Identity Problems – A Frank Discussion

Several weeks back, I made the declaration that the more labels a person adopts, the harder it becomes to be a person and know who you are.  Multiple labels saddle a person with mental struggles that become physically exhausting.  Each label comes with social responsibilities, cultures, and expectations that cannot be shirked as long as a person has adopted that label.

For example, I am a dual-service disabled veteran.  Thus, I carry the cultures, expectations, and responsibilities of sailors and soldiers.  Consider what the expectations of a soldier are, and that image is part of the identity and societal responsibilities for being a veteran soldier.  Being disabled carries societal expectations, both mental and physical burdens.  Consider the Marines, and every Marine is a Marine for life!  You graduate basic training and earn the title Marine, and you will ALWAYS be a Marine!  Again, that title and label hold societal expectations voluntarily onboarded, and never will a Marine lose the attitude and social expectations of Marines.

The same is true of every single label a person voluntarily chooses for themselves.  The label will attract specific people into your social circles, but only as long as you willingly live the life expectations of that label.  Each label selected will form identities and mental challenges to meet the social expectations, a heavy burden indeed!

In a recent Tik Tok video, a person proudly declares more than 50-labels, preferred adjectives and pronouns, and identities. The video lasted more than 3 minutes, and I felt sorry for the exertion this person will face every minute they have these identities onboarded.  Another person watching this video declared that the subject claiming their labels was mentally ill; I agree with that sentiment.  Why; because the subject will never know who they are because of the noise of the labels, which includes the social pressures, the responsibilities, and the expectations.  I do not know the name of the person in the video, I would not share that video due to the privacy respect I have for others.

Who are you?

Even though current society in 2021 declares confusion between who and what a person chooses to be, not what are you.  For example, I do not like, nor do I onboard, the identity of disabled.  I am NOT disabled, handicapped, injured, and working on healing, but NOT disabled.  Consider the power of words for a moment.

The transitive verb “dis” means to show disrespect, insult, or criticize.  As a prefix, “dis” is defined as the opposite of something, depriving someone of something, excluding someone, or expelling someone.  Thus, a disabled person is either being disrespected, insulted, or criticized, deprived, excluded, expelled, or is the opposite of able.  Frankly, when we are made aware of the etymology of words, we are then more aware of why people choose to adopt or not adopt certain words and labels.  Do we understand this problem of labels just from an etymological perspective?

Regardless of plasticization, words hold power over the mind.  Words become identities, thoughts become things, and research supports that labels hurt mental processes and can permanently scar.  Yet, who and what a person chooses as their identities are not considered a problem in current society or a mental illness.  People’s choices reflect their identities to attract those in socially accepted circles.

Thus, who are you?  Who do you choose to be?  Are those identities sufficient?  While not as important as who a person is, the last question ranks a close second.  How many identities can you physically onboard and live successfully?  As a fan of simplicity and a follower of the KISS rules, as detailed by Murphy, the god of perversity, I keep it supremely simple to protect my energy levels and allow my identity to shine through.  Having only a few identities enables me to select social commitments, restrict the mental noise and exertions, and hold myself accountable to a few identities to grow as a person.

Returning to the Tik Tok video subject and their 50+ labels, identities, and preferred pronouns, we must ask, what is sufficient?  A follow-on video by this person reflected the physical exertions from conforming to identities and social pressures.  Worse, this person had onboarded several more labels and identities. They reflected the mental illness and physical drain caused by trying to live up to all the label responsibilities.  An extreme example; unfortunately, no; the pressures to onboard labels and identities have grown exponentially, mental problems are too significant to quantify, and they are growing.

Not just in America, the confusion about who a person is, the identities, and their inherent loads, have become a global phenomenon.  What are the mental health professionals doing; causing harm by not discussing the physical and mental exertions of onboarding too many identities.  It is up to the individual and parents of minor children to understand and help learn and teach simplicity in labels allows growth as a person, not more identities, but less.  Fewer identities provide freedom for growth, identity exploration and empower mental health, leading to improved physical health.

