Books on the subject of leadership continue to fly off the shelves (virtual or otherwise) and yet engagement continues to be an issue for far too many organizations. With the billions of dollars invested into leadership development over the years surely we should have seen signs of improvement by now. Right?

What if the focus was to shift away from the leaders and onto the employees in your organization? According to Gallup, 87% of employees worldwide are “not engaged”, meaning they lack motivation and are less likely to invest discretionary effort in organizational goals or outcomes. The ROI on engagement is staggering. Gallup reports that organizations with high employee engagement will derive benefits in addition to happy employees: The stock value has higher earnings per share, and the businesses experience 22 percent higher profitability, 21 percent higher productivity, 10 percent higher customer engagement, 25 percent to 65 percent lower turnover, 37 percent lower absenteeism, 28 percent lower shrinkage (theft), and 48 percent fewer staff safety incidents.

Engagement is driven from the top down. How many of us have left a job due to the supervisor we reported to? That being said, shifting the focus to the front lines requires the organization to understand the needs of the individual contributors that make up 70 to 80 percent of the workforce. The easiest way to accomplish that is to have your people participate in an engagement survey. It’s the one way that everyone is asked the same questions without individual bias entering into the mix. Properly constructed employee satisfaction surveys provide the insights that are foundational to creating and reinforcing effective work environments, retaining key staff and attracting top level talent.

I can guarantee you that the most effective leaders in your organization have figured out what’s most important to each of the members on their teams. The problem is that 80% of senior leaders aren’t that passionate about their work either. Remember that I said earlier that engagement is driven from the top down. “It” does flow downhill after all and in the absence of clear insights as to what the specific employee needs are for your organization you’ll continue to fight an uphill battle. When was the last time your organization asked individual contributors what they thought was important?

Here are 3 things that will have an immediate impact

There is plenty of data to support the fact that employees value a working relationship with their supervisor in which they are able to, or even encouraged to disagree. I’m not talking about challenging authority; I’m talking about embracing the concept of challenging opinions. That’s the spark of creativity and innovation versus “the way we’ve always done things”. My good friend Tony Scutella refers to this as conflictual dialogue and it radically changes the approach to problem solving, team dynamics and engagement. Doing away with the artificial harmony that exists in most organizations goes a long way towards improving engagement.

There isn’t an employee in your organization that wouldn’t value having someone nurture their skills. It builds their sense of purpose as well as the level of ability available to your organization. Those skills can be related to the job or to working more effectively with others. This reduces the friction that is created by perceived incompetence or the lack of interpersonal/relationship skills. Collaboration is really difficult unless you eliminate this friction.

Hire the very best talent available and don’t ever settle. This one takes time and the commitment to go back to the well if none of the current candidates have the potential to take their bosses job. Challenge your leadership to find people that are better and brighter than them. You know inherently that this will require a different approach so stop relying on resume’s and interviews. There’s a world of psychometric data available to you at an incredibly low cost, why wouldn’t you use it? Ask yourself how good your hiring managers are at interviewing and if they score less than 8 out of 10 train them how to interview properly.

Stress impacts all of us in a number of different ways. Our cognitive ability (how quickly and effectively we process information) diminishes as our stress level elevates. The ability to make effective decisions is also dramatically downgraded. In his book The Stress Effect: Why Smart Leaders Make Dumb Decisions, author Henry L. Thompson points out that in addition to cognitive ability and decision making, the simple and often overlooked fact is that as stress goes up, emotional intelligence also drops. That's right, just when you need it the most, your ability to access the emotional intelligence you have is lowered.

My good friend, Grace Yvonne Attard, publishes a post on Facebook called "The Daily Grace". Today's post was about self-worth and entrepreneurship and it struck a chord with me. In Grace's words, "low self worth can play a number on entrepreneurs like nothing else can. It could result in bad hires, suboptimal charge out rates, limited vision for your company, playing with the small guys and not the big guys......all of which are detrimental to our businesses."

In the realm of Emotional Intelligence, we call it self-regard. It is the ability to respect and accept yourself - essentially liking the way you are. To have healthy self-regard is to be able to appreciate your strengths along with your weaknesses. It's seeing the positive aspects and possibilities along side of your negative aspects and limitations while still feeling good about yourself...warts and all.

To be more specific, organizations need more emotionally intelligent leaders that can be assertive when the situation warrants it. 

