Want Employee Engagement? Then Get Ready to LOL!

Employee engagement is a powerful dynamic and, even though it may seem as if this subject has been over-hyped in recent years, it hasn’t. Research shows that engaged employees have less turnover, take fewer sick days, and perform better. The mission is accomplished, and the bottom line improves. So why wouldn’t we want that?

The problem has been that many companies build their employee engagement strategy on mass-produced mandatory fun. Think about it. How many times do we see leaders excitedly introduce employee contests or monthly gimmicks with the intent of bringing people together? Supervisors hope it will boost productivity. Staff roll their eyes and attend because they must. Are these approaches beneficial? It depends.

Ask yourself this question: after the party is over and the free donuts are gone, what has changed? Do your workers still seem detached and on autopilot? The answer is usually yes.

Tapping into true engagement

Engagement is much more than forced participation. It’s about getting to the core of what makes human beings tick. Ever notice that when a group of people are together and connecting at a heart and soul level there is a comfort infused with energy and passion? When we become human together, laugh together, care about each other and allow bonding to occur, we tap into true engagement.

The good news is we can have it all. Engagement, productivity, all of it! If done properly, your employees will feel inspired, and you will hit those performance targets you’ve been longing for. How? Tap into your “funny bone” and have the confidence to laugh at yourself and create a culture of joy. Send the message that it’s okay to have fun at work. Then watch the energy and passion grow.

The benefits of the “funny bone”

Take for example Lizet O’Campo, Political Director of People for the American Way. She was an instant internet sensation because, through a series of technical glitches during a Zoom meeting, she accidentally turned herself into a potato. She struggled during the meeting to fix the problem all the while appearing on screen to her staff as a confused and serious potato. Lizet finally gave in and conducted the rest of her meeting as, well, a potato. Her staff was delighted and admired her sense of humility and self-deprecation.

Laughter has the added benefit of improving health. A landmark study by researchers at Loma Linda and Stanford University found that watching episodes of Laurel & Hardy and Abbott & Costello improved cortisol levels, which help the body fight infection. And laughter is a full-body workout that burns calories and flexes any number of muscles.

But one doesn’t have to be a potato leader or watch old shows on Hulu to create the space for humor and the engagement benefits that follow. By embracing a few key tenets, you can easily provide a safe space where humor is appropriate, not offensive, and engagement reigns.

1. Self-check thyself.

Leaders who desire employee engagement are obliged to walk the talk. To do this, they must look inward, recognize their own human needs, and discover what brings them joy. Then they are better able to create a space where employees can also find happiness. They inspire and build a loyal band of employees who will follow in their footsteps. Be the spark that ignites the joy. This is not something you can fake. Employees know it when you’re simply along for the ride.

2. Be courageous.

It’s not easy to change. We tend to rely on our comfort levels. Courage today is about letting go, taking a chance, and being real. Be confident and proud of your strengths but don’t be afraid to poke a little fun at your discomfort with numbers or your tendency to be a little too serious. It unleashes the human being inside.

3. Embrace humility.

Humble people are much more fun to hang out with. Modesty has the innate power to level the playing field. When we work for an unassuming leader, we feel like we can bring our whole self to work. When leaders know they’re not perfect, they allow others to be imperfect. We feel safe and accepted. As a result, we’re more creative, more inquisitive, and more productive.

4. Strengthen social awareness.

This is nothing more than the simple act of noticing, but it’s something with which we all struggle. Looming deadlines and work pressures cause us to quickly stray into the prescribed, where we depend on formalities and not on what matters most. Take the time to pick up on social cues and get to know your employees as people, not simply resources who happen to be human.

Companies with engaged employees are workplaces of passion, fun, and family. Their leaders take the time to recognize their peoples’ human needs and they tap into the joy that laughter creates. The workforce these leaders nurture is one where the staff gives their discretionary time and energy. They see their managers as approachable, kind, and normal. They care about the organization’s success because their leaders care about them.

So, if you want employee engagement, let down your guard and LOL.


This post was co-authored by Patrick Malone, who also co-authored with Zina their new book: Leading with Love and Laughter: Letting Go and Getting Real at Work.

