People Potential – 3 Tips on Engagment

If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more you are a leader.’ John Quincy Adams

Every individual has a maximum potential for any given task or skill. For most of us, for most of the time it remains just that – potential. Rather like a lump of coal we have a tremendous potential energy but in the absence of the right conditions we can remain just as inert as that lump of coal.

Leadership is about unlocking that potential in the people we lead – done right it means we get the most out of people and that team members get the most out of themselves. But this potential energy is entirely discretionary. You can’t make anyone give more than they want. The art in leadership is to find what it is that inspires people to go the extra mile.

Depressingly A 2014 Global Work Place study by Towers Watson found only 35% of workers in a survey group of 32,000 full time employees described themselves as highly engaged.   Grim reading but look at the potential opportunity in this – imagine the possible gains in performance, retention and competitiveness that can be made by improving engagement. How can we do this?

  • Give people a voice and tell them what is going on. Commitment and buy in require a sense of belonging and purpose. This often stems in the first instance from being valued for your opinion and in being kept informed about what is going on. Leaders who keep the passage of information fast and flat, and who actively seek out and listen to their people make better decisions, have a clearer view of what is actually going on and have the strong support of their teams. Those who are kept in the dark and left without a voice are detached and frequently resentful. The very opposite of engaged.
  • Tell people what to do, why they are doing it but not how. Mission command in military speak. You can’t control everything, so don’t even try. Counter-intuitively the solution to complex decision-making is not to push information to decision makers at the tip of a pyramid but to push authority down to people who have the ground truth but too rarely the authority or encouragement to act as they judge best. The antidote to the day-to-day friction of executing decisions is the initiative and drive of employees who are empowered to take decisions. If they know what it is we’re all trying to achieve let them figure out the best way forward.
  • Encourage, support & sustain. Do your employees know clearly what a good job looks like – what is your defined standard of performance? Are requirements clear and are there clear short-term results that help define this? If we can measure our progress with effective feedback (the mechanism that enables any performance development system) we can rectify mistakes, make improvements and give praise and reward for a job that is well done. The judicious use of public praise is a powerful thing. Don’t debase the currency through overuse, but hard earned it’s golden.


Metris Leadership helps businesses build high performance teams, optimized for the challenges of the 21st Century because great teams provide standout competitive advantage.

To find out how we could help you contact us at

Related Posts

Too busy Judging when we should be developing

We have been working with several groups of leaders recently who are in the midst of the annual cycle of performance reviews. This often involves talent identification, evaluations and various pigeonholing tools like 9-box grids, success circles and values matrices.   My problem is not simply with the tools or…

Read more
Accidental Leadership – Unbundling the App

For most leaders the process of becoming a leader is accidental. You start a career and build technical competence. If you are good at what you do there often comes a point when you get given responsibility for other people, which in theory at least, means you are now a…

Read more
Do You Know Any Good Stories?

Amos was an old Askari, a night watchman in the highlands of Kenya. He told me once how electricity had come to their village and that it made him sad because they no longer gathered around the fire together to tell stories. Instead, each stayed in his own house, enthralled…

Read more
Freedom Inside Constraints

The Legendary Basketball coach John Wooden[1], would begin each new season by sitting down his new players and demonstrating to them how they were to tie the laces on their shoes.  Surely unnecessary? – These athletes had been playing the game for years. Wooden’s point, was that for many things…

Read more