My teenage daughters have been, by far, my best teachers in understanding engagement. When I’ve been traveling for an extended time and disconnected from them, my tendency is to come home and see all the things they aren’t doing to help around the house. When I’m tired and detached from them I’ll notice how they haven’t been keeping their rooms clean enough, their chores haven’t been done adequately, and their responsibilities have been neglected. Then I’ll proceed to lecture them and willfully try to “engage” the “disengaged.” This type of approach, or management by pressure, is what Ken Blanchard used to call “seagull management,” which means you ignore people and then you fly around and crap on them. The obvious result of this line of attack is resistance, disengagement, and power struggles.
What my kids continue to teach me is that if you want engagement, you first of all have to be engaged. Paradoxically, commitment and accountability for results is correlated with the time you spend with your kids when you aren’t expecting anything, when you are just hanging around, listening and hearing their concerns and desires. Before you can engage people you have to be engaged with them. Connection – or reconnection if you have been detached – is a prerequisite to engagement. So often I see executives in their corporate offices sending out employee engagement surveys to people they don’t even know and then wondering why people say they are disengaged. Sole reliance on employee engagement surveys to assess whether your employees are engaged is an indication of disengagement!