The “New” Engaged Leader: Why Everyone You Touch Really Does Matter

To Our Readers: This week, TLNT is continuing our annual tradition by counting down the 35 most popular posts of this past year. This is No. 34. Our regular content will return Wednesday January 2, 2013.


‘Where did you get that coffee?’ I got it from Steve, the coffee guy downstairs, I said. ‘Steve, the coffee guy?, you even know his name?’ he asked incredulously.”

“It’s simple, I said. I get coffee from him every day; why would I not know his name? He knows my name and even how I like my coffee. He is my first touch point in the morning.

When I was in college,’ he said, ‘I ate breakfast at the same restaurant every day and was waited on by the same waitress every day, and to this day, I do not know her name or who she is for that matter.’

“So you want to be an executive one day and you do not connect with people? I asked him. I could see the wheels turning in his head as I walked away.”

Everyday leadership

I use the word touch point because in our day to day encounters, we have numerous touch points with people that we may interact with and with others that we may not even make eye contact with.

We have all been to leadership training, and sometimes, it seems as if you are being prepared for the BIG MOMENT. Yes, being prepared for a big movement that may never arrive! Being prepared for that big leadership encounter that lay in waiting! Ready, set and nowhere to use that leadership skill, or so you may believe.

We have encounters every day where we can exhibit leadership and engagement. But then, maybe those do not count because of their perceived value in the leadership journey. If it were an encounter with a senior level person, I am sure that we would be on our best leadership behavior.

If we were to treat every encounter with the coffee guy, sales clerk or your bus driver (if you commute), as special, you are developing skills that can be used in every encounter. Use those as a way to sharpen those skills so that you can stay in great leadership shape. This is real preparation and it is done each day.

Everybody is a leader

We are all leaders, whether you sit in the corner office or are a cashier at the market. We all have the ability to exhibit leadership throughout the day when we encounter each other.

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Testosterone leadership works on the battlefield, but not in our everyday lives and surely not within the confines of your everyday encounters. Sometimes I tend to think that is the issue with leadership. There has always been this mythical picture of this take charge, rah-rah type leading his charges across insurmountable obstacles, but that is slowly becoming an old picture.

Leadership is not about having a script or going into character. It is a 24/7 undertaking. It is based on how you treat people when no one is looking. It is how you treat people that organizationally may be beneath you. That, to me, is real leadership.

The “new” engaged leader

The “new” leadership style is a very open and collegial. The new leader seeks to engage his team and the people around her. Ideas move freely amongst the group and are discussed openly. There is no talk of who sits where because everyone has a seat. Lots of discussion and free flowing ideas are banded about.

This style is needed in dynamic and rapidly changing environments where very little can be taken as a constant. In fast moving organizations, every option for improvement has to be considered to keep the group current and moving ahead.

The new leadership model means facilitating the conversation, encouraging people to share their ideas, and then synthesizing all the available information into the best possible decision.

  • Focus the discussion: It’s the leader’s job to balance being open to ideas and keeping everything on-topic. If the conversation begins to stray, remind everyone of the goals at hand and then steer it back.
  • Respect their ideas: You and your team might not agree with every idea. It is important, however, that you create a healthy environment where those ideas are entertained and considered.
  • Keep communication open: Communication is about engaging everyone. Create that environment and everything flourishes
  • Explain what you’re doing — and why: You want the advocates of the solutions that were not selected to understand that their thoughts were considered and had validity, but that ultimately, you had good reason to go in a different direction.

So as you venture out each day, think about every person you come in contact with. If there are regulars that you see, do you know who they are? Did you ask? You should remember that there is no such thing as spring training. Leadership is a year-round exercise. There is no completion date

These people may not play a role in your path to your destination, but they each could add value as you strive to become a new and better leader.

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.


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