We are living through a time that no one was fully prepared for. On top of the unprecedented speed of innovation and emerging business models, living through the global pandemic over the past several months has produced disruption at a pace we’ve not experienced. The heart of the matter is that we’ve all been knocked off balance. As we look to the future of business, one thing is for sure – the key to success is leaders who manage their team’s stress down by the energy they bring to the workplace.
Every interaction is an opportunity for a leader to influence the team and have a positive impact. Leaders, whose energy is depleted, work in crisis mode, and become emotionally disconnected. On the other hand, energized leaders who engage their people is what gets and organization through disruption and drives results. There are two things fundamental to employee engagement – communication and appreciation.
1. Communication. Communication is an essential ingredient to employee engagement. To drive engagement, communication means providing detailed information and explaining “the why,” to create greater clarity and reduce uncertainty for the team. Uncertainty creates a stressful energy response in our brains, which responds by creating a story that is often much worse than what’s actually happening. It’s our brain’s way of preparing for something bad to happen, so we can protect ourselves. For example, think back to the last time your boss called an impromptu meeting and provided no explanation. You likely had a flash of panic as negative thoughts, like “what did I do wrong,” rushed through your mind.
This is what makes communication so important. As a leader, the key is to gain clarity by zooming out and understanding the bigger picture of the situation, then refocusing back on the team and make progress by zooming back in and providing a practical understanding at regular check-ins, daily huddles, and team meetings.
2. Appreciation. When my boys were younger, a favorite bedtime story was Carol McCloud’s “Have You Filled a Bucket Today?: A Guide to Daily Happiness for Kids.” We used this book to show them how easy and rewarding it is to express kindness, appreciation, and love to others each day. But these lessons are not very apparent in the workplace. Nearly twenty years ago, Gallup conducted a survey that showed nearly two-thirds of employees say they show up to work every day and no one ever offers up any kind of appreciation or gratitude. Though I want to believe we’ve gotten better at showing gratitude and appreciation in the workplace, over the past two decades, I worry that these unprecedented times may have washed out any gains we’ve made. This is a problem because we know that feeling valued and appreciated are drivers of employee engagement.
To meet this challenge, leaders have to be intentional and creative in finding moments, throughout the day, to be a “bucket filler.” Simple role modeling, by giving “shoutouts” during the daily huddle, will have a big impact. Another idea is implementing a way for employees to show appreciation for each other; perhaps even placing a “bucket” somewhere in the workplace (or an e-bucket, for the virtual teams out there) and challenge the team to fill the bucket with genuine appreciate each week. The more people see and experience appreciation, the more like they are to pay it forward.
A principle that is core to me is “each moment describes who you are and gives you the opportunity to decide if that’s who you want to be.” Amidst all the disruptive forces in our organizations, we’ve learned that work can get done in ways we didn’t recognize before and are reminded that we are all just people who care deeply for our family, friends and community. As a leader, when you see every interaction with your team as an opportunity to have a positive impact and energize the team, you enable them to do their very best and everyone wins.