Identities

As a pre-teen, I struggled with the concept of my identity.  Religion was a curse, my family was worse, and I did not know who I was, thus strangling what I could do or become.  I got jealous of how my sister could get away with breaking the rules and thought I should be a girl.  I struggled with wanting to be a girl for several years as I learned who I was and what I wanted to be.  If this problem occurred right now, professionals would counsel me to adapt and change my body through drugs and surgery, compounding my identity problems.  Yet, what helped, was getting to know me!

I had several people help me form an identity I could be comfortable living with as I explored my options, fought to understand my role and purpose, and embraced my potential.  It took time, lots of time.  It required patience with myself, a moral code I could live in, and a desire to learn—all of which I had to develop from scratch.  My identity is forged in the fires of adversity, for the consequences of my choices during this time played a role in how I went to school, what I chose to learn, and where I found employment and socially accepted company.  Some of those consequences hang around even all these many years later.  Some consequences I have been able to live long enough to survive.

Worse, as I have learned more about myself, my identity has changed, bringing with it consequences of change.  Music, movies, humor, education, and more are part of an identity that forms a life.  Choices bring consequences; how we value those consequences (e.g., good/bad, profitable/unprofitable, etc.) will determine our eventual destiny towards understanding who we are, so we can become what we desire to see in the mirror.  More lessons I had to learn, then and only then, could the value of religion be discovered, the value of family understood, and honor and pride and commitment to self appreciated as an identity to live.  Crucial to this growth and development, I know when to cut social ties, drop music and movies into the trash, and I am imperfect in changing, but I have some lessons I would see others learn to avoid pitfalls.

      1. Commit to learning using the question, “Who am I?” as a core principle to discovery.
      2. Allow yourself time to think, ponder, and consider before committing to an identity. I always wanted to be a soldier, but I loved the ocean.  I did not understand the value of these paradoxical options, and by rushing headlong, I had to learn an identity after living that identity.  Arduous path; know first, then adopt an identity.  Let me try and simplify that with my favorite axiom,  learned as an Emergency Medical Technician, “Never take your body where your mind has not traveled first!”
      3. Comfort is key. If you are not comfortable, your conscience tells you something is wrong.  An identity should require physical strain and mental confusion.  Yes, you can delude yourself for a time/  Ultimately, your conscience, spirit, intellect, whatever you call your inner voice, will break through and tell you your identity is not mentally acceptable.  If your identity choice is not comfortable, it will affect your physical health negatively.
      4. Never stop learning; learning leads to change, and change is good!
      5. When in doubt, turn to lesson two, give yourself more time before committing to an identity.

I love hard rock, big hair bands, and southern rock.  Steel guitars, banging drums, and headbanging to an excellent beat are an identity with power.  But headbanging gives me incredible headaches.  Too much rock and roll, and I cannot think clearly, and the ability to control my thinking is paramount to me.  Do I adopt the headbanging identity or not; sometimes, I am all in for a solid rock fest.  Mostly, I listen to the inner voices and moderate my music.  See, lesson two continues to hold power and lesson four keeps me thinking how much longer will I affect my identity with an uncomfortable identity with physical pain.

Choose carefully, evaluate often, and allow yourself the freedom to grow by not onboarding labels without due consideration.  Please, consider your gender and biological sex as integral to your ultimate destiny and comfort.  Before you are comfortable in your skin, you have to be comfortable in your mind!  If you want to explore identities, explore, but explore smartly and be cognizant of the social responsibilities, expectations, and cultures inherent with an identity.  Observe those with those identities closely for the consequences of thier identity.

I cannot betray a confidence, but I have witnessed how traumatic experiences can be the impetus for forcing an identity change.  A close associate went to a party, had a mickey slipped into their drink, and woke to a new reality.  The consequences of other people’s identities can negatively impact your identity, especially if you do not know who you are!

I have never been comfortable with the hard rock, headbanging social aspects of rock and roll identities.  The illicit drug use, the promiscuous sexual encounters, and the extremes in living frankly scare the hell out of me!  But, I love the music, and I love much of the wardrobes in this identity, even though I will NOT wear makeup and cannot play a musical instrument.

