Engagement is often regarded as the silver bullet in individual and organizational performance, whether we are talking about families, small office teams, government staffs or international businesses. 

If people aren’t engaged in what they are doing — whether it’s homework, building widgets, selling and servicing clients or negotiating world peace — performance suffers. 

That’s why parents lay awake at night wondering how to get their teenagers to care more about the quality of their school work. That’s also why organizational leaders read books, scan the web, hold staff meetings and hire expert consultants to get their followers to improve quantity, quality or both. 

Perhaps there was a time when one’s official position alone was sufficient to demand -- and get -- greater engagement. Even today a parent’s prodding or an organizational leader’s rallying cry can help move people a little, at least over the short-term. 

But when it comes to leaders getting consistently greater engagement, there is no substitute for the power of modeling. Leaders who are passionately engaged in pursuing serious goals and developing their people’s capacity to reach those goals will get consistently better results than leaders who don’t walk the talk. 

HR consultant David Lee tells of hearing Rachel Narvaez, an employee of Custom Disability Solutions, describe her boss, Jerry Bannach. “Hearing the way she talked about him made me want to interview Bannach about his philosophy of leadership and inspiring employees,” Lee says. So he made an appointment and listened to what Bannach had to say. 

His formula was “to embrace employees and then empower them,” Lee recalls. 

To “embrace employees” means to communicate that you value them, Bannach explained. And how do you do that? First, you listen. You give them a voice and make it clear that you appreciate it and respect it. You invite them to tell you how they see the organization and want it to be. In a phrase, “you give to get.” As Stephen Covey says in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, “seek first to understand, then to be understood.” 

However, this is not just a pro forma technique or a quid pro quo exchange. As we say about S3 Jesus-like leadership, the heart comes first. If you really don’t value other people and recognize their God-given dignity, your lack of sincerity will undermine your relationships and the power of your example. 

Lee notes: “Often hard-driving results-driven leaders focus so much on meeting their numbers and their goals, they forget the people part of the equation. They forget the people helping them achieve those goals are human beings who want to feel valued. The people they are driving for results want to feel like they matter as individuals and as human beings. With this self-absorbed ‘This is what you must do for me’ attitude, these leaders inadvertently prevent the very thing they want and need: employees who care about helping them achieve their goals.” 

To get good feedback, Bannach encouraged people to speak up about problems even when they didn’t have solutions. It made no sense, he said, to discourage people from offering helpful observations until they had solutions. You don’t tell people not to pull the fire alarm until they know how to put out the fire. 

As for empowering people, there are many ways to do it. But all of them generally involve giving someone responsibility for a project or goal — and then without micromanaging help them to achieve it. I know of no better way to engage that process than to use the model that Jesus used with his apostles and that we outline in The Catholic Vision for Leading Like Jesus. 

Here’s a very brief summary. Get to know your people well. Evaluate their level of competence — not only overall, but about each task that they do. Decide where their skills and attitude fall on the continuum from novice through apprentice and journeyman to master teacher. Lead them, guide them and support them in a way that’s appropriate to their current level of development so that they continually progress further along the continuum. And as they progress, be sure to adjust your leadership relationship. 

In summary, be an S3 Leader: servant, steward and shepherd. When leaders excel at theses three broad facets of leadership, everyone benefits. 

Owen Phelps, Ph.D. 
Director, Yeshua Catholic International Leadership Institute 

To learn more: 
David Lee’s complete article 
The Catholic Vision for Leading Like Jesus by Owen Phelps 
Lead Like Jesus by Ken Blanchard and Phil Hodges 
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey 
Leading at a Higher Level by Ken Blanchard 

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