Michaelangelo once said, “I saw the angel in the marble and carved it to set him free.” Leaders who can visualize the potential of their team members and choose to help their coworkers access their internal resources, recognize at least three important factors:

  1. Solutions that take multiple perspectives into consideration can yield even better results than individual ideas which are limited to a single perspective.
  2. If leaders continue to make all the decisions members of their teams will not build their thinking and ownership muscles and the team can experience stagnation.
  3. When employees feel free and safe, they are more likely to be participative and creative.

When you are building team engagement from a position of leadership, your efforts will only work authentically when trust is at the foundation. As a leader, your direct reports need to trust you to be fair, to be transparent, to care about their well-being and to consistently demonstrate integrity. They also need to trust you to be self-aware and self-regulated so your communication skills need to be honed so that your conversations can be uplifting, developmental, honest and non-judgmental.

Statements that assign condescending labels to coworkers, ones that express opinions, and negativity, only serve to diminish engagement.  Instead, leaders can use language that supports members of your team so they can access their internal wisdom and creativity.

By engaging members of your team by displaying the right behaviours, you are building the team by transforming each member.   Another engaging behaviour is curiosity.  There are leaders who, when they communicate with staff about necessary changes, their language is judgmental.  In some cases, leaders were led using a similar style and they feel it is effective because it worked for them.  But with millennials in the workplace, this type of language can be quite demotivating.  Instead, a neutral, curious, and supportive tone better supports transformation because it:

  1. Can modify undesired behaviour
  2. It may inspire employees to explore extenuating circumstances
  3. It builds trust.

I have encountered several workplaces where there was distrust between Managers and their direct reports that spiraled into increasingly toxic circumstances. Some Managers grin and bear it because they have been lulled into thinking the trust levels have nothing to do with them.  In other cases, Managers seek the support of a key decision-maker with an action plan to address the situation, but the key decision-maker does not view low trust levels as significant enough to require attention or resources.

Listening is another important skill you can develop when building employee engagement is your goal. We often speak about listening from the perspectives of active, passive and combative listening, but I would like to invite you to view listening from a slightly different point of view when building team engagement levels. Level one listening is focused on you and your internal dialogue. This can prompt defensiveness, an inability to view a situation from multiple perspectives and the perpetuation of unproductive team dynamics.  Then there are leaders who appear to be listening but their own agendas outweigh team goals and this is easy to identify.

When a leader is capable of level two listening he/she can shift from filtering the conversation through self-centered lenses, to being fully present with the person or persons speaking, listening from the other person’s point of view.  When operating at this level of listening you are in the moment, and neutral. You listen with self-regulation and respect.

Level three listening encompasses level two listening but goes even further. It is about understanding the context of the conversation. At this level you can read between the lines, understand the tones of the speaker and use your tones masterfully manage the conversation. At this level of listening is where we can start to see the angel in the marble.  We are curious about who the person is becoming.

When you are able to listen at levels two and three, you can help shift conversations from a negative path to a positive one, you are able to determine if the discussion will have consequences for the rest of the team and you are aware of what the consequences can be.

As a leader, it is important for you to understand creating an engaged team should start with taking a, long, honest look at yourself to determine how your action and inaction are contributing to your existing team dynamics. If you cannot perceive your part in it, it will be difficult to build trust levels.  It is also important to make the distinction between high trust levels and the appearance of trust and harmony when members of your team are in survival mode.  One way to discern the difference is to ask yourself if members of your team consistently express views that are different from or the same as yours.

When building team engagement levels, the quality of relationships and communication are foundational. Healthy engagement emerges from a mindset that allows you to view members of your team through the lenses of possibility, appreciation and authenticity.  These lenses are essential to sharpening your ability to being able to perceive the angel in the marble and setting it free!

Yvette Bethel is CEO of Organizational Soul, an Organizational Effectiveness Consulting and Leadership Development company. She is a Consultant, Trainer, Speaker, Facilitator, Executive Coach, Author, and Emotional Intelligence Practitioner.  If you are interested Yvette's ideas on other leadership topics you can sign up for her newsletter at or you can listen to her podcast at Evolve Podcast.