Life is a journey; travel safely using the axiom, “Never take your body, or anyone else, anywhere your mind has not already traveled.”  Think, ponder, consider, and then act confidently.

© Copyright 2021 – M. Dave Salisbury
The author holds no claims for the art used herein, the pictures were obtained in the public domain, and the intellectual property belongs to those who created the images.  Quoted materials remain the property of the original author.

Build People – Focus on Potential, a Leadership Task

ToolsWhile walking through Home Depot, my favorite aisles are those aisles with tools, power tools, hand tools, and so forth.  My mind always goes on imaginative wanderings, thinking about what those tools will go out into the world and do.  Will an inexperienced hand learn on those tools?  Will they build grand buildings?  Will they destroy?  What will those tools help accomplish?  The potential held in a tool is as much a mystery as looking at a babe in arms and thinking, what will that soul go forward and do?  I never become bored thinking about the potential held in a tool as part of the ongoing saga of humanity.

Without hands, a tool is useless; the tool cannot act independently.  Guns do not shoot themselves; hammers do not strike anything alone; thus, we can see that tools need someone to fulfill the measure of their creation.  For good or ill, the tool is only ever a force multiplier and requires intention through another party to act.  A critical point to understand is the person’s intention of holding the tool, who decides whether that tool will build or destroy, and the value to the owner.

Knowledge Check!But, this article is about people’s potential; why begin discussing tools?  To a leader, each person is a tool requiring training, delegation, trust, and motivation to achieve the measure of their creation.  Have you ever witnessed an unskilled manager use, or abuse, their people?  My first officer in the US Army National Guard was one of these unskilled managers.  The stories and experiences from this manager are legion, fraught with examples of what not to do and the hubris of a person placed into a position of power above their competence level.  I have long wondered, what did this officer’s boss think about this officer’s performance?

The first lesson in building people is this; everyone has someone they report to.  Do your people know who they report to, and are they comfortable talking to this person?  Consider the following:

Leadership is solving problems.  The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them.  They have either lost confidence that you can help or concluded you do not care.  Either case is a failure of leadership.” – General Colin Powell

In more than nine years of Military Service, I can count on one hand the number of officers I trusted enough and were approachable sufficient to bring problems to, and I won’t even need the pinky and thumb.  In talking to friends and family about this issue, their experiences are similar.  Worse, the same problem exists with the non-commissioned officer corps.  In my professional pursuits outside military service, I have worked with precisely one boss to whom I felt comfortable bringing issues.

While I strive to be the leader I wish I could take problems to, there is a realization that to my teams, I am being measured, weighed, and if found wanting, will never know I failed to be the leader to whom I would bring problems.  Consider this for a moment.  A leader could be solving problems and thinking, “My people bring their problems to me QED: I am a good leader.”  While never realizing they are detestable and hated by their people.  All because their people only bring work-related problems, and then only rarely.  In the US Navy, I experienced this exact issue more than once, and the officers all thought they were “God’s gift to their people.” Massive egos, compensating for being vile and despicable.

Leaders, take note:

    1. What are the preferred names of the members of your teams?
    2. When was the last time you shared problems and asked for input from your followers?
    3. What are you learning daily, and who is teaching you?
    4. Do you know your followers sufficiently to advise?
    5. What quirks, talents, skills, or abilities do your people possess that you appreciate?

How you answer these questions determines more than your destiny as a leader and your team’s productivity in achieving business goals.  When I begin a new project and select tools, I review what I know about my tools.  My hammer has a loose head, but I will not change it out because it has the smoothness of age and is the best hammer for finishing work.  This wrench has scratches in the head and a chisel mark in the handle that is exactly 6” and is handy in a pinch.  Thus, when used on soft brass, the head will leave marks in the metal on which it is used.  All this and more is reviewed, strengths and weaknesses, quirks and peculiarities, all known before engaging in a new project.  When you know your tools, their potential is declared, and in communicating their potential, how and where they can be best used becomes common knowledge.

