The Key to Peak Engagement: R-E-S-P-E-C-T

“Flow is about respect.”  These were the words a CEO of a successful tech start-up recently told me on how leaders can get employees into flow – the optimal experience of total engagement and peak productivity. In other words, the ability of leaders to get their people to experience flow more frequently comes down to one of the basic human values. 

For an individual to achieve a state of flow, it requires complete focus and an environment free of distraction.  In the modern workplace, where an ongoing stream of slack messages, emails, texts and calls have become just as ubiquitous as our morning coffee, achieving this state is increasingly elusive and, therefore, sacred. Leaders, however, often don’t pay much mind to what their direct reports are doing in any given moment, whether that means interrupting them at their desk or emailing them late into the night.  While this can be necessary at times, it should not be commonplace. 

When someone is deep into a project and is interrupted, it is not only irritating, but stifles their productivity.  Researchers from UC Irvine found that it can take up to 23 minutes and 15 seconds to refocus on the task.  It also can send the message that their time isn’t valued if it can be so easily interrupted.  Time is among our most valuable commodities, and if our time spent in a peak experience is needlessly diverted to complete a menial task for a boss that ultimately could have waited, this not only makes us less productive, but stifles our creativity and passion for our work. 

It is through deep flow experiences, when we find ourselves fully invested in a given activity, where we often develop an appetite to continue seeking these activities out.  A pianist will be far more likely to love playing the piano if she is able to grow her complexity by playing more sophisticated songs at a high level as she continues to practice.  If a pianist is constantly interrupted when sitting down to play, therefore having to continue to reteach herself the same section of a simple song, she may become frustrated and not understand what could have been had she been able to devote her full attention to it.

At work, one common tactic some teams have implemented is utilizing the calendar not only for meetings, but for uninterrupted “flow” time.   If someone has a high-priority project, they will block up several hours on the calendar to work on it.  This time is highly valued and respected, where people are considered unavailable whenever it’s blocked on their calendar.   When individuals are given the space to fully engross themselves in a project, they are not only more productive, they are able to develop their skills and improve at whatever it is their doing.  While honoring someone’s ‘flow’ time will take some getting used to from leaders who are used to having their people available to them 24/7, but it has long-term benefits for both sides.  Leaders will have more productive, engaged, and happier people, and these individuals will feel valued, respected, and ultimately develop their skills and grow.

Think like a Leader, not a Manager

This illuminating Forbes article opens with the advice, “Don’t even try to manage Millennials, the largest generation in the workforce. Lead them.”  Well, what does this mean?  What is the difference between leading and managing?  

According to the Harvard Business Review, the difference is that “Management consists of controlling a group or a set of entities to accomplish a goal. Leadership refers to an individual’s ability to influence, motivate, and enable others to contribute toward organizational success. Influence and inspiration separate leaders from managers, not power and control.”  Millennials seek inspiration where they can make a difference that transcends a profit margin.  

Here are a few additional ways to shift from a management mindset to a leadership mindset to get the most of the Millennials on your team:

1.  Give Them the 'Why"

Millennials like to ask “why,” which has become a sensitive word for those leading them.  For Baby Boomers and Gen X, they wouldn’t dare ask “why” when their boss asked them to do something, they just did it.  Sure, it may be frustrating, but “why” is never a bad question.  Answering this question and articulating why a certain project may be beneficial to the team as a whole and will help bosses transition from managers to leaders.

2.  Give Frequent Feedback

Also, let Millennials know how they’re doing.  They need the constant feedback whether it’s positive or negative.  If it’s positive and they did a great job on a project, tell them what specifically made it great.  If it’s negative, keep it about the work and not the person, and let them know that this feedback is to help them with their long-term career development.  Take it as an opportunity to mentor and coach them.  If you think the work was sloppy, tell them how important proofreading is to achieve long-term career success.

3.  Play to Their Strengths

Lastly, focus on what they are naturally good at.   Leaders should know the key strengths of their people to enable them to reach their potential.  If someone’s key strength is their creativity and artistic ability, think of projects they should be working on that will leverage this.  And don’t be surprised if they get frustrated if they’re spending all day crunching numbers on excel spreadsheets.

When bosses make the transition from manager to leader, they will not only get more out of their Millennials, but themselves as well.