What would you give to get what you want?

hand upI spend a lot of time reading about the world of work, leadership, management, effectiveness, and happiness. Sometimes I can get enchanted with the minutiae of it, but sometimes I just get annoyed. I’m currently a little annoyed about what I read about engagement. So many buzz words and research reports and strategies. So little that is really actionable. So little change in the landscape. I know I have a tendency to oversimplify things when annoyed. But, sometimes, things really aren’t as complicated as we make them. Sometimes we make things complicated because if we acknowledged the simplicity – A leads to B, and you want B, so logically you should do A – then not doing A look foolish and crazy. Also, we don’t wanna. Cause even though A is simple, it’s incredibly hard.

Everyone wants an engaged workforce, but no one is really willing to give what it takes to achieve one. To build a “culture of engagement” feels like a monumental effort. Just google the phrase and you’ll then have to wrestle with additional hard-to-quantify terms like transparency, teamwork, trust, vision, meaning, fit – all of these, too, seem hard to pin down, let alone DO. But maybe there is something that underpins them all. Something that would make achieving it simpler, but maybe also harder.

Maybe, building a culture of engagement has nothing to do with HR practices and initiatives and everything to do with being honest about one fact that we are (hopefully) all coming around to accepting about this new age we find ourselves in. That it is our humanness that differentiates average from stellar. That’s what engagement’s about, really. That when we bring our whole selves to our work – our emotions, our purpose, our internal drive, our connections to others – that is when we thrive and help our organizations prosper.

Okay, fine. I’ll admit that humanness is a little complicated. I love Liz Ryan’s stuff at The Human Workplace. She really delves into the details of how to be human in myriad of organizational situations and find satisfaction and success. A friend of mine also shared with me this Forbes piece about how, yes, it’s even possible to be fully human when interviewing for a job – a time when most people abdicate the fullness of themselves in the interest of presenting as a perfect cog. So many people are getting on board with the notion that you don’t have to be a cog, you can be a person! But…people can also be terrible. That’s why embracing our humanness is hard. Maybe you’ve worked with some terrible people, or worked for them, or even been one. It’s hard being human. So many emotions leading us to be jerks.

So, what if we talk about humaneness instead. One tiny little “e,” so much difference. Humanness is just being human. Humaneness is “acting like a good one.” To be humane is to not causing harm to others. We help, encourage, build up, connect, trust – we give. Adam Grant can articulate better the value of a giving mindset. It feels great – helping and giving behaviors actually “light up” the pleasure centers of the brain. It builds reciprocity. It deepens connections between people. Whether we give help, time, emotional support – it benefits the person we are helping, it benefits us, and it benefits the collective.

An engagement culture is one in which humans behave humanely. When we recognize one another as equally human and real as ourselves, we are open and considerate to them. When we show care and concern for others, we earn their trust. When people are people together without hidden agendas, we have transparency. When people are willing to lend a hand without being asked, teamwork and collaboration happen. When you acknowledge people’s emotions and help them come back to equilibrium, and when you take pains to control your own negative emotions – you are like an office-wide emotional thermostat. This might be one of the greatest gifts you can give to another, holding a clear, calm space while emotions rage around them. Because humans have emotions and they happen at work. When negative emotions rule, toxic environments result and people disengage. An organization in which people help each other be the best human they can be is one in which people can be engaged.

What if you focused less on receiving, and more on giving to others? Yes, you, personally. Because culture isn’t a thing in and of itself – it’s the reflection of the behaviors and attitudes of a group of people. And while culture is hugely impacted by an organization’s leadership, each person contributes to it. What are you contributing? What are you willing to give to get what you need?

“No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another.” ― Charles Dickens 

“You give but little when you give of your possessions. It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.” ― Kahil Gibran, The Prophet

“For it is in giving that we receive.” ― Francis of Assisi


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