#WorkTrends: Why We Need More Humble Leaders

Nearly everyone has worked for an egomaniacal boss; by the end of this sentence you’ll be picturing yours in the back of your head. That’s hardly ever a pleasant experience, but it highlights what good leadership should look like, says Bill Treasurer, chief encouragement officer at Giant Leap Consulting and co-author of the new book “The Leadership Killer.”

On this week’s episode of #WorkTrends, Treasurer shares his experience in building successful leadership roles and culture, and why humility is the key to it all.

We also talk to Jonathan Richards, the CEO of breatheHR, who has a company culture pledge you can use to make your staff and values more impactful.

Listen to the full conversation or read the recap below. Subscribe so you never miss an episode.

Hubris and the First Rule of Leadership

Treasurer says the biggest risk to companies from their leadership is hubris, often called arrogance. It’s overconfidence mixed with an inflated ego that becomes a danger to itself and especially to the people that the person is leading.

“Most of us, by the middle of life, have worked with a leader that we wouldn’t care to work for again, and nearly always it comes down to the arrogance that that leader has,” Treasurer says.

Arrogance and that feeling of knowing everything without needing input or guidance from anyone else is often the root of many business problems, he says. This can include leaders who are incompetent, intimidating and ungracious. Treasurer says this violates the first rule of leadership: “Leadership’s not about the leader. It’s about the people being led.”

You’re in the Sandbox Too

Being humble and ditching the ego can help people achieve one very important aspect of leadership: Being a good role model for the rest of us and being someone we aspire to be like. That also means passing the “authenticity detectors” of people on your team or in a meeting, Treasurer says.

“They also have to play nice in the sandbox,” he says. “They have to be able to bring people with them so that people want to follow them. And that means not alienating people.”

Humility Sets the Team Up for Success

Much of Treasurer’s work involves creating leadership training that’s designed to build stronger teams and companies. He says he has learned a few surprising lessons, including about what people expect their legacy as a leader to be.

“When I do these leadership programs, I often will ask people at the beginning of the program, ‘What is it that you’re wanting to get done with your leadership? Like if you’re able to project out 20 years from now and you’re looking back to your career as a leader, what do you hope will have happened?’

“And the most common answer that I hear is that they have created other leaders. That they’ve left a legacy of pulling out the leadership in others,” Treasurer says.

He’s also heard the exact opposite, where someone says their personal experience and expertise is what the rest of the program attendees need to hear. That goes over about as well as “a big thing of stale cheese.”

Ask for the Best Way to Disagree

Not everyone is blessed with a truly humble boss, but Treasurer says you shouldn’t just throw your hands up if that’s the case. There’s a lot of arrogance in the world, and you’re going to run into it at some point. What you can do, he says, is start by establishing a personal relationship with that boss.

That relationship should be followed by learning what your leader’s goals are and what results they’re seeking. “That’s what leaders fixate on, and that’s what bosses fixate on,” he says. “And then when you see a behavior that you think is out of check, you should go to them and express to them how that behavior is impeding their results and connect it to their goal and goal attainment. And if their own behavior is, in fact, inhibiting their ability to get to their goal faster, then they’re going to pay a lot more attention.”

Be diplomatic and ask about the best way to provide feedback that you think will help, he says. “Say, ‘Give me some coaching. What’s the best way to disagree with you in a way that your ears will be receptive to it and not see it as disrespect?’ ”

Common ground requires coaching from your boss as well as the ability to help them be accountable.

Pledge to Make It Part of Company Culture

Treasurer’s thoughts on being a humble boss dovetail nicely with our discussion with breatheHR’s Richards about how companies can support their workforce by committing to establishing a strong culture. He says a company pledge can build a strong rapport with a workforce and even help them get behind leadership.

Taking a pledge to improve company culture is a way to start communication between staff and leadership. “So [leaders] should go out and listen to what their people are saying. They should ask some good questions and then just start listening,” Richards says.

Resources Mentioned in This Episode

Let’s continue the conversation. Join us on Twitter (#WorkTrends) for our weekly chat on Wednesdays at 1:30 p.m. Eastern, 10:30 a.m. Pacific, or anywhere in the world you are joining from to discuss this topic and more.


The Surprising Truth About Humility and Leadership

Humility has become a hot topic in the leadership realm, and quite a few people believe it’s the key to being an effective leader. They are right, and they are wrong. Humility is an incredibly important trait, but many people have a faulty perception of it.

