How to (Actually) Engage Your Employees

There are a lot of sources for advice on being successful — some good, some bad. But we know there are a few key things successful people do:

  • They identify what’s important to them personally (Wellbeing)
  • They set a direction for the business (Vision)
  • They deliver on key goals (Execution)
  • They focus their time and effort on those activities most critical for success (Productivity)

Our executive coaches call this success framework The Core Four. We’ve been helping motivated people apply these concepts for more than 20 years through executive coaching services, leadership development and resources such as our new Guide to Coaching Leadership.

But What About Your Team?

We often find that as people move beyond individual contributor roles into leadership and management positions, they don’t know how to help their people do these key things. It’s one thing to execute good prioritization personally; it takes an entirely different skill set to help your people achieve that discipline.

This is especially true for leaders who are less invested in their team members personally. If you don’t know what’s important to them, how will you help them focus their efforts toward what matters?

The problem is, many leaders aren’t even aware that they’re struggling in this area. In fact, 77% of leaders believe they do a good job engaging employees, yet 88% of employees feel their leaders don’t engage them enough, according to data from “The Mind of the Leader” by Jacqueline Carter and Rasmus Hougaard.

Clearly, there’s a gap here that needs to be bridged if we’re going to develop strong performers who are invested in the organization. We know engaged employees are better for team morale and for the bottom line, and that working in a healthy environment has positive benefits for these employees in their personal lives as well.

So, how do you make a difference with your team?

Believe it

You can’t “phone in” engagement efforts. If you don’t really care about your team members’ successes beyond what they can do for you, don’t pretend you do. Employees will know if you aren’t really interested in helping them succeed, and any attempts to fake it will likely do more harm than good.

Now, this doesn’t mean it all has to come naturally; it means you have to really invest for it to pay off. Being a Coaching Leader is different from traditional, directive management. It’s about caring and listening and cheering on team members. It’s about seeking to understand the individual, not just crossing off a completed goal on a quarterly review.

But it’s also about tough conversations and accountability. It’s about holding yourself and your team to standards, and it’s about leading by example and doing what you say you will.

Do it

Historically, we’ve expected managers to do most of the talking — instructing, redirecting, and correcting their employees. A coaching leadership style requires less talking and more listening.

Asking good questions often allows an employee to arrive at the conclusion you had in mind. And if it doesn’t, it may very well open up a different and better path for that individual and the team.

As leaders, we have to be “in the moment” when talking with our team members, focusing completely on what they’re saying rather than planning what we want to say next. By listening carefully, asking good questions, and reading cues they’re sending, we can learn a great deal about each team member. And we can use that understanding to help move them forward in their careers and in life.

Feedback matters, too. Without it, team engagement is almost impossible to achieve.

Leaders who give the best feedback combine structured and unstructured feedback sessions to ensure that issues aren’t allowed to linger and fester — but they also call out a job well done immediately and usually publicly.


Remember the Core Four framework we touched on earlier? Here’s where it really comes into play.

  • Well-being

Employees who feel satisfied and fulfilled with their current lives and where their lives are going are a great deal more productive at work. This has real potential to boost both personal and team output by 20%, according to a study by O.C. Tanner Institute.

You can start supporting your employees’ well-being by building relationships with each person on your team.  

  • Vision

People need to know where the organization is going. But even more than that, they need to understand how their efforts are contributing to that goal. This should be a frequent, ongoing conversation. As new projects and tasks come up, it’s important for leaders to show how they tie back to the big picture.

Additionally, by helping your employees articulate their own vision and chart where they want to go in their careers, you can further build engagement and connection.

  • Execution

Team members need to clearly understand what’s expected of them and how to accomplish it. These conversations might be about identifying successful behaviors to repeat, knowing which tasks are most critical and which can be delayed, understanding what’s getting in the way of success and determining how you as a leader can remove those barriers to success.

  • Productivity

This is really about helping individuals figure out what gets in the way of accomplishments. This is where you help them focus on critical tasks, identify what’s draining their time and say “no” as needed to less important projects.

Build a Structure

If you care about growing and developing your people as a coaching leader, then don’t try to wing it.

Without scheduled time for each employee, you’ll likely look up months down the road and realize that your good intentions for connecting amounted to very little. Without intentional, firm scheduling and commitment, the crisis of the day will frequently rob you of your connection opportunities, leaving you wondering how you fell so short of what you meant to accomplish.

Successful coaching leaders build their skills and relationships through intention, planning, and discipline. So if you want to succeed as a coaching leader, then you’ll need a structure, too.

You can find our proven structure and many other tips to build your coaching leadership skills in our new e-book, A Guide to Coaching Leadership. Download it today.


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