who wants to go to The Home Depot. Swindall also recommends that leaders celebrate small successes. We don’t celebrate enough, and the challenge is to create a method to celebrate regular successes. Swindall’s company has Champagne Friday, and it doesn’t have anything to do with champagne, really—it’s a spirit of celebration.
  • Organizational. This leadership quality is all about bringing together the right team to get it all done. Move toward real empowerment. “That’s not a ’90s buzzword, and empowerment isn’t about delegation or distribution of tasks,” says Swindall. The challenge is to stop solving peoples’ problems for them. That doesn’t empower anyone.
  • All three of the above connect to the central quality of Character Core. All the three other pieces depend on this central necessity, says Swindall.

Personal Leadership

Don’t forget personal leadership—you can’t lead others if you aren’t an effective leader of yourself, says Swindall. He recommends keeping everything in perspective and shared these tips:

  • Focus on what matters. Instead of asking your employees “How’re you doing?” switch your greeting to “Tell me something good!” It’s a culture-changing action that highlights what matters, says Swindall.
  • Stop being right all the time. We like to be right because it validates us, but it can harm engagement. “Every time you have to be right, there’s a good chance someone else has to be wrong,” says Swindall. “And if you can show me someone you regularly beat in an argument, I’ll show you someone who you’ve made into a loser.”


A final thought from Swindall: “Your success in this world will not be determined by what you know. Your success in this world will be determined by what you do.” It’s not a matter of knowledge. It’s a matter of action.