News & Opinion

Guest Post III - Lee J. Colan, Ph.D.

October 03, 2008


And now for the third installment of Lee J. Colan series of guest posts. If you like what you're reading, pick up his new book, Engaging the Hearts and Minds of All Your Employees: How to Ignite Passionate Performance for Better Business Results.

And now for the third installment of Lee J. Colan series of guest posts. If you like what you're reading, pick up his new book, Engaging the Hearts and Minds of All Your Employees: How to Ignite Passionate Performance for Better Business Results.
Inspiring Intellectual Engagement for Your Team--Part I
Engaging employees' minds tends to come naturally for many leaders. The mind represents the intellectual aspects of people that are based on reason, logic, and cause and effect. It requires the science of leadership which is the focus of most leadership training and education. Engaging the mind builds employee performance. Elevating employees' performance by engaging their minds involves the basics of leadership, but the basics are often overlooked. Even the best professional athletes can lose site of the basic skills of their sports: An all-star wide receiver takes his eyes off the ball and misses an easy touchdown pass. An Olympic downhill skier doesn't stay in a tight tuck, catches a draft and eats snow. A world-class golfer forgets to shift her weight during a tee shot and shanks it. It's no surprise that, as leaders, we can also sometimes forget the basics. The basics of our "sport" involve meeting employees' three intellectual needs: 1. Achievement 2. Autonomy 3. Mastery When you fulfill these needs, you create a self-reinforcing cycle of improvement, growth and high performance for your team. The mind is a muscle. It must be exercised or it will weaken. Engaging the mind is a form of mental exercise--it strengthens your employees' ability to perform. Engage their minds and watch their performance grow!
Inspiring Intellectual Engagement for Your Team--Part II
Eliminating barriers to achievement is one of the most powerful ways to engage your team. Employees want to achieve results--for themselves, for the team and for you. In other words, make it easy for your employees to succeed. This is not about lowering your standards. Making it easy for employees to succeed means eliminating barriers so their basic need to achieve can be fulfilled. So what can you do to eliminate barriers to achievement? Following are a few actions you can take:
  • Be a resource provider. Ensure your employees have the necessary materials, equipment and resources to achieve their goals.
  • Match authority to responsibility. Give employees the authority they need to achieve the results for which you will hold them accountable.
  • Be decisive. Use the best available information and your intuition to provide definite and timely decisions for employees. Analysis paralysis is the enemy of achievement.

    Inspiring Intellectual Engagement for Your Team--Part III
    While achievement focuses on the outcome of your employees' work, autonomy focuses on the process of getting work done. Involve your employees in defining and improving their work. Even in the most routine jobs, you can still get input from employees about ways to make improvements. When you give employees the appropriate level of autonomy, you engage their minds. The benefit to you? People support what they help create... and that yields increased discretionary effort from employees. Giving employees control over their work requires trust in your team. Autonomy is generally more important than doing it "the way the boss said to do it." What's the risk of not providing autonomy? Employees basically become robots--they give you their hands and feet, but not their minds and hearts. Toyota employees are required to submit two suggestions per month that they can implement themselves or with a teammate--in other words, something the employee can control. As a result, Toyota receives about 1.5 million employee suggestions for improvement each year. More impressively, 80% of these actually get implemented! What kind of impact would this approach to autonomy have in your organization?
    Inspiring Intellectual Engagement for Your Team--Part IV
    Our need to do something well is ingrained at birth. Consider a baby who is learning to walk. Despite countless trips, stumbles, bumps and bruises, a baby's need to master the skill of walking remains strong until s/he can walk effortlessly. Mastery at work is not built gradually also. So create a rich learning environment for your team. Use various learning sources--special projects, cross-functional assignments, presentations to management and training colleagues. Successful leaders achieve results through others. Your employees' mastery gets you results. The most important source of learning for your employees is YOU! Share your experiences. There are lessons to be found in everything your team does. Look for opportunities in:
  • post-project reviews, customer meetings,
  • conflicts with other departments,
  • changes in priorities,
  • miscommunications and mistakes. Yes, mistakes. The truth is that good judgment comes from experience, and a lot of that comes from bad judgment. Seize all of these experiences to coach your employees toward mastery. When you invest in a mind, you engage it! Stop back in later today for Lee's final guest post, or visit his website at
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