L2L Book Review: “The Employee Engagement Mindset”

L2L Book Review Light yourself on fire. But why, you might ask??? 

Because it’s the real secret of highly engaged employees

Get a Match

John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, once remarked, “I light myself on fire, and people come to see me burn.” If Mr. Wesley were alive today– working in some organization–is there any doubt he would take his place among the highly engaged?

But I’m not so sure he would realize how prescient his statement was and how well it summarizes our own research. My research team and I spent the last five years studying highly engaged employees in 50 organizations across 13 different industries.

We found two utterly consistent patterns: First, in every case, highly engaged employees “light themselves on fire.” They don’t wait for the organization to do it. Second, the traditional approach to employee engagement is benevolent but broken. Why? Because it breeds learned helplessness, dependency on external rewards, and performance stagnation.

In a nutshell, that is the premise of our new book: The Employee Engagement Mindset, which McGraw-Hill officially releases this week.

We are pleased and privileged to have L2L Contributing Author Dr. Timothy R. Clark write this post to give you some insights from his new book.

L2L Book Review

L2L Book Review: “The Employee Engagement Mindset” by Timothy R. Clark

The Employee Engagement Mindset by Dr. Timothy R. ClarkThe philosopher, Isaiah Berlin, noted that humans tend to seek “a state of well-ordered, painless, contented, self-perpetuating equilibrium.”

Humans also want to be anxiously engaged in their organizations. They want to make a difference. That’s the dilemma.

Here’s the question: Does it do any good to idly yearn to be engaged–to wait expectantly for the organization to engage you?

Sure. Just expect to wait a long time. One of the keys to employee engagement is to understand that engagement and equilibrium are contrary states.

You have to choose one or the other.

Employee Engagement

This principle begs the question: Who owns employee engagement? Many organizations have become contaminated with a patently false concept of employee engagement that puts the primary burden on the organization.

In the 1830s, French nobleman Alexis de Toqueville observed:

“The manufacturer asks nothing of the workman but his labor; the workman expects nothing from him but his wages. The one contracts no obligation to protect, nor the other to defend; and they are not permanently connected either by habit or by duty.”

How depressing! Today, great organizations want more than your labor; they want your full-tilt participation. Amazingly, that’s exactly what most employees want to give. But most don’t. And we wanted to know why.

The Benevolent Organization

Imagine that you work for the most benevolent organization on earth—an organization that believes in and practices fanatical employee support.

  • The organization has anointed you with a big title, a big office, and a big salary
  • It assigns people to clean your house, do your laundry, and file your tax returns
  • There are piano lessons for your kids
  • Personal trainers and home decorators
  • A pet photo contest every year
  • Unlimited spa treatments
  • Extended family cruises
  • And ice cream socials.
  • Not least, you have a great boss

In the history of the world, there has never been a more successful organization, and you are exquisitely blessed to be right in the middle of it.

Q: questions

How about you? Are you engaged? Are you passionately connected and actively participating in the organization and the work you do? Do you bring your best game to work every day?

A: answer

Even in these circumstances, you only have a 25 percent chance of being highly engaged.

Not the Ticket

The organization may lavish you with perks, but those perks don’t hold the key to engagement. Feeding the pleasure center of the brain through extrinsic rewards doesn’t engage a person and bring real, lasting fulfillment.

At best, it creates security and short term pleasure or hedonic well-being.

This is a very different thing from true and sustained engagement, which is the comprehensive expression of your motivation and desire to contribute. Nobody can instill in you deep and rich and vibrant engagement. You have to do it. You should do it.

Light Yourself on Fire

In our research, we studied highly engaged employees across industries, continents, cultures, and demographics. We interviewed them and observed them in all sorts of situations, organizations, and environments. What is absolutely clear is that highly engaged employees think and behave differently.

They have a different mindset.

They may work in different organizations and do very different jobs, but there’s a consistent theme among them: They take primary responsibility for their careers, their success, and their fulfillment.

They own their own engagement.

They light themselves on fire.

The highly engaged employees we studied seemed positively puzzled when we asked them who owns employee engagement. “What’s the alternative?” they replied.

To rely on the organization, they said, is unrealistic.

It might be nice to shift the burden to the organization, and certainly it has a support role to play, but to depend on the organization doesn’t make sense. The speed, complexity, and volatility of the twenty-first century make it utterly foolish. That’s what they said—again and again.

Individual Responsibility

Employee engagement comes down to individual responsibility—something that is shockingly absent in the study and practice of employee engagement.

There is no aristocracy of engagement.

It’s not as if some people are genetic or legal heirs to high engagement while others are not. In any field of endeavor, the responsibility for engagement rests first and foremost with the individual. The individual’s initiative and effort represent the X factor in the engagement equation.


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Timothy R. Clark
, Ph.D., is president of management consulting firm, TRCLARK.

