Engagement is one of the most talked about terms in business today. Books are being written about it, speeches are being given extolling the virtues of it, and leaders are being asked to create it. Everyone is talking about engagement. But while everyone is talking, few are asking: what is engagement, anyway?

Here’s my description:  People are engaged in their work when they are committed to the organization and its purpose, care about and put discretionary effort into their work.

The Big Ideas

Let’s pull the three big ideas from this description of engagement.

  • When you are committed to something, what changes? Your focus, intention and energy level all go up. The quality of your work improves. And you believe that what you are doing matters.
  • With commitment comes care. When you find your work meaningful and worth doing you care more about it. You are passionate about the outcome and the work itself.
  • Discretionary Effort. This is a level effort above the defined or described minimum. It is voluntary and can’t be cajoled or coerced. In a work context is far less likely to be made without the presence of the other two components.

Who Owns Engagement?

It is easy to see why organizations want engaged employees. I don’t need to connect the dots between having a cadre of engaged team members and the odds of good results. Since organizations want greater employee engagement, they measure it, manage it, and judge leaders based on it.  There is nothing wrong with this, except that it leads to unintended consequences and sometimes leaves out the most important part of the equation: the individual employee.

Can organizations and leaders do things that create an environment that can improve the odds of employee engagement?

Most certainly. (And they can, and too often do, create the opposite too.)

But all that effort, however good the intentions, can become a list of things to do to employees rather than something done with and for employees.

The word, not in my description that is at the heart of it is choice. Each of the three factors in my description are choices that each of us make about the work we do. We decide, based on the information we have how committed we are and will be to the purpose and organization we work for. We decide, how much we care about our individual work. And we decide how much effort, focus, and thought we put into our work as well.

Yes, organizations win with more highly engaged team members. Yes, the work of leaders will be more effective and impactful with more highly engaged team members. But it is the individual who wins the most. When you feel a sense of commitment, when you care about the work you do, and even when you “go the extra mile,” you are happier, healthier, more fulfilled.

Individuals choose their level of engagement each day. Every leader creates an environment and provides opportunities and communication that support the daily choices of team members. The best leaders intentionally do things that support higher engagement of more team members more of the time.

When leaders and organizations treat this as individual intrinsic choice more than efforts to extrinsically motivate, the odds of influencing employee engagement will improve.


Building engagement for yourself and in your team is one of the best things you can do as a leader. If you want to build your engagement and your skills each month consider The Remarkable Way.

The Remarkable Way is a one month at a time, one skill at a time approach to building your leadership skills through learning. I guide and facilitate your learning each month. No airplanes, hotels, or workshops, but an on-going, connected-to-your-daily-work approach to building your leadership skills. Learn more and get started here.