Fusing engagement and leadership to increase productivity
Leadership and engagement are the major impediments to higher productivity, according to a Morneau Shepell survey of 442 Canadian human resources (HR) professionals. The challenge for employers is figuring out how to address these issues effectively in order to increase productivity.
In his article “10 Steps for Engaged Leadership,” writer David Zinger proposes fusing together leadership and engagement to create an “engaged leadership.”
According to Zinger, in the past, HR departments have been burdened with creating “buy in,” from senior leadership, into engagement. This transactional metaphor, however, makes HR professionals into sellers and senior managers into buyers. In Zinger’s view, though, in today’s organization, “engagement resides more in partnership than in selling” and we should move towards “transformational engagement, where employees are transformed through engaging work.”
Central to Zinger’s thinking, and his proposal for dealing with the static state of leadership and engagement in the workplace, is the idea that “In 2015, leadership resides everywhere. No longer does leadership reside at the top of the pyramid. Good leaders manage and good managers lead. Leadership is found more in daily actions than a strategic retreat away from the organization.”
As a result, engaged leadership asks you to take the following ten steps as you proceed in your work.
- Ask: Don’t be afraid of mystery. Don’t pretend like you’ve got it all figured out. Ask compelling questions to draw people into the work.
- Invite: “As a leader, do not become an agent of coercion. Frame all your leadership work and contributions as invitations. Strive to make these invitations both engaging and compelling.”
- Join: Encourage collaboration to solve problems and tackle projects. Don’t lead in the traditional sense of mapping the whole journey yourself. Invite those around you to figure things out together.
- Experiment: Abandon certainties for hypotheses. “Be willing to disconfirm your cherished leadership beliefs. A good start is to read, The Discipline of Business Experimentation by Stefan Thomke and Jim Manzi, which appeared in the December 2014 issue of the Harvard Business Review.”
- Weave: Engagement is not “an HR thing,” it’s an “everybody thing.” Don’t allow your office to work in isolated silos. Put individuals, departments and work together.
- Read: You need to think. Reading is the best environment in which to do it. “Reading good leadership blogs and business books can open up new vistas on how to engage fully as a leader.”
- See: “Attention is a powerful and natural way to engage others in the organization.”
- Fly: Don’t stagnate atop your hierarchical perch. “It is easy for people to disengage when they are disconnected from leadership and believe that leadership does not have a clue about who they are.” Visit people and check in with departments.
- Narrate: As leader, you become, in important ways, “the keeper, creator, and teller of the organizational story.” Use stories to inspire and teach those around you.
- Lift: “Know your own strengths and use them in the service of others every day.”
Related Story: 5 Leadership Tips from Chevron CEO John Watson
Marketing matters: from IBM to Kyndryl
Prior to joining Kyndryl as Chief Marketing Officer, Maria had a 25-year career at IBM, most recently as the tech giant’s CMO where she oversaw all marketing professionals and activities across North America, Canada and Latin America. She has held senior global marketing positions in a variety of disciplines and business units across IBM, most notably strategic initiatives in Smarter Cities and Watson Customer Engagement, as well as leading teams in services, business analytics, and mobile and industry solutions. She is known for her work with teams to leverage data, analytics and cloud technologies to build deeper engagements with customers and partners.
With a passion for marketing, business and people, and a recognized expert in data-driven marketing and brand engagement, Maria talks to Business Chief about her new role, her leadership style and what success means to her.
You've recently moved from IBM to Kyndryl, joining as CMO. Tell us about this exciting new role?
I’m Chief Marketing Officer for Kyndryl, the independent company that will be created following the separation from IBM of its Managed Infrastructure Services business, expected to occur by the end of 2021. My role is to plan, develop, and execute Kyndryl's marketing and advertising initiatives. This includes building a company culture and brand identity on which we base our marketing and advertising strategy.
We have an amazing opportunity ahead at Kyndryl to create a company brand that will stand apart in the market by leading with our people first. Once we are an independent company, each Kyndryl employee will advance the vital systems that power human progress. Our people are devoted, restless, empathetic, and anticipatory – key qualities needed as we build on existing customer relationships and cultivate new ones. Our people are at the heart of this business and I am deeply hopeful and excited for our future.
What experiences have helped prepare you for this new opportunity?
I’ve had a very rich and diverse career history at IBM that has lasted 25+ years. I started out in sales but landed explored opportunities at IBM in different roles, business units, geographies, and functions. Marketing and business are my passions and I landed on Marketing because it allowed me to utilize both my left and right brain, bringing together art and science. In college, I was no tonly a business major, but an art major. I love marketing because I can leverage my extensive knowledge of business, while also being able to think openly and creatively.
The opportunities I was given during my time at IBM and my natural curiosity have led me to the path I’m on now and there’s no better next career step than a once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity to help launch a company. The core of my role at Kyndryl is to create a culture centered on our people and growing up in my career at IBM has allowed me to see first-hand how to prioritize people and ensure they are at the heart of progress in everything Kyndryl will do.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I believe that people aren't your greatest assets, they are your only assets. My platform and background for leadership has always been grounded in authenticity to who I am and centered on diversity and inclusion. I immigrated to the US from Chile when I was 10 years old and so I know the power and beauty that comes from leaning into what makes you different from other people, and that's what I want every person in my marketing organization to feel – the value in bringing their most authentic self to work every day. The way our employees feel when they show up for themselves authentically is how they will also show up for our customers, and strong relationships drive growth.
I think this is especially true in light of a world forever changed by the pandemic. Living through such an unprecedented time has reinforced that we are all humans. We can't lead or care for one another without empathy and I think leaders everywhere have been reminded of this.
What’s the best leadership advice you’ve received?
When I was growing up as an immigrant in North Carolina, I often wanted to be just like everyone else. But my mother always told me: Be unique, be memorable – you have an authentic view and experience of the world that no one else will ever have, so don't try to be anyone else but you.
What does success look like to you?
I think the concept of success is multi-faceted. From a career perspective, being in a job where you're respected and appreciated, and where you can see how your contributions are providing value by motivating your teams to be better – that's success! From a personal perspective, there is no greater accomplishment than investing in the next generation. I love mentoring younger professionals – they are the future. I want my legacy as a leader to include providing value in work culture, but also in leaving a personal impact on the lives of professionals who will carry the workforce forward. Finding a position in life with a job and company that offers me a chance at all of that is what success looks like to me.
What advice would you give to your younger self just starting out in the industry?
I've always been a naturally curious person and it's easy for me to over-commit to projects that pique my interest. I've learned over years of practice how to manage that, so to my younger self I’d say… prioritize the things that are most important, and then become amazing at those things.