He helps in strategy, organizational transformation, and leadership development.
Email | LinkedIn | Web | The Leadership Test Book

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On Leadership, Corruption, and The Empire of the Heart


The United States is more corrupt than Japan, Britain, Australia, Germany, and the Scandinavian nations.

According to Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, the US ranks 22 out of 181 countries.

You might take consolation in the fact that America is not endemically corrupt, not a broken society, not an un-drainable swamp, as are many nations in the world.

  • But what happens if you add globalization to the mix?
  • What happens when you sprinkle graft, bribery, and unholy alliances into the new supranational context?

We in the US have known corruption in the past. What we have not known are its consequences in a more precarious global age.

Three Key Factors

There are at least three factors that should concern us.

  • First, leaders today lead in a very different world
  • Second, fewer leaders are prepared to handle the new world
  • Third, the new world enables the effects of ethical misconduct to scale to unprecedented orders of magnitude

In my coaching work with CEOs, it’s abundantly clear that the globalizing environment is acting as a crucible that either melts or refines the leader. Leaders are subjected to more speed, greater complexity, and limited resources—all with the same high expectations. Turbulence is the new normal and there’s no prospect of a spontaneous return to order.

Just look around; the familiar bastion of the conventional business cycle is gone.

If there’s no status quo ante, what’s the result? It’s really quite simple: More pressure to perform and more temptation to engage in ethical misconduct.

Leadership Litmus Test

The litmus test is the collision of stewardship and self-interest. Name a spectacular fall from grace that was about skills, knowledge, or experience? When leaders go down, they go down from the inside out. It’s a collapse of character we witness.

Consider the most recent float in the scandal parade—Mark Hurd, the recently ousted CEO of HP. This is a smart and talented person, but we need to be careful not to cling to a belief that leadership is mostly about IQ points and the charismatic arts, as if they will save us.

They never will—especially not in an ethically and morally interdependent global age.


The risks of ethical misconduct have become unknown and unknowable. With the connectivity of global supply chains, we are vulnerable to the effects of ethical misdeeds performed almost anywhere on earth. Pet food, peanuts, toothpaste, tires, Bernie Madoff, and the sub-prime lending crisis prove that we have entered an era in which a few bad actors can create a geo-ethical shock that incurs loss for millions of people.

If risk equates to probability multiplied by magnitude, we need to be more willing to take our leaders to task for their personal failings. Personal failings have not only public consequences, but unintended and far-reaching public consequences.

Dishonorable acts are now globally scalable in their effects.


Resisting Temptation

Leadership TemptationLeadership is alluring.

It tempts you to use position for personal gain. The culminating test is to resist that temptation. But as we all observe, many succumb. It frequently begins as a flirtation of ego that ends in a vortex of corruption. The ambition to govern one’s fellow beings tends to view leadership as the pathway to a glittering world of personal reward. And so under pretense of leading, those of unbridled ambition seek it out and then let us down.

Hence, we observe a teeming gallery of venal characters auctioned to the highest bidder.

It continues to puzzle me that our public discourse on ethics tends to focus on the back end of achieving compliance and little on the front end of developing moral values. Nor do we talk enough about putting those who want to be our leaders under tougher scrutiny. And yet we live in a society in which we are led by many who have not demonstrated the ability to lead themselves.

So it’s more than antiquarian charm to say that leaders should be honest and morally excellent. Civil society ultimately depends on it as a functional necessity and the last line of defense.

As a practical matter, we need to vet candidates for leadership in every arena on character requirements more rigorously then we do.

We need to test their moral bearing capacity so that when stewardship and self-interest collide—and they certainly will—there’s a good chance the leader won’t buckle.

Empire of The Heart

Let’s not forget that leadership begins in the inner world. It’s about the empire of the heart. It is about meeting needs and reaching goals much larger than one’s personal desires or aspirations. To be fit to lead has nothing whatever to do with being rich and well-born, or even charismatic—dogmas from which we are still recovering. We need men and women of unflinching character to step out of the crisis, steeled for the journey ahead.

So as a leader, how can you step up and exercise your empire of the heart? And with the leaders around you, how can you hold them to standards that are above ethical reproach? How can you and those around you stand on strong ground and work for things of lasting value that positively impact you company, organization, or your city, state, or federal governments with integrity?

Timothy R. Clark
, Ph.D., is president of management consulting firm, TRCLARK.
He helps in strategy, organizational transformation, and leadership development.
EmailLinkedInWebThe Leadership Test Book

Images Sources: lawyersweekly.ca, wired.com, trendsupdates.com, virtualpreacher.org

Brainy and Brittle

Brainy and Brittle

I recently re-read the classic Harvard Business Review article by Chris Argyris, entitled: “Teaching Smart People How to Learn,” first published in 1991.

