By: Ray Peters
Recently, while facilitating a session for Leadership Lafourche, I received an email from Bayou Business Monthly stating that my next article would be due on Friday. It was Tuesday, and I hadn’t given a topic much thought. It is a hectic time for me, with the end of the semester approaching (final exams), recruiting for the next executive MBA cohort, and developing marketing programming to launch our new online and hybrid MBA pathways.
So, while I had a captive audience, I asked the session attendees what topic might be interesting for them. They offered several recommendations. One suggested writing about getting back to normal (following COVID.) Another suggested positive leadership traits. Still another 360-degree leadership – a topic we discussed that morning. Having my final MBA class of the semester that same evening, I posed the question to my students. They, too, offered a few thoughts, but one, in particular, sparked my interest.
In all of my leadership courses, I frequently reiterate (probably ad nauseam) three simple questions that if employees can answer successfully, they will most likely achieve a higher level of engagement. Having highly engaged employees is a clear competitive advantage for any business or organization.
While the questions appear simple, in reality, they are relatively complex. The questions are: Who is my leader? Where are we going? What is my role?
When employees look at their leader, they seek someone capable and competent – an individual with the courage to make difficult decisions. They seek someone they can be proud of and look up to. They want their leader to be authentic, someone that’s transparent and trustworthy. They want someone with a strong set of personal values – values they practice. Most importantly, employees want someone who genuinely cares about the people they lead. Someone who is committed to employee success and who recognizes excellent performance.
Some time ago, my former CEO stopped by my office and asked, “Ray, what do you think my primary role as the leader of this organization should be?” I responded, stay connected to and continue developing our customer relationships. Secondly, walk through our operations and thank employees for doing good work, making yourself available and easily approachable. Lastly, practice the Law of the Picture.
Considering the second question, where are we going? People need/want some sense of direction. When we begin a journey, we typically know our intended destination. In the famous scene from the children’s classic Alice in Wonderland, Alice comes to a fork in the road and encounters the smiling Cheshire Cat. Alice asked the cat, “what road should I take?” The cat responded, “where are you going?” The cat continues, “because if you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there.”
People want to be part of something bigger than they are – something meaningful. The leader paints that picture for followers to visualize. That’s where vision comes into play. From the employees’ perspective, they ask themselves, do I want to go where the leader is taking me? If employees are not engaged or take a “laissez-faire” attitude towards reaching the desired destination, there is a good chance the organization will become nomadic. There’s an old leadership adage; if you are leading and no one is following, you are simply taking a walk.
Finely, employees start questioning themselves, how am I going to contribute on this journey. What’s my role? Do I have the knowledge, skills, and abilities to be successful?
The most fundamental element of the Expectancy Theory of Motivation is, does the employee possess the ability to do the required work? If employees do not have a clear role definition and the tools and capabilities to perform the role, they will be disengaged and resistant to making the journey.
All contributors need to see how they will specifically contribute to the success of the organization. If this is not crystalized in their minds, they begin to question their value and subsequently become demotivated. No job is unimportant. Individuals have different skills and contribute in different ways. A key to effective leadership is maximizing those skills and ensuring everyone works as a collective on the organizational journey.
In the end, while the three questions are seemingly simple on their face, in reality, they are pretty complex. How would your employees answer these questions?
Ray Peters is MBA Director and Instructor of Leadership at Nicholls State University. You can reach him at email@example.com.•