Great Managers, Great Leadership; Think of Them as Engagement Maestros

A new VP rides into town for the holidays!

This past week in New York, as in other cities, there were Christmas parties all over town.

In this case, the department got together with drinks, food and holiday festivities. It was a festive occasion with everyone engaged and having a heck of a time. The new VP walks into the room and works it masterfully. He had conversation for everyone; not just fake small talk, but actual conversation with each person about their work and who they were.

A Gen Y person that I know is not satisfied with her job and works for this company. Her complaints were that the job is not challenging and she has nothing to do but basically sit and do make work. She was actively looking for something else, spending lots of time trying to get out.

However, internally she had already been identified as a superstar by all. Although she has been there only a short time, she is known as the go-to person to get it done. She has grasped the business, speaks in meetings, and asks relevant questions that managers have told her that they wished they would have asked.

Ask the right questions

The problem is that she wants more work to do and really wants to get involved in more challenging assignments. The harder and more challenging, the better.

The VP came along and the two of them have a great discussion. He later asks some of the managers about this Gen Y person because he was impressed. The comments come back which sums it up: “star in the making,” “extremely capable,” and that “she has grasped this business.”

The morning after the party, she walks in oblivious to any of this until one of the managers pulls her aside and gave her the backtalk.

The impact of leadership

The VP was impressed with the conversation, and more importantly, with the feedback from the managers. His reply to his team was, “What do you think we should do about her?” He wanted the team to put their heads together to figure out a way to get this promising Gen Y employee more involved in the business. He assumed that if they didn’t, this young talent would leave for greener pastures.

And THAT is what manager engagement is all about.

There is so much talk about employee engagement that I think we should all pull back and realize that the manager is the most important part of the equation. That single individual could wipe out the large disparity that we see in every stat as it pertains to employee engagement.

That’s because when managers are disengaged, it breeds a toxic work environment. This environment festers into a workforce that is, for the most part, motionless and robotic.

Managers control engagement

Being an engaged boss means taking an active role in ensuring that your employees have what they need to be successful, and more importantly, in connecting with their team.

“If an employee ever walks into your office and resigns, and you as their manager are surprised and shocked, you are not engaged with your team.” This has always been my mantra.

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Managers/leaders control engagement within the enterprise. Being an engaged boss means taking an active role in ensuring that your employees have what they need to be successful.

10 questions if you want to drive engagement

Here are 10 questions that are important for managers/executives to ask if they are focused on driving engagement:

  1. Does your team feel inspired and motivated by your leadership?
  2. Are you aware of your team members’ career goals?
  3. Do you know your team members’ significant others, kids names, family situation, etc?
  4. Is your team seen as a fun team and collaborative?
  5. Are other employees looking at your team longingly, wanting to be a member of it?
  6. Do people that you have managed over the years still keep in touch with you?
  7. Would your team look forward to a meeting, lunch or dinner with you?
  8. Do you communicate frequent feedback, both good and bad?
  9. Are you seen as a coach, or do you constantly micromanage?
  10. Do your employees feel that you are their maestro?

While you could probably think of many ways to identify an engaged leader, the onus is on the manager.

Manager as conductor/leaders as maestro

“Any asino can conduct,” Italian maestro Arturo Toscanini once said, “but to make music, eh? Is difficile!”

This quote from one of the early composers says as much about music as it does about managing people. There are managers and then there are those that everyone knows are great leaders who make music with their departments.

A maestro is considered a master conductor as opposed to a regular conductor. Based on that, the great manager would be called the maestro.

Like a conductor, an executive is at once both a leader and an artist – directing the actions of others towards a goal. This goal is enabling your team to reach levels that satisfy the need of personal accomplishments, department and organization goals.

This is music. This is leadership. Leaders out there should strive to be the maestro and not simply the conductor.

Come hear Ron Thomas as he leads the first-ever TLNT Transform conference in Austin, TX this coming Feb. 26-28, 2012. Click here for more information on attending this event. 

Ron Thomas is Managing Director, Strategy Focused Group DWC LLC, based in Dubai. He is also a senior faculty member and representative of the Human Capital Institute covering the MENA/Asia Pacific region.

He was formerly CEO of Great Place to Work-Gulf and former CHRO based in Riyadh. He holds certifications from the Human Capital Institute as Global Human Capital Strategist, Master Human Capital Strategist, and Strategic Workforce Planner.

He's been cited by CIPD as one of the top 5 HR Thinkers in the Middle East. He received the Outstanding Leadership Award for Global HR Excellence at the World Human Resources Development Congress in Mumbai, and was named as one of the 50 Most Talented Global HR Leaders in Asia

Ron's prior roles included senior HR positions with Xerox HR services, IBM, and Martha Stewart Living.

Board memberships include the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council, McKinsey Quarterly's Executive Online Panel, and HCI's Expert Advisory Council on Talent Management Strategy.

His work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Inc. Magazine, Workforce Management and numerous international HR magazines covering Africa, India and the Middle East.


3 Comments on “Great Managers, Great Leadership; Think of Them as Engagement Maestros

  1. The really sad thing is that everything in this post should be common sense and should be the bible for any manager.  The fact that you had to write it and point it out is a real indicator of how badly we do “management.”

    Until we get out of the industrial age mindset of the definition of what managers do I fear posts like this will continue to be written and continued to be ignored.

    Managers create engagement in the process of delivering corporate AND personal employee objectives.  Period.  How they do it is as individualized as the person we are trying to engage.  Which to the point of the post requires, listening and thinking FIRST  about how to get the PERSON engaged.

  2. “Being an engaged boss means taking an active role in ensuring that your employees have what they need to be successful, and more importantly, in connecting with their team.” Bingo.

    This post reminds me of Multipliers, by Liz Wiseman. There are so many leaders who are really oppressors in a management position. Great leaders don’t use fear as motivation, or ignore talented individuals, but rather removes obstacles and nurtures the talent so it can blossom.

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