In their book The Leader Within (1) the authors suggest that employees make a subconscious but intentional decision to either be a giver or a taker. A giver is someone that gives the organization of their knowledge, experience, passion, creativity and effort. A taker is someone that takes what the organization owes them (like their paycheck) while providing bare minimum effort. I believe people make this decision based on only one factor: “Is the organization for me or not?”
As a leader, you are the face of the organization for your direct reports and thus they will make the majority of their decision based on whether or not they believe you are for them. If you are truly for your people, it will be evident even in times of stress and even when your reports are messing up. It will be evident by your behaviour towards them, because even when things are tough, you will:
This is not to say that if you are not for them that you are against them. In the fray of getting the work done, you may simply be more focused on the job, or on being for the organization, or your career or anything else for that matter. From their perspective it doesn’t matter, your direct reports will only experience your support or the lack of your support.
The Leadership community gives a lot of lip service to the concept and importance of employee engagement, using words like commitment, creativity and competitive advantage. In reality, employee engagement starts with the employee’s decision whether they will give to or take from the organization and that decision is based on whether they feel you are for them or not. How deep is your commitment to your direct reports? Are you really and completely for them?
(1) The Leader Within, K. Blanchard, C. Edburn, M. O’Connor, D. Zigarmi, Prentice-Hall, 2005.