His most insightful finding is contained in the following statement:

“People who rarely experience failure end up not knowing how to deal with it effectively. And this serves to reinforce the normal human tendency to reason defensively.”

His underlying premise is that people, especially smart people, are less capable of critical and honest self-reflection as part of the process for understanding why something went wrong. How true. Smart people have this tendency, and it’s dangerous. They run the risk of blocking their own learning if they get arrogant while they’re getting smart.

I am SupermanGetting smart can be a process that builds a self-destructive immunity to unedited self-reflection, that is, unless you’re careful not to buy into the hubris, unless you make a conscious effort to stay humble by constantly resisting the temptation to believe the fawning feedback that tells you everyone is special, but you are just a little more special.

Getting smart has its liabilities if the ego and the intellect are allowed to grow together as the wheat and the tares.

When this happens, you become not only skillful, but skillfully defensive. Your smart, but not honestly smart. And you are unpracticed and unable to manage failure for positive gain.

Finally, you may end up an interpersonal disaster because you are brainy and brittle at the same time. You’re in search of the truth provided the truth has nice things to say about you.

So, are you guilty of being a little too brainy sometimes? Have you had enough stumbles or failures in life to recalibrate your self-image, or have you coasted through life on intellectual easy street and are headed for eventual trouble? Do you know of anyone like this? What would be your advice for the brainy and brittle? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Timothy R. Clark
, Ph.D., is president of management consulting firm, TRCLARK.
He helps in strategy, organizational transformation, and leadership development.
Email | LinkedIn | Web | The Leadership Test Book

Image Sources: bnet.com, images.buycostumes.com

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Leadership Strengths vs. Weaknesses: The Silly Debate

Please Decide

Which one do you choose to do: Focus on Strengths, or Focus on Weaknesses?

…And while you’re at it, answer this: Does the curious and ongoing debate about strengths and weaknesses in the field of leadership puzzle you?

Crazy Debate

Focus on StrengthsThe debate asks whether it is better to increase your strengths or better to reduce your weaknesses.

What I would really like to know is who raised the issue in the first place? As if there were an issue, as if there were an answer.

The question, a priori, is an unanswerable question, a false dichotomy, and a ridiculous polemic.

It depends on who you are and what strengths and weaknesses you have. In the absence of a particular leader and situation, the debate is meaningless.

Hurd Mentality

To understand this better, take the case of the recently ousted CEO of HP, Mark Hurd. His ethical wrong-doing was the poison-tipped dagger that brought his career at HP to an ignominious end.

Had he neutralized his weakness, he would still be the CEO, and still able to apply his considerable talents to the task of moving HP, the planet’s largest computer maker, forward on its growth path.

No amount of strength-building would have atoned for his misconduct and breach of fiduciary trust.


Learn Leveraging Leadership Strengths and Struggles

Leveraging Leadership Strengths & Struggles

Sorry, Carly…

Carly FiorinaOn the other hand, take his predecessor, Carly Fiorina. She was not able to engage and mobilize the organization and the board, and maintain their support for her major initiatives.

Since her departure, her strategy has been vindicated in part, but she was not able to summon the institutional will of the enterprise and its stakeholders to execute the strategy to completion.

Apparently, she didn’t have the execution and communication skills that Mr. Hurd has in abundance. It is therefore possible that she might still be at the helm had she the operating prowess of her successor.

She had strengths, but perhaps those strengths needed strengthening.

Balancing Act

If you have serious weaknesses that threaten to end your career as a leader and jeopardize the people and the organization you are leading, your priority is to attend to them immediately. On the other hand, if you have strengths that you can build on to increase your effectiveness and results as a leader, attend to these as well.

So let me ask: Should I feed my strengths or starve my weaknesses?

Answer: Yes.

Timothy R. Clark
, Ph.D., is president of management consulting firm, TRCLARK.
He helps in strategy, organizational transformation, and leadership development.
Email | LinkedIn | Web | The Leadership Test Book

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Are You a Reader Leader?

Leaders are Readers

With rare exception, leaders are readers.

Here’s the problem: The overwhelming majority of that which is printed is not worth reading on any subject. In particular, this assertion couldn’t be more true than on the subject of leadership.

Some people say it is the topic most written about and least understood. I disagree. What plagues the study and practice of leadership is the problem of intent. And this is what leads to so much intellectual chaos.

When leadership is seen as a glittering path to personal reward, we are at once lost on our journey.

Looking For Shortcuts

Looking for ShortcutsA dominant motivation for seeking and producing material on leadership is the unrelenting search for short cuts and easy answers. Most of the so-called literature on leadership is either wrong, trivial, or reconstituted.

Reading well should be our goal.

This requires a careful, discriminate search. It also requires perspective.

Leadership is the ultimate applied field, and yet it is a field for which, unfortunately, we cannot claim cumulative progress over time.

Too many leaders are willfully blind, unable to produce the intellectual and moral honesty it requires.