Leadership is a potent combination of strategy and character.  But if you must be without one, be without strategy.” – General Schwarzkopf

Ninety-Nine present of leadership failures are failures of character.” – General Schwarzkopf

Several of the worst people I have ever worked for had the moral integrity of a used car salesperson.  They could not be trusted, except to be trusted to stab you in the back.  No honesty, never forthright, always acting for the downfall of anyone they deemed was competition, and constantly engaged in stealing glory while meting out the worst punishments.  While the experiences fulfilled another axiom from General Schwarzkopf, the education was brutal to suffer through.

You learn far more from negative leadership than from positive leadership.  Because you learn how not to do it, and, therefore, you learn how to do it.” – General Schwarzkopf

These experiences alone would qualify me to write this article; however, through a multitude of academic classes and degrees, I have gained more fundamental qualifications to justify what I am about to declare.  If you think a title makes you a leader, you are the problem in your organization’s leadership!  In working with newly minted, freshly commissioned, officers in the US Army and the US Navy, I have learned through sad experience too many consider the rank and titles their “Golden Ticket” to being abusers of people through “leadership.”  One particular example stands out more clearly from the others.

While serving in the US Navy, my first Chief Engineer was book smart and common sense inept!  This man was more dangerous with tools in his hand, even though he could verbatim quote pages from maintenance manuals.  Shortly before I arrived on the ship, the Chief Engineer had started a fire on board the vessel in multiple engine and auxiliary rooms by applying shaft brakes to an operating shaft instead of to the shaft that had been locked out and tagged out.  The Chief Engineer then compounded his errors by blaming the engineers who had properly locked out/tagged out the shaft needing maintenance.  This was a major issue that proved cream rises and trash sinks, and this leader was absolute trash!

The bitter cherry on this crap sundae, the example of the Chief Engineer, was a symptom of a greater sickness and moral desert in the Engineering Department.  Chiefs were force-multiplying the Chief Engineers example, and the senior non-commissioned officers were force-multiplying the chiefs example.  Who suffered, the lowest enlisted, and the rest of the ship.  Maintenace was rarely done properly, watchstanding was hit or miss, and the example plagued the Engineering Department for years after the Chief Engineer was summarily dismissed.

The only redeeming factor from this experience, I learned the lessons of what negative leadership does well.  Leaders take note:

    1. If character problems lead to poor performance or behaviors detestable in your teams, look no further than the reflection in the mirror for both an answer and a root cause.
    2. Your followers will observe what you do more than what you say. How are you acting?
    3. Stop looking up, you are a leader, and your first vision should be to look sideways and make sure your people are on the same level before you look up.
    4. Before embracing new strategies, first review character!

The following is critical to building people and promoting potential:

To be an effective leader, you have to have a manipulative streak – you have to figure out the people working for you and give each tasks that will take advantage of their strengths.” – General Schwarzkopf

Leadership is a balancing act between helping people take advantage of their strengths and training them to overcome individual weaknesses.  Yet, leaders often act like managers, never training, and always micro-managing to shave strengths preventing competition with the leader.  Which are the actions of neither a leader nor a manager, but a tyrant!  Petty authoritarians acting the role of tyrants produce more harm than war, poverty, and disease combined.

What actions are needed?  We conclude with the following:

TRUE courage is being afraid, and going ahead and doing your job.” – General Schwarzkopf

The job of a leader begins with being a good follower; even if to be a good follower, you must be the loyal opposition standing like a rock doing the right thing in the face of adversity.  Moral integrity is critical to being a good leader and is foundational to building people.  Leaders take special note and act accordingly:

    1. What is your moral code?
    2. Why do you embrace those morals?
    3. Do you understand integrity is doing what is right, especially when you think nobody is watching? Do you have moral integrity?
    4. Do you know your identity, and are you comfortable with your identity?
    5. What character do you possess, and is that character tied to your morality and integrity?Exclamation Mark

When you are placed to influence people, build potential by first knowing, and then doing that which is the harder right, than the easier wrong.

