Real Leaders

How to Use Engagement as a Driver of Collaboration

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Many leaders think about engaging their colleagues. Thinking is good, but thoughts need to result in specific actions.

Our most effective leaders embody the specific leadership behaviors that result in the engagement of colleagues. These leaders develop, recognize, inspire, value, engage, respect, and supervise their colleagues. And in doing so, they nurture an environment that heightens well-being and increases work performance. They increase each colleague’s commitment and passion for their work. What follows is a description of specific behaviors to amplify leadership effectiveness — the drivers of engagement: develop, recognize, inform, value, engage, respect, and supervise.

I coach many leaders who believe that their colleagues — their direct reports — should “just know what to do” and that they, the leader, should not have to guide them. These leaders are often hard-driving, task-oriented, and self-sufficient individuals who climbed the leadership ladder based on brute grit and an ability to independently get things done. They think others should simply do the same. These leaders say they don’t have the time to develop their colleagues. There is too much work to be done. Their direct reports need to keep up and predict what they, the leader, want. Otherwise, the leader will re-assign the task to someone else or simply do it themselves. The downfall of these leaders arises, predictably enough, when their high-pressure, hands-off, finger-pointing approach leaves behind a wake of disenfranchised and burned-out colleagues who feel stifled and alone. The leader’s colleagues want to understand what is being asked of them, and they want to be effective, but their leader’s demands are vague.

I also coach leaders who smother their colleagues with advice and mentorship. They are the “helicopter leaders” who hover over each colleague’s every move. With their hyper-present coddling, they recommend each step and provide guidance through each obstacle. These leaders stifle the personal growth of colleagues. And when they move on — retiring, relocating, or leaving the organization — their colleagues are left ill-prepared without their guide. Their colleagues haven’t learned to navigate the complex work environment alone. Here are some leadership tactics you can use.

Schedule regular one-to-one conversations. Meet one-to-one with your colleagues to identify areas in which they would like to achieve professional growth. Gain an understanding of how your colleagues see their role evolving within the organization. Discuss each colleague’s progress with goals and their behaviors and help them reflect on the obstacles they encounter. Address each colleague’s experience and opportunities for development in real-time, while their behaviors are top of mind and relevant, rather than as a distant and out-of-touch review of what happened months prior.

Track your interactions with colleagues. Keep track of your interactions with colleagues. Take brief notes on points of discussion and create triggers or reminders for when to next reach out. I use a tablet and a stylus to take electronic notes during conversations with colleagues. Each note resides in the electronic folder that I set up for each colleague. I can access these notes from my mobile phone, tablet, or computer. Before I meet with a colleague, I glance through my notes to catch up. This helps me remember the milestones, relationships, achievements, and aspirations of colleagues. It keeps me from repeatedly asking questions like, “Tell me again, what you were working on?” or “How many kids do you have?”

Promote group learning. Bring forward articles, books, and tutorials to share with colleagues. Nurture an environment in which colleagues learn from each other. Physicians frequently use case reviews, journal clubs, and situational simulation to learn how to best apply new information and skills. During case reviews, we discuss interesting patient care scenarios in which things went right, went wrong, or an interesting question arose. During journal clubs, we read articles and books and then discuss our perspectives. During simulations, we replicate challenging scenarios and role-play how we would respond to situations as they unfold. Many healthcare organizations create simulation centers, where they employ actors, create 3D models of the environment, and use other technologies to make the simulation experience as real as possible.

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