4 Easy Ways to Create Joyful Engagement

Excerpted From
Rare Leadership in the Workplace By Marcus Warner and Jim Wilder

4 Easy Ways to Create Joyful Engagement

There are at least four practical ways leaders can create joyful engagement in the people they lead. We know we have succeeded in this task when we hear people say things like, “I sure like this team and what we do.” To build this kind of engagement we need to practice the four Ps:

1. Prioritize Group Identity.

Rare leaders want results, but that is not their focus. They plan for results, but their focus is on the identity of their group. The primary job of the leader is to help the team know who they are and how it is like them to act. This means the leader needs to model that identity, communicate that identity, and embed that identity into the values and practices of the team.

For example, if you run a restaurant, is your primary focus making money, or is your primary focus creating a great dining experience? If you focus on the money, you might cut corners that cheapen the experience. In the end, you could end up losing money by forgetting your identity. The leader’s #1 task is making sure the group remembers who they are and how it is like you to act.

A group identity is a powerful force. It is a far more transformational force than accountability. Once I know who my people are, I am much more inclined to act like them, to think like them, to sacrifice for them, and come to their defense when I feel my people are under attack. We see this in politics, religion, race relations, gender issues, and in many other aspects of life. An identity group can promote good values or bad ones, but either way it is a powerful transformative force. Any leader who wants to see real change needs to make forming a strong group identity the top priority.

2. Promote Belonging.

Perhaps the first step in building a strong group identity is creating a clear path to belonging. That process may start with a clear statement that you are hired, or you made the team, but there is far more to it than that. People need to know that they are part of a relational system that is set up to help them succeed. They need relational training and mentoring. They need to know there are others invested in seeing them grow. If you just give people a task list and hold them accountable for achieving results, but you don’t give them the resources, encouragement, and training they need to succeed, they are going to feel disconnected and unvalued.

An important element of belonging is knowing that you are not alone with your problems. If you have been in the military (or even seen movies about the military), you know that when units form a strong sense of identity and belonging, they take care of each other. They will literally risk their lives to make sure their people don’t have to go through their problems alone. The twin elements of identity and belonging work together to create a culture of transformation that blows away what can be accomplished through accountability alone.

3. Practice Authentic Appreciation.

Mature leaders are good at noticing effort, process, and improvement. They don’t just notice results. They notice attitude and find actions worthy of praise. One of the ways a leader creates an identity for the group is by what gets praised. If you notice and appreciate effort and attitude, people learn, “We are the sort of people who give maximum effort and display great attitude.” If you simply tell people to give great effort and have a great attitude, but you only show appreciation for results, your team will get the message that you don’t really care about anything but winning. While that may sound good, it isn’t. Leaders who focus only on results suck the joy out of the process and create no end of problems that will need to be overcome later. On the other hand, leaders who show authentic appreciation for the steps along the way, and not just the destination, inspire and motivate greater effort.

4. Protect the Weak.

One of the most crucial differences between maturity and immaturity is one’s attitude toward weakness. Immature people hide their own weaknesses because they don’t know how to deal with shame. They also see the weaknesses of others as an opportunity for self-benefit. When a person becomes predatory, they view weakness as an opportunity to attack. They no longer care about the other person. They only care about winning.

I (Marcus) worked alongside many people who excelled at tracking the weaknesses of others. They didn’t constantly use people’s weakness against them, only when they felt threatened. In one case, I had a coworker who gained a reputation for throwing people under the bus whenever he felt blamed for something that went wrong. This leader had a habit of saying things like, “You are right. As the leader this is my fault, but…” There was always a “but.” Nothing was ever his fault, and to prove it, he could list off all the weaknesses and failures of his team members to show why the blame (and shame) belonged to someone else.

In prior writings, I (Jim) coined a set of terms for three common approaches to weakness: possums, predators, and protectors. Possums are people who know they are weak. Their one “superpower” is playing dead. Their motto is, “I don’t do confrontation.” A good day for a possum is one where no feathers get ruffled and no one gets their feelings hurt.

Predators are the reason possums exist. These are strong people who use their strength to stay at the top of the pecking order. They track the weaknesses of others, so they know where to attack if they ever feel threatened. Sometimes predators attack weak people in their sphere of influence just to reinforce who is on top.

Protectors are mature leaders who protect possums from predators and make it safe to contribute and grow. You cannot create joyful engagement if a culture becomes predatory. The protectors have to dominate the culture.

Excerpted from Rare Leadership in the Workplace: Four Uncommon Habits that Improve Focus, Engagement, and Productivity by Jim Wilder & Marcus Warner (© 2021). Published by Moody Publishers. Used by permission.

Jim Wilder
Jim Wilder

Jim Wilder is director of Shepherd’s House, the thinker behind the Life Model, and the author or co-author of several books including, most recently, Renovated: God, Dallas Willard and the Church That Transforms.