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5 big mistakes leaders make about engagement

Engagement is something all top organizations share, but it's easy for leaders to get it wrong.

4 min read



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Lead Change is a leadership media destination with a unique editorial focus on driving change within organizations, teams, and individuals. Lead Change, a division of Weaving Influence, publishes twice monthly with SmartBrief. Today’s post is by Mark Miller.

Over the last decade, perhaps no topic within the leadership field has received more air time than engagement. What strikes me as odd is that so little progress has been made. Over this same span of time, I’ve worked with tens of thousands of leaders from countries around the world. For every success in this area of leadership, you can find a hundred leaders who have stumbled. Here are some of the most common mistakes I see leaders making:

1. Leaders assume their people are fully engaged. The data just doesn’t support this. If you look at Gallup’s annual report on the state of the American workforce, only one in three workers is engaged at work, and this is the highest level seen in 15 years!

2. Leaders believe engagement is too soft to have any real impact on the bottom line. Wrong! Assuming you have a product or service that has been well-engineered and priced appropriately, the engagement of your people is what drives the bottom line, the top line, the lines in the middle and customer satisfaction.

3. Leaders believe HR is responsible for engagement. Some of the most competent and professional people I know work in HR, but you will never convince me they should “own” engagement. The senior leaders across the enterprise should own the engagement of the people they serve. Low engagement is not an HR problem but a leadership problem.

4. Leaders think the solution is more perks and benefits (or a company picnic). Make no mistake, most people would appreciate more goodies at work. However, engagement in its purest form is how much someone cares about their work, their co-workers and their organization. The path to caring is not paved with chili dogs and cornhole.

5. Leaders fail to see the strategic and competitive advantages a fully engaged workforce offers. We’ve been studying high-performance organizations for almost a decade. Our team has covered a lot of ground: Navy SEALs, professional sports, world-class businesses like Apple, Starbucks and Zappos, just to name a few. One of the common traits among all these elite organizations is a focus on engagement. The strategies and objectives are certainly different, but the commitment is unwavering. You’ll never create a high-performance organization without a fully engaged workforce.

So, what should a leader do to escape the trap of these misguided beliefs and behaviors? Here are three steps you can take:

  1. Own engagement, don’t delegate it. You can seek out others to help you, even our friends in HR, but engagement should be on your scorecard. Leaders are the architects of the culture. Your current level of engagement is a direct reflection of the actions you have taken and the ones you have failed to take. You created your current level of engagement in your organization, and you can change it.
  2. Measure engagement. Nothing improves without measurement. Imagine any other key metric in your organization — sales, profits, customer satisfaction, quality, inventory, etc. How would you manage and improve these things if you didn’t know the score? Hope is not a strategy! There are countless tools out there to measure engagement. Find one that aligns with your point-of-view and use it.
  3. Lead. Generally speaking, as leaders we place our focus on activities we believe will make a difference. I encourage you to lead in the area of engagement like your job and the future of your organization depended on it. If you desire to be one of the best in your chosen industry, it does.

At the end of the day, my prediction is that if you decide to focus your energy on creating a fully engaged workforce, you’ll find few things that will bring you more joy, satisfaction and results.

Win the heart and everyone wins!


Mark Miller is a business leader, author, and communicator. He has served in numerous leadership roles over 40 years with Chick-fil-A, Inc. Miller’s new book, “Win the Heart,” will be published this month. He now has over 1 million books in print in 25+ languages. Learn more at

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