When most people envision a humble person, they think of someone who is self-effacing and responds to a compliment with “Aw shucks! That’s awfully kind of you to say.” This isn’t true humility, though.

At its core, humility is about living as close to the truth as possible and being “down to earth.” It comes from the Latin word “humus,” a noun referring to nutrient-rich parts of the soil that help plants grow. Somewhere along the line, we stripped humility of its power. It became synonymous with passive, meek behavior.

There’s tremendous strength in humility. Humble people are more open to outside opinions and willing to admit when they’ve made a mistake. They’re more inclined to self-reflection, which allows them to look at interactions and pinpoint how they could have done a better job. Genuinely humble people understand their limitations and constantly strive to improve themselves because they want to be better. More importantly, humble people are confident in their abilities.

In other words, humility can make for great leaders who are open to outside opinions, recognize limitations, and are confident in their strengths. Think of a friend or colleague who listens to and heeds others’ opinions while exuding a calm, quiet confidence. That is the picture of humility.

The Perils of an Undergrown Ego

People who “aw shucks” their way through life aren’t humble — they’re actually exhibiting a form of vanity. That self-effacing attitude might seem diametrically opposed to vanity, but they both relate to a lack of self-awareness.

Vanity can be defined as “inflated pride in oneself or one’s appearance” as well as “something that is vain, empty, or valueless.” Think of these two situations as an overgrown ego (excessive pride) and an undergrown ego (self-effacing).

Someone who has an undergrown ego fails to see the real value of his or her contributions. This often comes from an external locus of control, which is fancy psychology jargon for basing your decisions on what others will think. The U.S. is rampant with this issue — people frequently won’t do what is right because they’re afraid others will dislike their decision.

This fear can have serious ramifications in the workplace, causing people to speak up less, take fewer risks, and overstay their welcome in dead-end jobs. Essentially, workers with undergrown egos become doormats and console themselves with the notion that they’re being the “better person.”

Guess what? They’re just as much to blame as the people who undervalue them. There’s a certain level of respect everyone should be afforded. Consistent failure to demand that respect is a sure sign you struggle with low self-esteem. Considering an undergrown ego often stems from a fear of rejection, it’s ironic that self-effacing individuals typically face rejection because of their low self-esteem.

In addition to frequent rejection, an undergrown ego can lead to fewer promotions, lower salaries, and a lack of credit where credit is due. And don’t forget the toll it can take on your personal life. People will continually take advantage of you (because you’ll let them), and you could struggle in the dating realm because of a lack of confidence.

I could go on and on about the costs of an underdeveloped ego, but you probably get the drift. There are serious drawbacks to an excessively self-effacing attitude.

Grow the Undergrown

If we have an underdeveloped ego at one end of the spectrum and an overdeveloped ego at the opposite end, the best course is to find the middle ground. But how exactly does one “right-size” an ego? The following steps can set you up for success:

  1. Stop rationalizing. Right about now, you might be brushing off the notion that you have an undersized ego. Perhaps you believe you’re “just a nice person.” Or maybe you insist it would be rude to accentuate your strengths in the workplace. These are telltale signs that you’re trying to rationalize your behavior. Stop it. Stop it now.
  2. Focus on the possible. I don’t know about you, but I love to think about possibilities. Concentrating on what’s possible in any situation can pull you out of a spiral of doubt and present you with options. Instead of letting rationalization win, you can choose to move forward.

Admittedly, making the right choice isn’t always easy. But even if you screw things up, at least you’ll know that you were confident enough to make a decision in the first place. That knowledge puts you one step closer to right-sizing your ego. Think about how your relationships would improve if you had the courage to take control of your own life.

  1. Stay positive. Over the past year, I started to practice gratitude. I focus on everything I’m grateful for God providing, which can help put things in perspective. This mental shift helps me remain mindful of the good things in life and stay positive despite anything life throws my way.

Instead of worrying about what might go wrong in any given situation, think about what could go right. Keep negative thoughts in check, and spin things in a positive light if you find yourself feeling pessimistic.

  1. Be true to yourself. Spend time working to understand who you are at your core. Internal reflection will shine a spotlight on your main competencies, giving you the opportunity to practice and refine what makes you, well, you. The more you focus on your strengths, the more confidence you’ll gain in your abilities.

