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I recently had the privilege to work with one of America’s most reputable airlines–one that was named to Fortune’s 2014 Top 50 World’s Most Admired Companies List. I was struck by the group’s brilliance, intelligence and competencies as leaders, managers and supervisors.  I was asked to talk about enhancing employee engagement by providing tips, tools and insights about how to motivate people to give discretionary effort. I was honored by the request because I am passionate about creating positive and trusting relationships which form a foundation to engagement. You see, I believe there are times managers become preoccupied with agendas and protocols that they simply do not ‘see’ their employees through the lens that acknowledges them, the lens that is required to continuously build rapport and cultivate valued relationships. And yet myriad studies including those from the Neuro-leadership Institute, McKinsey & Company, Forbes, Harvard Business School, and the Institute for Employment Studies suggest the consistency of the influence of the line manager or supervisor relationship is crucial to fostering valued relationships and enhancing employee engagement.

The purpose of my presentation was to highlight ways to motivate people–their direct reports– to deepen their engagement, increase their motivation, and go the extra mile.

We talked about how some of us have had many years of management or leadership experience, some of us only a short tenure, and agreed the number of years does not matter as much as the GROWTH, EXPERIENCE, and WILLINGNESS TO LEARN we each have inside us.  Each of us is unique and gifted in ways unlike any other individual and as such we bring our different EXPERIENCES, PERSPECTIVES and the LESSONS WE HAVE LEARNED to our professional environment.  It’s these  qualities that make leaders successful, and indeed studies have proven the most influential leaders PRIORITIZE MANAGING RELATIONSHIPS FIRST.  They focus on relationships because ultimately cultivating feeling based relationships fosters employee engagement, and it is engaged employees who demonstrate higher levels of motivation, strive to go above and beyond, and are adaptive to change.

I am going to take this presentation experience and provide you a multi-part blog series during which I will invite you to consider some concepts that may strengthen and become a consistent part of your leadership style, and potentially deepen the relationship with, and enhance the engagement of your employees. In order to see your people through a different lens, we are going to focus on TIPS, INSIGHTS, and TECHNIQUES that will assist you to foster meaningful relationships—to understand what makes your people tick, what impacts their motivation—because just as you and I are unique and constantly evolving individuals, so are they.  We need to honor and encourage the learning and growth continuum and acknowledge that everyone grows at different rates. We can’t apply a one approach fits all to everyone. You have got to connect with your people individually to influence them.

By the end of this blog series my hope is that I have stimulated your thinking and that you take away some ideas that you can implement to foster feeling and value based relationships which will cultivate brand ambassadors who demonstrate deeper engagement, connection to your customers and commitment to you and your organization.

Let’s contemplate becoming engaging leaders–those who inspire, motivate, and build meaningful relationships with their people.

The first idea I invite you to explore is that your employees are inherently good, hard working people who do not consciously become disengaged, or purposely perform at the bare minimum level.  The challenge AT TIMES is that there is an invisible force that is fracturing their capacity to stay focused, maintain productivity, and deepen human connections or relationships.  I have seen it increase dramatically over the past few years, and science is now validating through myriad studies that indeed we are becoming vulnerable and victims of INFORMATION OVERLOAD.  It has become normal to attend an unending rhythm of daily meetings or briefings, respond to an influx of emails, and huge volumes of other information coming at us via ever-present technology and sometimes changing expectations. For many people, multi-tasking has become a way of life (some personalities have made it an Olympic sport). Despite some people thinking they have mastered the art of multitasking, the reality is studies have proven that we, in fact, become less productive.  Moreover, information overload causes stress, anxiety, and general angst in people. 

In addition to the obvious negative physiological responses to the endocrine, respiratory, cardiovascular, musculoskeletal and peripheral nervous systems, information overload dims intelligence, reduces one’s ability to think clearly, robs their flexibility and ability to deal with the unknown, and causes people to forget the big picture which contains the goals and values they stand for. All of this combined depletes precious brain resources and leads people subconsciously to operate out of fear and/or to feel threatened.

So there is some bad news and good news here. The bad news is that information overload is not going away. It is a personal choice to manage it and find strategies to limit its negative effects on us. The GOOD news is that studies show that fostering personal connections, valued relationships REDUCES FEAR….so you have a SOLUTION…you can continue to build rapport by cultivating a positive, fear-free emotional atmosphere in your workplace. WHY MIGHT THIS BE MEANINGFUL TO YOU? Because EMOTION is the on/off switch for ENGAGEMENT!

To illustrate this point, I am going to borrow and modify an exercise from Janice Marturano, former Vice President , Public Responsibility and Deputy General Counsel at General Mills and currently the Executive Director of the Institute for Mindful Leadership. Please set aside five minutes to engage in it:
1. Close your eyes for a few minutes (at least 4-5, set a timer if necessary)
2. Sit up straight
3. Focus on your in-breath and out-breath while hands are placed on your lap and feet are flat on the floor
4. Once settled into a rhythm–after about 3 minutes–think of the one or two leaders you admire most. What are the qualities of those leaders you admire or aspire to?

There is a good chance that what surfaced for you are humanistic qualities such as courage, humility, good listener, integrity, cares about the well-being and success of his/her employees, communicative, clarity with expectations, transparent, truthful, kind, compassionate, honesty, and on and on. Indeed Janice has shared that she has yet to have someone claim the qualities they most admire in their chosen leader are: meets quarterly quotas, financial aptitude, negotiates well, meets shareholder expectations, competes tasks on time, etc. Both her experience and now mine having done this exercise with groups multiple times speak to the widely accepted truth in the leadership field that effective leaders CREATE POSITIVE FEELING ENVIRONMENTS and MANAGE RELATIONSHIPS.

What are you doing to cultivate such conditions in your work and family life?
Feel free to share your responses and teach us so we can learn as a community.

In Part 2, we will explore a concept emerging in the field of neuro-leadership that will illustrate how to inspire, influence and motivate others.

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