A ‘Unique’ Perspective on Leadership and Employee Engagement

  • Employee Engagement
Colin McLain

Spring is definitely in the air, and so is baseball! After a historic winter storm in February, I find myself with an extra hop in my step now that Spring baseball is in full swing. 

While coaching my oldest son’s baseball team, I began to really think about leadership (both on and off the field). Much like our workplace and/or “work” teams, a baseball team is comprised of unique individuals (i.e. players). Each player has their own unique strengths and weaknesses. They all have varying personalities, skill sets, learning styles, communication styles, coachability, drive, and passion for what they do.

Much like players, coaches also have their own coaching methods. What I’ve found is that many coaches will coach the team equally and not the players individually. I’m all in on the “team first” mentality, but the reality is my goal as a coach/leader should be to help each player find their unique potential and collectively their uniqueness will translate to the team’s unique potential.

So, How Does A Person’s Unique Potential Apply to the Workplace?

Easily. Throughout my career, I’ve had the opportunity to learn from various leaders. Each had their own unique styles of leading. Many had a “uni- communication style,” meaning they communicated the same way to all their employees.

If they were a “gentle” leader, they would speak gently to all their employees. If they were a “strict” leader, they would talk no non-sense to their employees. If they were the “fun-loving” leader, they would joke around with all the employees. You get the point. But yet, not all employees are the same.

Some players are undisciplined and need a sort of “tough love.” Some are so sensitive, even looking at them sternly can make them emotional (I exaggerate, but you get my point). Others are quiet, hard-working employees who just want to focus on the task at hand without too much joking around. 

If you really want to connect with everyone on the team, you have to take the time and effort to truly get to know each individual’s unique personality and adjust how you engage and communicate with them individually. 

The Importance of Getting to Know Those on Your Team

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to lead an already well-established team at Holmes Murphy. It would have been easy to just keep doing things status quo and let them all keep “doing their thing.” However, I looked at this as an opportunity to get to know each one of them on an individual and personal level. I conducted what I called, at the time, “first dates” (admittedly, not an ideal description for today) where we would spend 30-45 minutes with one another to learn more about each other on a personal level. 

I started off by sharing my intentions. The fact of the matter was, we were going to be spending more time during the day together than we would with the people we loved and cherished the most at home…our friends and family. It was important to know each other better.

I then openly shared more about me — where I was born, how many siblings I had, which parent I thought I was most like, what I thought I wanted to be when I grew up, where I went to college, my hobbies/interests, etc. I was truthful and vulnerable, and by sharing first, I think it gave them a sense of just how transparent I was willing to be. 

Next, I asked them to share whatever they felt comfortable sharing (no pressure or obligation at all). Almost all shared freely and fully, without fear of judgement. I learned so much about them personally, which helped me lead each one of them uniquely. 

In fairness, there was one colleague who didn’t feel comfortable initially, as she told me “I’ve known you for years and you’ve never asked about these things. Now that you’re my manager, it seems fishy.” I appreciated her perspective and didn’t press her on sharing. It wasn’t too much longer, though, when she came to me and shared her personal story without hesitation. We became and still are great friends. 

The bottom line, it worked! By connecting with each one of them individually, it allowed me to become a more effective leader. Yes, it required more effort than what I had done with other teams in the past. But in the past, my engagement style likely only connected with half of the team and the other half never felt fully connected. 

Employee Engagement Needs to Be Different

Our teams are not comprised of the same individuals, players, or personalities. So why do we engage them as if they are all the same? Maybe if we give a little more effort and a little more patience, together we can all find our unique potential. 

I’ll end with this quote from Simon Sinek. “Leadership is not about being in charge. Leadership is about taking care of those in your charge.”

Do you agree? I’d love to hear from you! Reach out to me through our Holmes Murphy website, and let’s chat. Also, if you need help with your own employee engagement, our ethOs team is prepared to help. This is what they do day in and day out, and they are darn good at it!

May 3, 2021