© Copyright 2021 – M. Dave Salisbury
The author holds no claims for the art used herein, the pictures were obtained in the public domain, and the intellectual property belongs to those who created the images.  Quoted materials remain the property of the original author.

NO MORE BS: Know the Why – NO Fear!

NO FearAs I was coming into manhood, a clothing brand began and was almost instantly popular; the brand is easily recognizable and states two words, “No Fear!”  Launched in 1989 by twin brothers Mark and Brian Simo, No Fear quickly became one of the most popular sportswear companies globally—and the most popular sportswear company staunchly against being scared.  I will not claim I have “No Fear,” but I choose to live without fear.  When fears arise, my answer is to learn all I can, mentally prepare for times when those fears will rise again, and then move forward living like those fears will not repeat, for I am mentally prepared.

USS Barry (DDG-52) - WikipediaCase in point, I was on a destroyer in the US Navy.  I had been on the ship for more than two years; I was in charge of Repair 5, the Engine Room damage control locker, and in the middle of the 0000–0400-watch, the bells and alarms go off, “Major Fuel Oil Spill in Main 1.”  Because I had practiced, I had personally trained my fire team.  I was exceedingly knowledgeable about the space, the equipment, and the watchstanders; I proceeded into an actual casualty with confidence, not fear.  More, my team could trust the training I had given them, and they moved from sleep to firefighting with confidence.  While no fire erupted that night, the casualty was quickly contained by the watchstanders.  My fire team was prepared to assist; the experience looked upon is not one of embarrassment from fear but confidence and appreciation for preparation, drills, and knowledge.

Gas Chamber 4My first time going through the CS Gas Chamber happened with my National Guard unit.  I was scared, not fearful, just frightened.  I had no confidence in the equipment, I had not been to basic training yet, and here I was going into a gas chamber.  This experience provided me with confidence that my fellow soldiers in basic training did not have as we went into the gas chamber in basic training when I experienced the gas chamber in the US Army Basic Training, Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.  I had no fear, no trepidation, and no reason to doubt.

During Basic Training, I remember only one time being truly scared, not fearful, just scared!  I had failed to pass on the shooting ranges and was facing being kicked out of the US Army because I could not shoot what I was aiming at.  I had been shooting since I was 14, I knew how to handle rifles, but still, I could not qualify with the M-16.  The problem, I could not relax, and this inability to relax was jerking the trigger and making my rounds go astray.  Worse, I did not know why I could not relax.  Thus, arrives the point of this article, do you know the why in your emotions, decisions, and desires?

Bait & Switch 2You possess beliefs, and some might even be firmly held beliefs; this is great.  I am not writing to dissuade you from your beliefs, to decide differently, or even to emote in a manner foreign to you.  My intent is to aid you in introspection, a path of self-knowledge where you know why you know, why you believe, and why you act as you do.  Do you know why; in knowing why you begin to understand, and understanding brings knowledge and acceptance.

I have a friend who had an abusive childhood.  Her childhood was fraught with danger, all types of abuse, and this childhood prepared her to be in two abusive marriages and consider those abusive marriages as normal.  She is now remarried to a good guy, not abusive at all.  Except she has a lot of health problems, and she seeks out medical opinions for everything, seeking to find domineering in a relationship as a by-product of her childhood.  She refuses to believe that childhood events drive her doctor fixation and not health problems.  I will not attempt to dissuade her of this opinion.  I support the good she does, the good she and her husband do, and I will continue to choose to be her friend.  But fear and refusing to know why has all but crippled my friend, and this is painful to see!

Question 3Do you know why?  Are you willing to investigate to know why?  What will you choose to do when the why is revealed?  Knowing why requires mental preparation, mental preparation requires mental strength, agility, and flexibility, all skills that require practice, time, and development through experiences willingly sought.  Therein lay the most challenging part of building mental skills, being willing to seek out these opportunities, and remaining fixed upon learning, no matter the cost.

