Leadership is a tough job. Not only do you have to be adept at managing multiple priorities, but you also have to possess expert people skills. After all, regardless of industry, a leader is only as good as his or her team. Without the buy-in and respect of your employees, you’ll have a difficult time accomplishing the organization’s goals. The challenge, then, is figuring out how to be irresistible to your team—how to create the conditions by which people can’t resist your message and vision and therefore want to align and partner with you.
Becoming irresistible requires that you attract and connect with people, which naturally results in trust and loyalty. That’s why the key for any leader is to create the conditions and experiences by which people want to engage with you. Following are the top three ways to build engagement with your staff.
1. Build Rapport: The best way to build rapport with people is to simply listen to them. When people feel listened to, they are more likely to trust you and are more eager to engage with you. To make listening a priority in your role, start doing monthly listening tours. These do not have to be long sessions—15 minutes is enough. The point is to actually schedule time where you meet with people informally and just let them talk.
At the beginning of the meeting, tell them, “This is just a listening meeting. For 15 minutes I just want to hear your ideas, your concerns, or anything else you’d like to share.” Then, let them talk. Don’t interrupt or dominate the conversation. In fact, only speak when the other person asks you a question. The rest of the time just listen and take notes. After the person is done talking, paraphrase what you heard. Taking only 15 minutes out of your day to listen will help you forge a greater connection with your staff and make a huge difference in employee engagement.
2. Disagree with Grace: Disagreements at work are inevitable. The key is how you handle them. Too often, leaders come across as harsh when they disagree, inadvertently making employees feel inferior or that their ideas are without merit. So rather than abruptly tell people things like, “No, that will never work,” or “You obviously don’t understand the full situation,” when you disagree with them, start by acknowledging and validating the other person’s perspective.
To do this requires that you listen attentively and then legitimize the other person’s point of view. It is most effective when you can provide at least three points of validation because that’s when the person is more likely to feel that you actually heard what they said. So, for example, if someone offers an idea for increasing profits that you think is too risky and won’t work, you could say something like, “I see that your proposal is a reflection of your commitment to finding viable options that will increase our profitability (validation #1). It’s evident that you’ve put a lot of effort into taking a look at the numbers (validation #2). And you’ve offered a compelling business case for us to consider (validation #3). We’re aligned in that we’re both looking for a committed solution. Where we differ is in how aggressive the plan should be and how much risk we should take on. Maybe that’s something we can talk about.” Remember, the magic number is three points of validation.
At this point you can ask some open-ended questions to get a better idea of the employee’s thinking, or you can agree to disagree. But it’s that validation that enables you to disagree with grace. Now rather than shutting the conversation down, you’re engaging the employee. This is what creates irresistibility, because when the employee walks away from that meeting, they may not have gotten what they wanted, but they weren’t defeated. And that’s huge to the engagement factor.
3. Offer Acknowledgment and Praise: Too often leaders are so busy, stressed, and overwhelmed that they forget to acknowledge people. But human beings crave acknowledgment and want to feel that they are making a meaningful difference in some way. Therefore, offering acknowledgment and praise goes a long way to building engagement.
Acknowledging someone doesn’t mean gushing over them and touting superlatives that aren’t warranted. It’s also not about empty phrases like “Good job.” Offering acknowledgment and praise works best when you’re factual and pointing out specifics that made an impact. For example, instead of telling someone, “You did a good job on that report,” which lacks any type of facts or specifics, you could say, “I wanted to compliment you on your report. It detailed the topic in a clear way, gave a strong call to action at the end, and was visually very appealing in the layout.” The more specific you can be with your praise, the more meaningful it is for the employee. In addition to making the person feel important, your words are giving them clear feedback on what success looks like so they can duplicate it in the future.
Remember, too, that acknowledgment and praise doesn’t only happen during a formal meeting or year-end review. You can offer a word of acknowledgment in passing at the water cooler. Often, it’s those little interactions that leave a lasting impression.
Attract the Best: If you want to be one of those leaders that people can’t seem to resist—the kind of leader who has loyal employees and a strong environment of trust—then you need to focus on these three employee engagement practices. Not only will your current employees find you irresistible, but you’ll also have a steady stream of eager potential employees (the best of the best) who want to work with you. Ultimately, the more engagement and partnership you have with your team, the more rewarding the work experience will be for everyone. That’s when the organization will experience true and lasting success.
Alesia Latson is a speaker, trainer, coach and founder of Latson Leadership Group, a consulting firm specializing in management and leadership development. With more than 20 years of experience, Latson helps organizations and leaders expand their capacity to produce results while enhancing employee engagement. For more information on Alesia’s speaking and consulting, please contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.latsonleadershipgroup.com.