Leading to Engage: The Psychology of Engagement

Look how a single candle can both defy and define the darkness." – Anne Frank 

As healthcare institutions continue to increase activity around providers exiting the industry, unionization, and strikes, workplace engagement and well-being have become a key focus as healthcare institutions still try to recover from the drastic changes that COVID-19 required of healthcare institutions. One of the primary reasons for the above organizational challenges is that providers are burned out due to being overworked or needing more training to accomplish their jobs effectively, efficiently, and safely. However, there is hope to help reduce these feelings in exchange for more optimism for a brighter future.

It has been shown that the antithesis of burnout is engagement. If you focus on generating engagement within and around your people, you will see less burnout and turnover. While there are many ways to increase engagement, such as reducing workload, providing more staff, increasing financial incentives, or increasing the effectiveness of teams, one additional and highly personal mechanism stands out, which is the concept of self-leadership.

Self-leadership is an essential trait in every individual who wants to succeed in life. It is the ability to motivate oneself, set goals, and take action toward achieving them. It is also an internal process that helps people manage their emotions, thoughts, and behaviors effectively. It involves taking control of one's life and steering it towards the desired direction and increases individuals' hope, optimism, self-efficacy, and resilience when mastered. Those who practice self-leadership are often more engaged at work than those who do not. Therefore, it's an important element to understand and cultivate in others. It allows people to defy and define their challenges, giving them more control and capability. Self-leadership requires the application of specific strategies that help individuals to take charge of their lives.

The First Element of Self-Leadership: Behavioral Strategies

The first element of self-leadership is embracing a set of behaviors that center on one's ability to overcome challenges and setbacks through self-observation, goal setting, reward, and establishing a sense of purpose. Collectively, these are called behavior-focused strategies. When deployed, individuals begin to generate a feeling of internal self-worth and efficacy as they make and keep commitments to themselves. All too often, the people in our organizations have yet to learn how to do this for themselves. We live in a highly "telling" culture, where individuals are asked to respond to requests rather than generate their own plans and solutions, reducing feelings of self-worth, efficacy, and capability. By shifting our workforce development activities from how you lead other people to how you lead yourself in this aspect, you will see increased motivation and desire to achieve formerly lofty goals. This activity starts by helping people define their purpose and setting specific, relevant, and motivational goals to see that purpose become alive in the organization.

The Second Element of Self-Leadership: Natural Reward Mechanisms

The second element of self-leadership is to create internal mechanisms that generate rewards for accomplishing difficult tasks. Our organizations are uniquely designed to provide an overflow of external rewards such as bonuses, quarterly recognitions, and large salary increases due to hard work and dedication. While these rewards are important and often needed to remain competitive, what maintains engagement for longer periods, especially when the economic reserves of organizations are limited, is the ability to create naturally rewarding work tasks. This ability happens as individuals engage in behaviors that tie their current activities to something more meaningful and connected to their purpose. People can do this in several ways, such as celebrating a work accomplishment by inviting family and friends to a dinner in their honor, taking an extra day off and spending time doing an activity they love after a long week of travel, or buying something they have wanted for some time as a reward for accepting a difficult assignment. All these are small but personal rewards that an organization cannot duplicate. They must come from within. When people learn the benefits of creating self-rewards, they often feel a higher sense of competence and self-control, which leads to more engagement.

The Third Element of Self-Leadership: Constructive Thought-Focused Strategies

The last element of self-leadership is the ability for one to engage in constructive thought-focused strategies. These strategies focus on helping individuals understand the impact of their psychological world, the benefits of positive self-talk, the need to evaluate their own beliefs and assumptions about events or tasks, and ways to engage in a successful mental renewal practice that allows for greater insights, innovation, and optimism. In any organization, we know that individuals will talk in the breakroom, lunchroom, back hallways, and on the way to work about the travails of their jobs. Often, people hearing these concerns express a high amount of empathy and, in many cases, may also feed into the negativity. However, this is not helpful and often leads to more frustration and unwillingness to change. This behavior occurs because people often lack the skills to transition their thoughts from the negative to the more action-oriented positive realm. Doing this takes great effort and is often accelerated by training. As individuals learn how to appreciate their negative thoughts better and bridge them with positive action, they increase that capacity and capability to learn—thus improving engagement, reducing burnout, and enhancing team outcomes.

In conclusion, self-leadership is an internal mechanism that individuals use to lead themselves to action. It involves skills that help individuals effectively manage their emotions, thoughts, and behaviors while taking responsibility for one's life and making the necessary changes to succeed. Self-leadership helps individuals to develop a growth mindset, which enables them to see challenges as opportunities for growth. It empowers individuals to take control of their lives and achieve their full potential.

Mastering these strategies requires individuals to evaluate their behaviors and what they do to achieve their goals, how they are rewarded, and how they think about challenges, setbacks, or roadblocks. It is a continuous process that requires individuals to be proactive, adaptable, and resilient. Self-leadership is essential for personal and professional success and, when learned, can greatly increase the ability of workers to remain engaged in the face of great trials and uncertainty.

The next step for your organization is to look at your workforce development and coaching plan and determine how often you teach individuals to become self-leaders rather than learning to impact others solely through their leadership to others.

To learn more, attend the upcoming webinar, Leading to Engage: The Psychology of Engagement, on November 9th.

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