I have met some amazing people who refused to accept what the truth was going to cost them.  Learning comes with a price; that price is in the choice to apply or deny what has been taught.  The price is the consequence that follows the decision to accept or reject that which was learned.  My brother’s wife discovered he was cheating on her and had been cheating on her almost from the moment they married.  She stayed in the marriage for seven kids and nearly 20-years.  Hoping he would change.  I honor her willingness and sacrifice; I respect her devotion to my brother, I understand her position and her reasoning.  Still, I wonder, should she have left him immediately upon learning of his infidelity?  She knows the why now, but she refused to accept the why, and the consequences were painful in the extreme for many years.  She is better now, remarried, and the kids are recovering, but did they have to suffer?  Did she have to suffer?  Choice and consequence after learning is mentally difficult.

GearsAs stated and repeated only for emphasis, you may choose how you will, believe, feel, and act the way you think is best for you and yours.  My aim and intent are not to dissuade but to help you more fully appreciate the why and lose the fear.   As a teenager, a friend of mine, a shepherd, asked me to help him on the ranch.  My first day coincided with shearing day, and with 400-head of sheep to shear, this was not going to be an easy day.  Herding the sheep into the corral was not difficult and was accomplished without incident.  Getting the sheep into the run and into the trailer to be sheared was incredibly difficult, but getting the sheep out of the shearing van was easier than falling off the porch.  Why; because of fear.  The sheep wanted to be sheared, but the confinement of the run and the noise the shears produced increased fear so much that the animals could hardly think straight, and they became more fearful the closer they got to the van where the shearing stations were.  Animals confined in tight quarters in the run turned themselves about and tried to flee backward in the run.  Fear made them do incredible things I had never imagined an animal could do.

WhyAs I experienced life, surviving the US Army and the US Navy, I learned what fear does to humans; worse, the consequences of fear leave an indelible impression upon the minds of those who chose to succumb to fear.  The movies never show this side of fear; books and magazines never discuss the aspects of what fear does to harm the mind and body of the person involved.  Worse, society has come up with terms and names to soften the repercussions of a moment’s fear.  As a kid, I watched a lot of M*A*S*H 4077; in one of those shows, Sigmund, the psychiatrist, talks about how a moment’s fear on the battlefield becomes a lifetime of regret, shame, and the potential of an eternal soul is lost.  All because, for one moment, fear overcame, and the body responded, while the mind lost control.

QuestionDo you know why?  Are you willing to discover the why and teach others what you have learned?  The final step in introspection is not acceptance but being willing to teach.  Through teaching, you learn more perfectly; this is a pattern that I have seen replicated in too many classrooms to ignore.  I met an amazing woman in a long-term care facility in Geneva, Ohio.  She was my mothers-in-law’s roommate.  She was a teacher and began her career in a one-room schoolhouse at sixteen.  She retired just after the school’s consolidated.  She had been blind for a long time.  I never met a more grateful person, and I have not met a more learned person!  She said every day she taught, she learned something new, which taught her to be grateful, and in gratitude, she taught and learned for her entire career and every day thereafter.

Thus, I ask again, do you know the why?  Are you willing to learn the why?  How you choose does determine your destiny.  I close with a final thought, are you willing to ever choose the harder right instead of, the easier wrong?  I am not perfect, I struggle to choose the harder right, but I also know the invaluable worth of being prepared mentally and not fearing.  I know the power that comes with choosing to know the why and allowing that choice, with its inherent and natural consequences, to lead towards making better decisions and learning.  There is power in knowing why there is power in failure, there is hope in failure, and great peace in knowing the why.How to Make Any Question Essential with Three Easy Steps – Wabisabi Learning

Search out the why.  Choose to learn.  After learning, accept the price of consequences and see how those consequences can change you!

© 2021 M. Dave Salisbury
All Rights Reserved
The images used herein were obtained in the public domain; this author holds no copyright to the images displayed.

 

Employee Engagement

Knowledge Check!Recently this topic was raised in a town hall style meeting, and the comments from the leadership raised several concerns.  It appears that employee engagement is attempting to become a “buzzword” instead of an action item, and this bothers me greatly.  Worse, many people lead teams with vague ideas about what employee engagement means and then shape their own biases into the employee engagement program, making a pogrom of inanity and suffering out of a tool for benefiting and improving employee relations.

