Engagement“Without a strong and compelling vision, it’s easy to get caught up in a “this is mine” mentality that blocks them from sharing resources and collaborating.”— Misti Burmeister

Most leaders know that disengagement is brutal on the bottom line. In fact, “active disengagement” costs U.S. companies $450 to $550 billion each year, according to a recent Gallup poll.

Considering most executives are highly focused on bottom-line results, these numbers are perplexing. If disengaged employees cost so much money, why are so few executives doing anything to change the situation?

One leader even told me, “turnover is simply a line item in our budget.” I wonder if his firm has factored in the cost of “actively disengaged” employees. If so, would the reality of those numbers shift their perspective or the way they treat employees?

I doubt it.

Let’s get real: Engaging people requires a connection. It requires vulnerability and “an ability to dance with your fears,” as Seth Godin so eloquently put it in this exceptional interview.

Fear of what, exactly?

Fear of “being eaten by lions or starving to death,” says Godin.

In essence, the amygdala – the part of the brain responsible for “fight, flight, or freeze” – senses danger that really isn’t there and takes action to protect us.

To some degree, every single one of us fears rejection, inadequacy, or worthlessness. Just consider how many people viewed Brene Brown’s Ted Talk on this topic (currently 15.5 million and counting). Her work on vulnerability has taken off because so many of us are struggling with this very issue.

So what does all this mean for executives struggling to shift the disengagement epidemic, or “energy crisis,” as Ari Weinzweig puts it in his book, A Lapsed Anarchist’s Approach to Being a Better Leader?

First, get a clear understanding of how your amygdala works. Know why it hijacks you at the most inopportune times, taking your focus away from provoking greatness and rendering you incapable of rational thought processes.

In other words, identify what’s making you fearful so you can move past it.

Start by noticing your brain’s natural thought patterns and breathing. Then refocus on your greater vision. Without a compelling, engaging cause pulling you into action, it’s nearly impossible to refocus your energy.

The same is true for your team. Without a strong and compelling vision, it’s easy to get caught up in a “this is mine” mentality that blocks them from sharing resources and collaborating. The same fears, and need to protect themselves, also block your efforts to instigate greatness in them.

Ari Weinzweig says going beyond our egos (so we can pull out greatness in others) requires a deeper commitment to “servant leadership,” which makes perfect sense. If leadership is truly about serving your team, the greater question you might consider is: What’s possible when my team has everything they need to thrive in their roles, develop skills, and get creative or innovative?

It’s far easier to dance with our fears when we stay focused on our visions – or the greater promises we’ve made to ourselves, our teams, our communities, and the world. When we remember that it’s not about us – that we’re not the genius, but rather have a genius (to use a phrase coined by Elizabeth Gilbert) – we’re freed to do the work … and to actively engage others in the process.

Join the Conversation: How do you ensure that you’re making yourself vulnerable enough to engage your team?

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Misti Burmeister, best-selling author of From Boomers to Bloggers: Success Strategies Across Generations and Hidden Heroes

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