A Military Model of Leadership and Employee Engagement

May 22, 2014
Memorial Day is not just about a long weekend, barbecues, and the kick off to summer. It’s also an important day to think back on the men and women who have served our military, in conflicts from the Civil War to the present. In our small town, we always attend the parade, led by veterans walking the short parade route with their families. Marching alongside the Girl Scouts and the Little League teams, they are greeted with shouts of thanks. What strikes me is the extraordinary service of our own neighbors. These veterans are teachers and police officers, gas station owners and businesspeople in our own community. How did such regular people take such exceptional risks? Perhaps one answer is that the military successfully engages its members in a mission and inspires greatness. In his HRMagazine.co.uk article, The Military Has the Most Engaged Workforce in the Country, Says Kenexa, Tom Newcombe quotes Andrew Jackson of the British Army, saying “The main reasons [for engagement] come from strong leadership. If you have inspiring leaders and are well led, then it can drive up engagement. The military is also extremely mission orientated so sends out a clear message of what it wants from its employees. There is an immense amount of pride and professionalism in the military and it instils this in its employees.” What the military successfully does is provide a purpose, as well as a sense of ownership and belonging, to its members. When combined with trust in a mission-driven leader, these important components can provide the boost in motivation and commitment needed to accomplish great things. It ties the emotion of intrinsic motivation to the organizational goal. As we recently wrote in our blog article, People First: Leadership and Employee Engagement, the military does a good job of teaching leaders to prioritize people and to build the relationships needed to succeed. Don Knauss of Clorox learned this lesson in the Marines. He was interviewed by the New York Times, saying, “If you’re going to engage the best and the brightest and retain them, they’d better think that you care more about them then you care about yourself. They’re not about making you look good. You’re about making them successful.” So, how can civilian organizations make the same connections? IBM, in the whitepaper, Leadership and Employee Engagement, suggests the following actions to increase engagement, among others:

- Try to provide interesting and exciting work. Employees need to feel pride.

- Show respect and recognize employees for their contributions.

- Be visible to employees and “walk the talk.”

- Inspire confidence in the future of the organization.

Nothing in the ordinary workplace can compare to the contributions required of service men and women, but their experience can help us to understand how we, too, can inspire extraordinary results.

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