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What's the Difference between Engaged and Engaging Leadership?

Posted by Nick Duda, Senior Supervisor on May 20, 2019 12:53:37 PM

Engaging leadership in utility tree trimming

Last week Dennis Brown, COO, asked the Lewis operations team our thoughts on the difference between "leadership engagement" and "engaging leadership." (Other team member responses are below.) I’ve been thinking about the distinction between the two terms and believe there’s a big difference. To me, the difference is in the motivation. 

A leader who is engaged is staying up on things for reasons of his own benefit. That leader needs to know what’s going on in his business.  His boss might need a report or perhaps a work area is struggling. He asks how much work got done, was everyone safe, what’s your plan for tomorrow, how did your visit with your customer go, and so on.  These are far from bad questions. They’re actually very important questions but they’re focused on the leader gaining knowledge.

An engaging leader is different. His motivation is the development, inspiration and success of his team (and himself).  He provokes thought and motivation with his questions, conversations and actions. He might check in on someone when they’re struggling through a tough situation.  He’ll ask thought-provoking questions rather than give an answer as a solution to a problem.  He’ll offer advice based on his personal experiences and he might even try to lighten the load when someone is working through a difficult front-line job.

I believe an engaged leader is one who's engaged in his business; an engaging leader is one who’s engaging his people.  Perhaps it’s not so bad to be both…

Following are some other responses from that question:

I’d like to think of Leadership Engagement as something more simple.  Maybe it just starts with walking up to someone and asking a basic, but truly curious question:

  • How are you today?
  • Do you know what you need to do today?
  • Do you have everything you need to do that?
  • Can I help you?

It’s not hard to ask that first question.  It might be harder to listen well.  To fully engage as leaders we need to do more than just talking.  We need to ask, listen, do our best to understand, do our best to be grateful, and then act.  But nothing happens until we ask.”

I have seen a lot of leadership engagement and engaging leaders. In the past, I've had DMs and supervisors show up to my yard and not even get out of the truck or speak to one craftworker. They often would only show up when there was an incident and, back when I was the GF, I would often get comments from my guys, "Oh boy, look who’s here; someone is in trouble." This is a prime example of poor leadership engagement. Here in our division, you now have a different breed of leaders who are engaged. Our craft workers no longer say those things when leadership shows up at a yard. My division manager has really promoted a healthy and safe environment for our division and that is what I consider to be engaging leadership.

Did your engagement help change our culture in a positive manner? Or do you think your presence was enough and allowed someone else to do the heavy lifting? Engaging leaders pull the best out of people. They can detect good qualities in people... An engaging leader walks the walk and never allows a small problem to grow into a gigantic issue. Engaging leaders genuinely care for their people. They communicate well even when that communication involves constructive criticism. Engaging leaders do not have an off switch. They are consistently PRESENT...

It means a lot to the crews when leaders come out and engage with them and recognize them. I know that when I was a foreman it meant a lot to us to see my manager or other leaders and they would have conversations with us. It makes you feel like you have a purpose and are not just a number.

When I hear "leadership engagement," I think of it as an after-thought or a need to bring something to the next level. When I hear "engaging leadership," I think of being in the now, being proactive, in the thick of things, working alongside their team. 

I guess one way to say it differently is “sometimes we have to get leadership engaged.” While engaging leaders would already be engaged and would not necessarily have to be brought into a situation.

I would say leadership engagement sometimes comes across as forced. Engaging leadership would be interacting with your team on a regular basis when not asked to. Do you know your team? Can you apply safety lessons in a conversation that may not be a stand down? Do you generally listen to the people you work with? Do you take their thoughts and apply them back when discussing different scenarios?  Or are you just spouting out written statements? 

Topics: engagement, leadership, morale, culture of caring

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