Talking last week with a friend who manages a team of software developers, and she was marveling at their level of productivity. To her it felt like 10x the throughput of a team she’d been a part of at a previous company, plus they were all having more fun.
Reminded me of a seminar where we identified the conditions that create a space for people to invest themselves and be deeply committed. It’s not just about clear vision and compelling mission (though those are important too). Engagement is highest when we feel we are highly valued; when we feel we’re part of a winning team; when our work is meaningful; and when there is an environment of trust.
So I asked my friend what is she doing to stimulate these factors? She herself wasn’t fully aware, but as we talked it became clear it could only be happening through the multitude of daily small conversations she has with her team and with each individual in the team. Sharing a sense of appreciation in each email or slack message. Holding her people accountable not through constant badgering but by being in the heat of battle with them. Being willing to climb into the foxhole and work side by side on the real problems. Yes, providing clear direction of where they were going and milestones to mark the way; yes, giving constant encouragement, having course-correcting chats when needed, and celebrating progress; and yet also taking time and care to listen to the people in her team, to hear their fears and support them when they feel frustrated.
Doesn’t matter at what level we are leading: Executives, directors, project managers, sports coaches, clergy, administrators, team captains, dorm leaders, teachers, parents, big brothers and sisters: anyone in positions of authority can influence how engaged we feel.
I am so impressed with my friend’s success, and I strive to emulate her. Leadership is a difficult and noble undertaking.