Our leaders - do they get the engaged tone?

Buzz, momentum, excitement – just three of the words that came up time and again at yesterday’s Engage for success event in Westminster.

And they were apt certainly, for that’s exactly what the general sense was in the room. The evidence was clear and it was reiterated many times by some great speakers – employee engagement isn’t just the fluffy stuff of touchy-feely HR, it has a fundamental impact on the bottom line of commercial organisations. Moreover, and - terrifyingly perhaps, evidence has revealed a direct link to engagement levels in the NHS and patient mortality!

However, I couldn’t help but think that it was relatively easy to create a buzz in that room about engagement – as it was full of, well, engaged people.

The passion of David Macleod @davidtmacleod and Nita Clarke @nita_clarke is unmistakable and they indeed hammered home the point that this was just the beginning - it was up to each of us to go back to our respective organisations and sectors and beat the employee engagement drum as loudly as possible. However in a room full of corporate and internal communicators, engagement co-ordinators and HR professionals, isn’t there the expectation that they do this already?

The one thing that will unequivocally move things along for employee engagement is authentic, inspirational leadership. Figure heads at the very top of organisations that truly “get it” and whose enthusiasm is not contrived. Archie Norman, Chairman of ITV plc, who gave a great speech yesterday, absolutely personifies these qualities – but it’s for this very reason he’s chosen to be the perfect example for the movement. He’s the exception to the rule. Quite simply, amazingly engaged and engaging, inspirational and sincere leaders are few and far between.

And I am not about to say that most leaders deep down see all this as a box-ticking exercise – those that dispute the importance of employee engagement are quite likely a breed that are dying out. I think the biggest threat to the success of a movement such as this are those leaders who think they “get it”. They completely understand the principles and are 100% supportive of the values. They would nod their heads with genuine appreciation of what we were saying if we came back inspired from yesterday’s event and keen to get them fully on board. They would absolutely back an engagement strategy, even hire someone to be the employee engagement manager, but if those at the very top lack the intrinsic personal qualities of authenticity, respectfulness, being inspirational and charismatic (and with a high degree of emotional intelligence thrown in) – I’d worry that any employee engagement strategy that the organisation tries to implement won’t achieve its objectives.

The great quote from Engage for success’s video (1min 25 below): “I am not a human resource, I’m a human being!” sums up the movement and underlines the point at its core – we are human beings, with our very human need to feel valued. That’s the no-brainer aspect to all of this. The more difficult challenge is to identify and champion those exceptional human beings who can lead in a truly inspirational way and can satisfy that basic need of each of us as employees - to feel our work endeavours are worthwhile.

Is it time to have an honest discussion about how we find and recruit great leaders?

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