Our morning at the office was akin to any normal day; staff members arrive, greet each other, clock in, make coffee, and do whatever it takes to get the operational apparatus moving for the day. After thirty minutes, we settled into our work stations and commenced small talk with each other before engaging in our daily routine. All the sudden, I see what seems to be the Regional Vice President entering the office at a fast pace. Somewhat startled, I exclaimed, “It’s the V.P.!” I was merely surprised the Regional Vice President was by himself, without the usual entourage of the Regional and District Managers with clipboards in hand ready to write down every detail of the meeting. Normally, these types of meetings from out of town brass tend to create a tense working environment, where our district leaders prepare store managers and staff days ahead of time. During these scheduled visits every office in the region walks on “pins and needles”, hoping team members will say the right things, present the goal board properly, and ensure the office is up to corporate standards; clean, neat and organized. Not this time. As the Regional V.P. walked in, we got up and greeted him one-by-one. We were so happy to see him without the usual hype. In other words, we did not have to conform to a false mold to make a good impression.
For reasons I will go into in a few moments, my colleagues and I were not intimidated at all by his presence. Our meeting with the Regional V.P. lasted about twelve minutes. After his departure, the office was energized by his presence. After things calmed down, I sat at my desk and wrote down a short list of what I saw and felt.
1. An engaged leader is personable
The Regional V.P. was uniquely personable. As he entered the office he shook our hands, and called us each one of us by name. I couldn’t help but think, “This guy must do his homework before he visits a store. He knows each one of us well.” His demeanor was totally non-threatening and genuine, unlike the meetings of the past.
2. An engaged leader gives hope
As he continued his conversation with another employee and I, he said, “We are going to grow old together, right?” We said in unison, “Yes, we are!” Immediately, I understood the meaning of this phrase; it is one used by lovers that are committing to each other for long periods of time. I felt like he was putting us as ease by this comment. I felt secure and confident about the future. Leaders, like him, offer hope and build confidence for the future in a single and sincere sentence. Without hope you feel you don’t have a future.
3. An engaged leader offers coaching
He soon asked, “How’s your store’s performance?” So we led him to the break room where our goal board was located with updated metrics showing our performance and profit for the month. After a brief overview by my colleague, he offered some tips of his own. His coaching was helpful and pleasantly acknowledged.
4. An engaged leader knows your status
Just before his departure, he asked a few of us about our status for the next level of promotion. He went around the room asking and listening to everyone’s response. When he approached me, he asked, “Have you taken the test for General Manager yet? Surprised that he knew my status, I answered in the affirmative. What I couldn’t grasp was his knowledge of my promotion, which was already in the works. I thought, “He’s the Regional V.P. He’s got more things to worry about.”
5. An engaged leader creates synergy
When he left the office, synergy was present. We were all thrilled about his visit. We couldn’t stop talking about what he said and was going to do for us. The atmosphere in our office was literally transformed by his presence and concern for our future. We then put our hands to work with more enthusiasm.
6. An engaged leader follows-through
Some of us had some concerns about certain issues that were not being addressed in a timely manner; like our monthly bonus extensions, concerns, and promotions. Within a half-hour we were getting calls and emails from our District Managers noting, “We are taking care of that email you sent two weeks ago.” It was simply amazing. I have not seen such follow-through in such a short time frame.
What I was fortunate to witness was a leader who was engaged in what he did, and how he did it. The root meaning of the word engage is “to get the attention of” or “to employ” meaning “to bind oneself” with another as in a pledge. Our Regional V.P. certainly got my attention, and I am now interested in committing myself further under his employ. Leaders who do disengage, will, as leadership coach Joel Garcia once said, “Love gathers – inattention scatters.”