As Macaulay observed, “Those who will not crack the shell of history will never get at the kernel.”

How true of leadership.

Read, but read carefully.

Bookmark Are You a Reader Leader?

Timothy R. Clark
, Ph.D., is president of management consulting firm, TRCLARK.
He helps in strategy, organizational transformation, and leadership development.
Email | LinkedIn | Web | The Leadership Test Book

Images Sources: kerryveenstra.com, flcenterlitarts.files.wordpress.com

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Why Do Executives Fail?


Executives fail for many reasons, but based on my executive coaching practice, it is clear that leaders fail more often out of self-limiting behavioral patterns than on technical competence.

Here are four common patterns:

1. Inability to think and scale contribution to the enterprise level to optimize the whole.

This really is a skill. Some people have a natural ability to think strategically or at a systems perspective, to be able to get up in their hot air balloon and see the whole. Others do not. Whether you are blessed with this endowment or not, it is an essential element of executive leadership. Otherwise, a leader makes local decisions that sub-optimize the whole. The good news is that is can be developed.

2. Unwillingness to respond to ethical dilemmas that pit stewardship against self-interest.

I say unwillingness here because this is primarily a motivation problem rather than an ability problem. The most recent example is Mark Hurd who stepped down last week as CEO of HP for fudging expense reports. When executives do not have high integrity, they can lose everything.

3. Inability to adapt to the speed and volatility of the competitive environment–what I call turbulence capacity.

It is vital that executives develop the ability to adjust constantly in the midst of unpredictable and unforgiving markets. It’s the nature of the landscape today. So if you crave security, constancy, and equilibrium, executive leadership will always be painful.

4. Inability to communicate effectively and hold people accountable–basic blocking and tackling.

This is interpersonal effectiveness 101, but it’s also the place where most executives fail most often. It takes huge emotional energy and fortitude to maintain the constant requirement of communicating clearly and effectively and holding people accountable for their results. It is in this arena that inertia takes over in an instant if we allow it.

Leadership over time really is a function of stamina and endurance as it relates to these two functions. Even if you start well, there is always the temptation that, once established, things can take care of themselves, that it will become self-executing. It doesn’t work that way.

The central role of a leader is to communicate direction and to hold people accountable for performance.

Bookmark Why Do Executives Fail?

Timothy R. Clark
, Ph.D., is president of management consulting firm, TRCLARK.
He helps in strategy, organizational transformation, and leadership development.
Email | LinkedIn | Web | The Leadership Test Book

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Tolstoy on the Common Instinct of Leaders

File:Ilya Efimovich Repin (1844-1930) - Portrait of Leo Tolstoy (1887).jpg

Lately, I’ve been reflecting on Leo Tolstoy‘s assessment of Napoleon:

“And the genius Napoleon was defeated and taken to the island of St Helena, having suddenly been discovered to be an outlaw. Whereupon the exile, parted from his dear ones and his beloved France, died a slow death on a rock, and bequeathed his great deeds to posterity. As for Europe, a reaction occurred there, and all the princes began to treat their peoples badly once again”  ~ War and Peace

Why do I share this quote?

Because in his brilliant and sardonic way, Tolstoy shows us the common instinct of leaders.

They come on the scene full of self-importance, brimming with the ambition to do something great. In their hour or two on stage, they do a little of this and a little of that. In the end, they rearrange the furniture and then sleep with their fathers. But then somebody else comes along and moves the furniture back to a different spot in the room.

And with that, every thing changes.

So, why do we remember them? It’s because that’s what happened. They were the show. Across the sweep of history, it’s pretty much B movies across the “leadership landscape.” It’s yet another rerun of untrammeled greed,unbridled ambition, and unspectacular motive that is projected upon the large popular silver screen of domestic life that we in Corporate-World call “Leadership.”

There are some unscripted moments when great leaders appear, but they are rare.

Most do their little, nihilistic gig and then die an ignominious death. Is that not the message in Tolstoy’s parody? Is he not sneering at the petty contributions of so many we exalt as great leaders, but who are only slaves to small plans?

So how are you doing in your life’s journey? Are you on target with greater or lesser plans in life’s greater schemes? Are you living a leader’s life of fantasy based on etherial things and selfish flights of fancy? Or are you grounded in your outlook on leading others  well and living unselfishly? Do you have an objective, or subjective look at life, leadership, and advancement of things greater than yourself? I would love to hear your thoughts!

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Timothy R. Clark
, Ph.D., is president of management consulting firm, TRCLARK. He just released a new book entitled, The Leadership Test: Will You Pass(Oxonian Press 2009), and is the author of Epic Change: How to Lead Change in the Global Age(Jossey-Bass 2008), which was named one of the top management books of 2008.

Image Sources: upload.wikimedia.org, 4.bp.blogspot.com

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