the ceo magazine, leadership,
Dr. Alan R. Zimmerman, Leadership Consultant and author of the "Payoff Principle"

In the old world of work, it was all about taking orders.  People were expected to park their brains, shut their mouths and work their forty hours a week.

In the new world of work, it's all about engaging people.  President John Quincy Adams talked about that 200 years ago when he said, "If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader."   He’s right.

But how do you do that?  My research tells me that it comes down to the 4C’s of Communication, Cooperation, Commitment, and Change.  Each “C” has its own set of attitudes, behaviors, and skills, which include some of the following.


“A lack of communication” is almost always near the top of complaints when employee surveys are taken.  In most cases, leaders need to communicate more and communicate more effectively.  So…

Model openness.  You can’t expect others to communicate if you don’t.  As Jim Collins points out in his book, Good to Great, your openness and honesty is a critical piece in the employee engagement process.

Kick down the silos.  Trust can’t exist in a climate of closed communication.  When Alan Mulally took over the reins of the struggling Ford Motor Company, he found an internal culture filled with silos, where people and departments walled themselves off from everyone and everything else in the company.  He kicked them down, saying, “You can’t manage a secret,” and led the company back from the brink of extinction.

Communicate clear expectations.  Most people want to succeed in their jobs. But if you haven't told people exactly WHAT you want done, they'll probably be less effective than either of you hoped.  And the result of that is never pretty.  You get unhappy.  Your disappointment shows, and you tell them what they’re doing wrong.  Just the opposite of engaging your people.

With C1 Communication in place, go on to…


After all, every leader asks the same question.  “How do I get people to do what I want them to do?”  A few things that work include…

Project contagious energy. You are never a neutral.  As Richard Lenny, Chairman and CEO of Hershey Foods, says, you are either giving your people more energy or sapping it from them.  Make sure you are projecting so much enthusiasm that people automatically cooperate with you. 

Ask for small amounts of cooperation.  In the beginning.  And build from there.  When the School Board in Palo Alto asked homeowners to place a large ugly sign in their yard indicating their support for an issue, only 1% agreed.  When they asked homeowners to place a small card in their window indicating support for the issue, many more said "yes".   Later, when they asked the card-displaying people if they would place the large ugly sign in their yard, 95% said "yes".

Acknowledge contributions. IBM encouraged people to share their suggestions on how the company could be improved. In one ten-year period, IBM saved $300 million thanks to the suggestions of its employees, and it gave $60 million to those employees who came up with the ideas. And every suggestion was acknowledged, even if it wasn't used. No one was made to feel that his/her idea did not matter.

With a leader’s communication and cooperation behaviors in place, you can move to…


As F. W. Woolworth, founder of the F. W. Woolworth retail chain, put it, "We would rather have one person working WITH us than three merely working FOR us."  In other words, real engagement also entails real commitment.

How do you get more commitment from your people?

Keep your promises.  According to The Center for Creative Leadership, the number one thing that differentiates those who become the top leaders in an organization and those who are passed over is the fact that the winners do what they say they are going to do.  Those who are passed over make excuses instead.  Keeping your promises encourages others to keep their commitments as well.

Tip your feedback toward the positive.  Take a lesson from the group of researchers who videotaped two teams of bowlers. The first team was shown a tape that focused entirely on what they did right.  The second team was shown a tape that only contained the mistakes they had made.  Both teams were coached on how to improve their techniques, but the first team that had their strengths reinforced in the video improved 100 percent more than the other team.

Of course, even the most committed leaders and employees always have room for improvement, which leads to… 


All progress is the result of change.  So merely getting someone to cooperate (C2) and stay committed (C3) is not enough.  Everyone’s got to change if you want bigger, better, bolder results.  So try this.

Help your people grow.  As Julius Walls, Jr., the CEO of Greyston Bakery, says, "My job is to help people grow. When I take care of them, they take care of the product, and the product takes care of the profit."

Instill a commitment to continuing education.  Wayne G. Paul, the Vice President of transportation at Home Depot, does.  He says, "I want to have people around me that are confident and ambitious. I want them to want my job -- and I want to help them get it. So I expect continual learning. I recommend and buy books for associates that I think can be helpful and insightful."

Encourage risk.  Give people permission to skip those things they're convinced are unnecessary. Tell them to try doing something differently if they think they have a better way.  At Wal-Mart, employees are told, "If you are required to do something that you think is garbage, you have permission not to do it. If no one asks you 'Why aren't you doing that?' for a week, you have permission not to do it again.  If, after that time, someone challenges you with 'Why aren't you doing that?' you have permission to go up two levels higher than your manager to explain why you're not doing it." 

Mountain climbers know they’ve got to hang together if they’re going to make it.  It’s leadership, engagement, and success … or disaster.  And it’s pretty much the same way in today’s world of work.  The way up the mountain of success is to practice 4C Leadership.



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