When discussing employee engagement, we must first begin with a fundamental truth; employees do not work for a company, do not work for a brand; they work for a manager.  An employee might like a company; they might enjoy having their professional brand aligned with a known branded organization. The employee might feel pride in associating with other employees under that brand.  When the road gets difficult at the end of the day, an employee works for a manager.  The relationship between a manager and an employee is one of trust operationalized and honed through shared experiences.

Employee Engagement – Defined

ProblemsAccording to several online sources, the definition of employee engagement is, “Employee engagement is a fundamental concept in the effort to understand and describe, both qualitatively and quantitatively, the nature of the relationship between an organization and its employees.”  If you believe this definition, you will miss the forest for the bark you are fixated upon!  Employee engagement is fundamental; it is not a concept, a theory, or a buzzword.  Employee engagement is a relationship between organizational leaders and the employees, but employee engagement is not about collecting qualitative or quantitative data for decision-making policy-based relationship guidance.  At the most basic level, employee engagement is the impetus an employee chooses to onboard because of the motivational actions of the manager they report to.

Employees must choose to engage; when they choose not to engage, there is no enthusiasm in the employee, and this can be heard in every action taken by the employees on the company’s behalf.  Is this clear; employee engagement is an individual action, where impetus leads to motivated and enthused action.  While organizational leaders can and do influence motivation, they cannot force the employee to engage!  Thus, revealing another aspect of why the definition found online is NOT acceptable for use in any employee engagement effort!Leadership Cartoon

Employee engagement is the actions an employee is willing to take, indicating their motivation to perform their duties and extra-duties for a manager they like.  Employee engagement is the epitome of operational trust realized in daily attitudes, behaviors, and mannerisms of employees who choose to be engaged in solving problems for their employer.  While incentive programs can improve employee engagement, if the employee does not first choose to enjoy the incentive, the incentive program is wasted leadership efforts.  The same can be said for every single “employee benefit.”  If an employee cannot afford the employer’s benefits, those benefits are wasted money the employer needs elsewhere.  Hence, the final point in defining employee engagement is the individualization of incentives and the individual relationship between managers and employees.  Stop the one-size-fits-most offerings, and let’s get back to talking to people.Anton Ego 4

Reflective Listening

Listening has four distinct levels; currently, these are:

      • Inactive listening – Hearing words, seeing written communication, zero impact mentally. Mainly because your internal voices drown out the possibility of communication.
      • Selective listening – Hearing only that which confirms your own voices, opinions, and biases. While others are speaking, you are already forming your response.
      • Active listening – Show the other person you are paying attention to, engage with meaning in a reply. You are focused on removing barriers to get your point across.
      • Reflective listening – Paying attention to intent and content, reducing emotion, two-directional as both parties are engaged in achieving mutual understanding.

Chinese CrisisInactive and selective listening can be heard through phone lines, instant messaging, text messaging, and easily observed during face-to-face communication.  Worse, active listening launches trust, and when faked, destroys credibility, ruining relationships.  Reflective listening can only achieve mutual understanding when both parties are choosing to listen intently and with the purpose of reaching mutual understanding.  The most powerful tool in an organizational leader’s toolbox for quickly rectifying employee engagement is reflectively listening.

Communication occurs in two different modalities, verbal and non-verbal.  Good communicators adapt their message to the audience using reflective listening and careful observation.  Adapting the message requires first choosing, determining who the primary and secondary audience is, and then focusing the message on the primary audience.  Next, adaptation requires prior planning, which includes mental preparation, practice, and channels for feedback.  Finally, adaptation requires listening to achieve mutual understanding, careful observation, asking questions designed to lead to mutual understanding, and clarifying what is being said to achieve mutual understanding.  The pattern described can be the tool that begins employee engagement but is not an end-all solution all by itself.Anton Ego

Appreciative Inquiry

Appreciative inquiry is a growth mechanism that states that what a business organization needs, they already have enough of, provided they listen to their employees.  Appreciative inquiry and common sense tell leaders who want to know and change their organization and how and where to begin.  Appreciative inquiry-based leadership is 6-continuous steps that start small and cycle to more significant problems as momentum for excellence permeates through an organization.  But the first step, just like in defeating a disabling addiction, is admitting there is a problem.

