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The current state of engaged leaders
Leaders are faced with multiple pressures and must deal with them on the run. Tasks are abundant, pressures from deadlines loom, and all the while, they must continue moving towards the goals laid out. The engaged leader must always look ahead. They must navigate through the never-ending bombardment of things to do, people to see, and places to go.
Forward thinking can be a good thing and is needed to move the organization ahead. You can’t get to the future unless you have the vision, build a plan, and take action to get there. The problem for leaders often appears when they forgo engagement with their team, focusing on the other tasks they’re juggling.
The partly present leader
Time and time again, I’ve witnessed the cost of thinking and acting in the future rather than being fully present. The scenario usually plays out the same. They involve team meetings with leaders who are smart and genuinely good people. As the meetings progress, the leaders end up working on other tasks not related to the purpose of the meeting. The employees know the leaders in question should be engaged but are instead moving in and out of the conversations. The leaders are continuously surprised to hear their name, asking to be brought up to speed, like the classroom daydreamer.
The people around them feel disrespected and dispossessed of their commitments to the success of the meeting at hand. Body language changes in these scenarios, exhibiting forced disengagement, including sighs, rolled eyes, and looks of resignation. Often, the leaders in question have no idea the impact their behavior has on the people they’re trying to lead. As a result, leaders are unaware of how their employees view them.
The quickest way to lose respect
It’s obvious (when you take an objective viewpoint) that the people we spend time with recognize when we’re not with them. They realize right away when we’re in our own worlds, traveling somewhere in the future. We’re not focusing on our conversations and instead, are thinking about something else. At that point, we are going out of our way to undermine our leadership. When we’re not mentally with the people we lead and whose efforts we look to command, those people have no recourse but to question if we care about them. I’m not sure if there is an easier way to lose their respect. When we can’t be with the people we’re with, our actions are diminishing what they see as their value to us as people. What could be worse? There may not be an easier way to lose followers.
Commit to those around you
The interesting thing is that we’re always present when we’re with clients or those we’re trying to woo in some way. They demand all of our attention because we want them to be happy with us. We want them to know that we care about them and their concerns. Our cell phones are off. We listen with our faces. We’re not typing or reading emails. We are there 100% because we care, and we want them to know that.
That’s why it’s so hard when employees (or family members) witness their leaders not being present with them. It sends a signal to the employee (or the spouse, or the child, or the friend) when we’re thinking about something else, take a call, read an email, go through a report, or rifle through papers. We’re saying to the person that we’re with, “You don’t matter as much as what I’m doing right now, and I’m OK with you knowing that.” And that’s a dirty rotten shame. It undercuts everything we are trying to do as an engaged leader. Nothing matters more to the people who look to us to lead than the knowledge that we care about them as people. Everyone wants to matter to the world around them and especially to those who they should matter to – their family, their company, their team.
Develop a plan for engaging
I’ve learned when someone engages me in communication, it makes sense for me to finish the sentence I’m typing and then turn all of my attention to the person with whom I’m interacting. No matter what’s on the docket, that effort will not be served if I’m typing, reading, or doing any multi-tasking that takes me away from giving all of my attention to the person that wants it. This may not work for everyone, but if you commit to being an engaged leader, sit down and take time to create a plan that works best for you.
Are you connecting with this post a little more than you’d like? If you’re dealing with a lack of trust and respect with your employees due to disengagement, it’s not too late to reverse the effects. Take this opportunity to be vulnerable with your team and let them know you’re committed to being present. This is also a chance for you to rebuild the trust you may have lost by asking them to hold you accountable.
If you do care about being an engaged leader and about the people you’re with, be there with them – every minute of every day. I’m not saying it’s easy because it sure isn’t for me. But, if you do care, and you want to lead, you owe it to your people and to yourself to be where you are. I think both you and the world will benefit from the effort.