To observe that Jim Kouzes has some insightful things to say about leadership is a bit like pointing out that the sun could teach us a thing or two about illumination. In his foreword to a new book on employee engagement, Jim packs a great deal of such insight into remarkably few words when he writes:
“But keep in mind that leadership is not about the leader. It is not about you. It is about others. It is about how others experience you and what you do. It’s about their hopes, dreams, and aspirations. It’s about their level of trust, respect, and engagement with you and each other. It’s about their feelings of empowerment and commitment.”
This advice seems especially apt in light of two recent articles about the results of the now-decade-long quest for higher levels of employee engagement.
- From a March 5, 2015 Forbes.com article: “Another year, another employee engagement poll by Gallup, another round of teeth gnashing. Despite small gains in 2014, a great majority of employees are still not engaged. On average, only 31.5% of your employees are engaged, 51% of them are not engaged, and 17.5% are creating real trouble by being actively disengaged.”
- From a March 8, 2015 article in TD.org: “According to a Towers Watson survey, nearly two-thirds of U.S. employees are not fully engaged in their work. The same percentage of the workforce was as disengaged in 2000 as it is today, and that trend has been consistent throughout the past decade.”
- On the brighter side, a Bersin by Deloitte report says that the market for employee engagement products and services is now $1.5B. So if nothing else, the shortfall of employee engagement is being mitigated by a dramatic increase in consulting engagements.
Glibness aside, the question remains: Why is this happening? I think it has to do with leaders’ felt need to appear as though they are colossi striding purposefully toward their goals, with followers tripping over each other for the chance to touch the hem of the leaders’ garments. But much of the time, leadership is less a matter of striding purposefully and more one of, to invoke Tom Peters memorable phrase, “wobbling toward clarity.”
One such time is when dealing with a matter such as employee engagement, since it has less to do with mechanical, utilitarian matters than it does with an organization’s spirit and soul. It’s here that Jim Kouzes’ advice becomes especially relevant. Spend a little less time asking “What are the ‘n’ steps I need to add to my engagement project plan in order to usher us into the promised land?” and a little more asking “How does what I do affect other people?”
Replace “purposeful strides” with “humble wobbles” and things just might start going better for you vis-à-vis engagement.