Here are the six operational steps for appreciative inquiry:

      1. Admit there is a problem and commit to change.
      2. Define the problem.
      3. Discover the variables and stay focused on the positive.
      4. Dream BIG!
      5. Design the future and outline the steps to that future.
      6. Destiny, create the destination you desire.

Bait & SwitchFollow the instructions on a shampoo bottle, “Wash, Rinse, Repeat.”  The appreciative inquiry model can be scaled, repeated, implemented into small or large teams, and produce motivated members who become the force to create change.  Allow yourself and your team to learn, this takes time, but through building motivation for excellence, time can be captured to perform.

Of all the steps in appreciative inquiry, it must be stressed that focusing on the positive is the only way to improve people.  Even if you must make careful observations to catch people doing good, do it!  Focusing on the positive provides the proper culture for engaging as many people as possible.  Criticism, negativity, aspersions, and insults all feed a culture of “Not my problem,” and when the employee claims, “not my problem,” they will never engage until the culture changes.

Organization

Andragogy - LEARNEmployee engagement requires structural changes to the organizational design.  Employee engagement is going to bring immediate change to the organization.  If the leaders, directors, managers, supervisors, team leaders, etc., are not prepared for and willing to change, employee engagement will die as an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.  As a business consultant, I have witnessed the death of employee engagement, and the death is long, protracted, and disastrous to the entire business.  Worse, individuals refusing to change stand out like red dots on a white cloth as employee engagement dies.

Thus, the first step in employee engagement belongs not to the employee, but the employer, who must answer this question: “Are we a learning organization willing to change, or are we a knowing organization who does not need to change?”  How the leadership answers this question will speak volumes to the employees closely observing and making their decisions accordingly.  Depending upon how that question is answered will depend upon whether the business can move onto the second step or remain stuck on the first step.

Andragogy - The PuzzleThe second step in employee engagement is training the organization to accept change and failure as tools for learning, growing, and developing.  A toddler learning to walk will fall more than they stay up before they can run.  The same is true when initiating employee engagement.  Guess what; you are going to fail; can you as an organizational leader accept failing?  Are you willing to admit you failed, made a mistake, and publicly acknowledge the blame and consequences?  Are you willing to allow others to accept the praise for doing the right thing?  Will you as an organizational leader accept change?  How you answer these questions also speaks volumes to the employees you are trying to engage.  Depending upon how you individually and collectively as a team answer these leadership questions will decide if you fall back to step one or advance to step three.

The third step in organizing employee engagement is total commitment.  Are you onboard?  Are all the leaders onboard?  Being onboard means 100% commitment to the organization dreamed in the operational steps to appreciative inquiry.  If not, do not launch an employee engagement program, for it will fail spectacularly!  Never forget the cartoons where a character has one foot on a boat leaving the pier and one foot on the dock; they get wet and left behind!

Have FUN!

Semper GumbyEngaging with employees should be fun, it should be an enjoyable experience, and it should bring out the best in you!  All because you want to see others engage, grow professionally, learn, develop, and become.  Your efforts to teach engagement lead you to learn how to engage better.  Seize these learning opportunities, choose to grow, but never forget to have fun.  My best tool for engaging with employees, dad jokes!  Really, really, really, bad dad jokes!  For example, when Forrest Gump came to Amazon, what was his computer password?

1F@rr3st1

When you get that joke, laugh; but wait for others to get it as well!  Employee engagement is fun, exciting, and can be the best job you ever had as a professional.  Just believe in yourself, believe in and invest the time in appreciative inquiry, organize yourself and your business, and always reflectively listen.Never Give Up!

© 2021 M. Dave Salisbury
All Rights Reserved
The images used herein were obtained in the public domain; this author holds no copyright to the images displayed.