Ready to Spike Engagement Scores?



Leading with Conviction and Curiosity

Our business challenges, the pace of our work lives, and the churn of generational employees today results in many organizations receiving low engagement scores related to employee work satisfaction and happiness.  Low engagement leads to higher turnover with valuable business knowledge and skills walking out the door.

The word “engagement” speaks to bi-directional communication where employees can be actively interacting with one another (and leaders) about company goals and objectives and achieving results. This allows for greater participation and fresh thinking, producing new possibilities for the team and company. Engagement spikes when a leader leads with both conviction and curiosity. The cliché of ping pong, juice bars, comfy chairs and napping pods has become the punchline of many jokes about the key to genuine leadership.

The emphasis should be on being “genuine”.  Leaders should be focusing on a style of personal service that engages the brains that we hire and incorporates a curiosity-based leadership model we call The Learner Mindset.

The Leadership Spectrum; The Knower Leader and The Learner Leader

Imagine a leadership spectrum with the left side offering a more traditional command and control, “do as I say” style (called the Knower Leader) often regarded as the hard-nosed autocrat who thinks he or she must know all the answers and operate in a tell mode referred to as the general. On the right side of the spectrum, a genuine and curious leader who leads with  vision and empowers collaboration (called the Learner Leader) forging both business results and high engagement scores by serving more as a Guide.

Most leaders fall somewhere on the spectrum understanding that there is not one perfect set point – as different situations require different skills and competencies. Yet, with today’s business chemistry, when a leader who is able to move themselves towards the right side adapting to this Learner Leader perspective – impressive results happen. By leading with genuine curiosity and an open spirit – success emerges in the workplace in terms of engagement while producing superior results. These curiosity-based leaders are transforming business results with high engagement from their employees. With the 85 million next generation workers moving into the workplace – this new model of the Learner Leader is one that they find compelling and inspiring.

The question is – where is your default position on the spectrum – closer to the Knower mindset or Learner mindset?

The Learner Leader as Guide

The term “guide” is an important term because a guide does know ultimately where the business should be going with a clear vision in place. But it’s the spirit of open curiosity and willingness to take side trips to explore the edge of whatever you are trying to see versus traveling straight down the highway. The Learner Leader offers the opportunity to challenge assumptions, push the boundaries of thinking, and encourage employees to be brave and have enough courage to show the team that they don’t have all the answers. That they are curious, and that they are drawing people in with their curiosity.

It is impossible to know all of the answers today and we’re finding that leaders who are willing to respond to a question they don’t know by saying “great question, I don’t know but we’ll find out we’ll figure it out,” results in a level of transparency and vulnerability.  This term which was such a negative word a generation ago, is now allowing organizational teams to really become personally committed to following their leaders.

The Benefits of Learner Leadership

The primary reason to consider change in your leadership mindset is this; People are hungry for it, and the new generation of employees entering the workforce demand it. Such attitudes are becoming less of an option and more of a requirement for companies if they want to enjoy high engagement and be successful. Consider the following if you are wondering whether making this kind of change is worth the time and effort:

  • Better Outcomes
  • Increased loyalty
  • More Engagement and Investment
  • Faster Learning
  • Greater self-participation
  • Reduced Pressure on the Leader
  • Increased joint ownership of decisions
  • A shift to high-performing teams 

Moving Across the Spectrum to Learner Leader

The Learner Leader Journey – an Inside-out Job

In the learner leader mindset, there is a direct relationship to the leader knowing who he or she is when looking in the mirror, operating with strong conviction and knowing their ego is in check.  One distinction of the Learner Leader is a healthy ego. While the Knower leader may be able to produce results – it often comes within an unstable ego resulting often times in an environment of fear and control. We all come with ego, but it’s the insecure ego of the Knowers that believe that open questions lead to lack of control. They move into a position of rigid authority and become fearful they won’t succeed, which is why they need to always be in the know and in control. Those with a healthy ego don’t have that fear, which allows them to be generous and humble. When you operate with insecurity, you are always going to try to claim credit. When you’re a Learner, you adopt the mindset that you are part of the team and you are all going somewhere, confidently together.

Pause – Reflect – Engage

Before you engage, consider the Power of the Pause. Make it a ritual, or habit to pause, reflect and think in a structured way about your role in the situation at hand. This approach will allow you to set yourself up for a qualitatively different experience when you engage with your team. Instead of jumping in with adrenaline to “solve the problem” – ask yourself:

  • Who am I in this circumstance?
  • What is my role?
  • What outcomes are we seeking?
  • Is there anything I need to do to better prepare myself to engage in this conversation more powerfully?

Many leaders find pausing challenging because they are dealing with today’s perceived speed of business, with endless to-do lists and the moment-to-moment demands that are placed on people in organizations.

Learning to pause and reflect in your role as a leader allows you to refine the quality of the communication, the depth of engagement, and the magnitude of your results with the team. Working with open questions yields stronger solutions through fresh thinking and different possibilities that would never have been considered or aired publically without a willingness to be curious.

Getting into Action

Select one or two meetings on your calendar and prepare yourself to practice the Learner approach to asking open and genuine questions in those meetings. Write down two or three questions that you could inject into those meetings if an opportunity presents itself. When the timing is right, ask your questions and pay careful attention to the response. Keep in mind, if you have traditionally been very much a command and control leader, your first few efforts at asking open questions may be met with silence, or long pauses, since your team will be wondering if they are really being asked to participate, or if they are being tested with a critical eye from you.

As one of our mentors explains: “It is far easier to act your way into a new way of thinking than to think your way into a new way of acting”  Our advice, start small and build the skill but most importantly START!



Image Credit: CC by paperishi

About the author: Guy Parsons & Allan Milham

Allan Milham brings high-energy and passion as a senior leadership and performance strategist. He has logged over 10,000 hours working with top performers– from his early days with Olympians to Fortune 50 companies– since 1998. Allan’s work has been called transformational, as he elevates a leader’s presence and brand to create greater results, as well as living a fulfilled and purposeful life.

Guy Parsons is a well-regarded speaker, and teacher who regularly delivers inspiring talks at MIT, to leaders involved in YPO (Young Presidents Organization), as well as EO (Entrepreneur Organization). He is the president of Value Stream Solutions and was elected to the Shingo Institute Board of Advisors.

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