Get to know yourself better. Ask yourself, “What am I good at?” “Where am I happiest?” and “What do I value?” Defining these characteristics can uncover your limitations. Once everything is on the table, you can figure out ways to use your skills to push past your limits.

  1. Take baby steps. Humans can only change one or two things at a time. In fact, it takes about 66 days for any new behavior to become a habit — and that’s only after doing the action with some regularity.

Don’t try to change everything at once. Pinpoint the most important thing you want to change, and focus on it for at least two months. Once you develop your desired habit, move on to the next challenge.

  1. Forgive yourself. You’re going to make mistakes. We all do. But confident people forgive themselves and move on. Give yourself license to do the same.

View each mistake as an opportunity to learn a lesson. The key is to understand why you messed up and change your approach before tackling a similar task again. True failure lies in not dusting yourself off and trying again.

Humility is all about looking at the truth of yourself: the good, the bad, and the ugly. Genuinely humble people are able to recognize their strengths and weaknesses, using them both to move things forward and accomplish goals. Ditch the “aw, shucks” attitude and spend some time getting to know yourself. Your ego will appreciate the tender, loving care, and you will appreciate the results.

Photo Credit: Stefan Semerdjiev Flickr via Compfight cc

The Fight Club Guide to Leadership Humility

I bet when someone asks you to name great leaders you think of Churchill, Sun Tzu, Jack Welch, Lincoln or others. Well listen up people because you’re missing someone. His name is…Tyler Durdin. Yes, Tyler Durdin. He is the main character in the movie Fight Club (Rated R) played by Brad Pitt.

In Fight Club, everyone loves Tyler Durdin. The girls want to be with him and men want to be like him. He’s smart, confident, passionate, holds true to his convictions and has an innovative way to change the world: Help people beat each other up so they can experience freedom from the entrapments of life. Please don’t misunderstand. I am not suggesting that leaders engage in violence. However, metaphorically, there is a lot we can learn from Mr. Durdin.

In the movie, what started out as a fight in a parking lot turned into regular fights on Saturday nights which turned into fight clubs being cloned all over the country. Tyler’s fight clubs grew. But what’s interesting is that he never recruited anyone to join. In fact, he did the opposite. He told people not to talk about Fight Club. (The first rule of Fight Club.)

Imagine for a moment, being a leader of an organization that doesn’t have to recruit anyone because people are standing in line in the cold and rain to be a part of your vision.

So how did Tyler do it?

Humility – An Essential Leadership Trait

Tyler says this: “You’re not your job. You’re not the amount of money you make. You’re not the car you drive. Nor the contents of your wallet. Not your f-ing khakis. You are the all-singing, all-dancing crap of the world.”

Does that sound a bit radical? Good. Leaders need to be less radical about their positions and more radical about their humanity.

I saw a great example of leadership humility two weeks ago. Enter Graham Weston. In case you don’t know who he is, Weston invested in Rackspace during its early stages, became the CEO and is now the Chairman of the Board. He is also the CEO of Weston Properties and owns 700,000 square feet of industrial and office properties in Texas. Successful? Oh yes.

Graham was one of the speakers at TEDx San Antonio; it was there that I met him. I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’ve met people with less power and position who made others feel like the dead ant in the mud under their feet.  So truthfully, I was prepared for the worst. Yet here was Graham, interacting with everyone. More than a few attendees shared their surprise at how approachable and sincere he was. At one point, he said hello to one of his Rackspace employees. This employee was not a VP or even in management. He was a techie.

Graham not only knew who he was, he knew this employee had been working the 3rd shift. He spent several minutes talking with the employee on a personal and professional level.  They were equals. This employee knew it. I could see it. And I was moved.

Does humble leadership work? Take a look at Rackspace’s growth and profitability. Need another example? Mahatma Gandhi and Jesus Christ come to my mind. They were both incredibly humble, servant-focused men. One delivered his nation and the other delivered the world.

If you want to radically change your organization, take French politician Charles de Montesquieu’s advice: “To become truly great, one has to stand with people, not above them.”

Or as Tyler Durdin says, remember that “You are not a beautiful or unique snowflake. You are the same decaying organic matter as everyone else.”