Do employees really want to be engaged? If you define “employee engagement” as author Kevin Kruse does (“The emotional commitment the employee has to the organization and its goals”), it’s likely that yes, all employees want to feel some level of connectedness to the work they do. Yet, as Kruse, author of Employee Engagement is for Everyone points out, it’s not only the manager who’s responsible for the feelings of engagement. Employees also must take on ownership for designing their level of satisfaction with their work. That’s the premise of Kruse’s book: that to achieve maximum employee engagement, both employees and their managers have an equal stake in making engagement a reality.
This represents a shift in philosophy for many employees because it requires that they rethink how they show up to work. They need to see themselves as part of a partnership with their manager and their peers. They also need to see themselves as leaders too.
Wait, what? All employees are now leaders? How in the world is that going to work? But in this world where there’s more frequent talk of a “leaderless” organization (at least, “leaderless” in that nobody holds an official management title), employees must find ways to lead themselves—and others— to successful organizational outcomes.
When Employee Engagement is for Everyone debuted, I interviewed Kevin Kruse. You can see the interview series here. While researching an article on Employee Engagement, I revisited the transcript of our interview and found this previously unpublished gem from Kevin about what it means to be a leader and how it impacts employee engagement.
Here’s our conversation:
Jen: I read that you believe that people don’t have to have a title to be a leader. Would you please elaborate?
Kevin: We often use the phrase “employee engagement” to indicate a certain set of conditions that people feel and act upon in the workplace. But at a higher level, it’s really it’s all about leadership.
Jen: How so?
Kevin: It seems like an academic exercise to think about the definition of leadership, but I encourage people to really get comfortable with what leadership means to them. Unfortunately, I think many people think the words “leadership” and “management” are synonymous. And really, I don’t think they are.
I think that the core of leadership is about using social influence towards for the achievement of some goal. And I like to purposely omit any reference to direct reports, because you don’t need an official title to lead and you don’t need direct reports to be a leader. We can all lead from where we are.
Jen: That might seem like a stretch to some people. How about a few examples.
Kevin: I like to remind people that we can chose to be a leader in our family. We can chose to be a leader in our neighborhood or our community. We can chose to step up and be a leader in our church or place of worship. And in these situations, we don’t have direct reports in the congregation or in our family or in the neighborhood. And yet we would all see that we could chose to influence others and to accomplish certain goals.
I think it’s the same in the workplace, we just don’t think of it that way.
So let’s say I’m a frontline employee, on a team of eight people. I have a manager that I report to, but I do not manage employees. What you do or don’t do on any given day, what you say or don’t say on any given day influences those around you. So it is really a choice: do you want to say and do things that are neutral or might even bring people down or be disruptive towards the attainment of a goal? Or do you want to say and do things that will encourage others and to help achieve their goals and help everybody to feel more engaged at work?
We need to recognize that we can all lead from where we are and that we can all influence our peers.
This is Jen writing now.
This is always a controversial topic: can anyone be a leader? Definitely something to think about. As always, I thank Kevin for sharing his thoughts with the readers of The People Equation. We all appreciate your insights!
Tell me something: what do you think about the idea that all people can be leaders?
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