The definition of Assertiveness, relative to Emotional Intelligence, that we subscribe to is comprised of three basic elements:

  1. The ability to express feelings such as joy, content, anger, sorrow.
  2. The ability to express thoughts and beliefs openly (voice opinions, disagree, take a stand on something) even if you have something to lose and it is difficult for you.
  3. The ability to stand up for your personal rights (not allowing others to take advantage of you) in a socially acceptable way that is not offensive or destructive.

One of the emotional intelligence skills that consistently has an impact on careers in general and more specifically, on leadership careers, is Impulse control. It's a skill that contributes greatly to the way in individual makes decisions and is acknowledged as being one of the prime contributors to career (and leadership) derailment. We've all known someone that has hit "reply to all" and sent an ill timed and angry worded email.

Impulse control is your ability to think before acting and to show restraint in the face of impulses and the various temptations to act. Having the ability to remain focused, delay temptation, and avoid making rash decisions will ensure that you remain at low risk of derailment. This skill requires flexibility, the ability to reflect before you speak (or act) and patience when communicating with others.

A month ago I posted an article that included some strategies for engaging and retaining Millennial talent. You can read the full article here. Born between 1982 and 2002, these members of the workforce, and those from Generation Y, are the business leaders of the very near future. Recent research from Gallup indicates that they're the least engaged members of the workforce and now research from Penna shows a distinct mismatch between what their bosses think they want from their future and what is actually important to them. 

Steven Ross, Head of Career Development at Penna says: “Simply guessing what will engage a Gen Y employee, or any employee for that matter, won’t work. Organisations that fail to do so could see a decline in engagement levels, and productivity, and increased attrition rates – not to mention a serious shortfall of managers and leaders in ten years’ time.”

Far too many hiring decisions are based on what's found in the resumé (education and experience) along with a favourable first impression. Believe it or not, in many cases the decision to hire has been made within the first 10 milliseconds of meeting a candidate. The interview is conducted only to confirm that the right decision was made in the time that it took us to blink our eyes.

I’m a huge proponent of using assessments to help match candidates to specific roles. Do that, and your chances of finding and retaining great talent go up significantly. There are plenty of great assessments available. If you’d like to learn more about the assessments I recommend to my clients you can find them here. This article is about helping you to pull more useful information from a candidate. One thing I know from experience, hiring managers hate interviewing! As a result, not many of them are very good at it. Bear in mind that hiring decisions based on unstructured interviews are statistically no better than a coin toss! My guess is that you wouldn’t make any other meaningful business decision if the odds were so low.

New research authored by Dr. Tara White suggests that there are two different types of extroverts – “agentic” and “affiliative” – each with distinct brain structures. Her findings confirms what the behavioural sciences have long known to be the case. According to Dr. White, agentic extroverts are “go-getters”: the kind of outgoing people who are persistent, assertive and focused on achievement. Affiliative extroverts tend to be more affectionate, friendly and sociable. 

The study, published in the journal Cognitive, Affective, and Behavioral Neuroscience (Grodin & White, 2015), determined that both types of extroverts had more gray matter in the medial orbitofrontal cortex. This area of the brain has been linked to making decisions based on rewards. Agentic extroverts, though, had larger volumes in some other areas as well. These were related to learning and memory for reward, cognitive control of behaviours and planning and execution. The study can’t tell us whether these areas are the cause of the personality differences or the result of them, or perhaps some combination of the two.

They're the youngest generation in the workforce and have already demonstrated a willingness to job-hop unlike any generation before them. The recent Gallup poll on engagement that is derived from data captured during 2014 indicates that while overall engagement levels are up nearly two percentage points from 2013, the Millennial group are the least engaged of all four groups that comprise the workforce. Worse news yet is that almost 70 percent of the workforce are still in the "not engaged" or "actively disengaged" categories according to the Gallup statistics.

Before we get to any discussion of your greatest weakness, I think it’s actually more important to take a look at an inventory of your strengths. Why, you ask? Drawing on past experience, I find that quite often it’s our perceived strengths that become our greatest weaknesses. A strength overused becomes a weakness. In the words of Marshall Goldsmith, "what got you here, won't get you there".

There are several great assessments that help you to take stock of your strengths and determine what, if any, blind spots you may be operating with. It's important to note that blind spots have frequently led to the career derailment of people with the very best of knowledge, skills and abilities. I'm talking about people with incredibly high potential that eventually goes unrecognized due to what could be referred to as a fatal flaw. The toll on those individuals, and the organizations they've worked for, is incredible and for the most part avoidable.