Leadership Expert Dima Ghawi Explains How Leaders Can Fuel Employee Enthusiasm


Leadership speaker and coach Dima Ghawi says that when it comes to engaging and motivating employees, leaders tend to make the process more complicated than it needs to be.

“It’s so simple — it’s taking care of our team,” Ghawi says. “That’s the bottom line. So many people become intimidated about how they’re going to be a leader. You talk to your people, you ensure that they’re comfortable and they’re motivated. That’s what matters.”

A recent Gallup survey found that only 34 percent of U.S. employees feel engaged in their jobs, and those numbers are even lower when global workers are included. Ghawi, who spoke to business leaders at a recent Tech Park Academy event at the Louisiana Technology Park, says she was initially skeptical of those low engagement numbers, but her work as a leadership coach has made her a believer.

Ghawi says there are several complaints she hears repeatedly from workers: Their jobs don’t allow them to be creative; they feel stuck without a clear career path; they don’t feel appreciated or rewarded for their work; or they feel disconnected from their management team because managers lack communication and leadership skills or because they lead by fear. She says these concerns are especially prevalent among younger workers.

“This is what I hear every single day,” she says. “We’re losing great talent. We need to learn how to engage them, motivate them and keep them happy so we can get the best out of them.”

Ghawi discussed three ways organizations and leadership can engage their workers, fuel enthusiasm and retain the top talent that every dynamic company needs to compete in a rapidly changing business landscape.

Focus on Building Trust

Ghawi described a corporate overseas assignment to Japan, during which her manager concocted a team-building activity to climb Mount Fuji, the tallest peak in the country.

The manager coordinated the complicated logistics to make the trip possible, but on climb day proposed a race to the top and promptly left the team behind. She says it was clear at that moment that the manager was not someone team members could go to with questions or concerns because they could not trust him.

“How could we even talk to someone like this who doesn’t care about the team?” she says. “The one who gets to the top first and leaves the team behind is not a leader. We want [leaders] that walk with the team step-by-step, guide them, try to adapt to them, try sometimes to push them to go a little faster.”

Ghawi says leaders who are constantly worried about moving up, increasing revenue or stressing their team to get the most out of them will be unable to build the trust and respect necessary to keep employees engaged.

Align Strengths with Job Demands

Ghawi says organizations often miss out on what an employee can contribute because they assume an individual is not good at a certain job, when the reality is that some people simply aren’t given the opportunity to do what they’re best at. She says part of the problem is that plenty of workers don’t know what they’re good at because they haven’t taken the time to reflect on their skills and passions.

“It is our responsibility as managers to understand these things, to see what they are good at and give them more of it,” she says.

Ghawi recommends using a personality framework — such as the Whole Brain model, which divides thinking preferences of individuals into four quadrants to better understand what types of work are the best fit for workers. She says it’s also important for managers to schedule regular one-on-one time with their direct reports to better understand their strengths and weaknesses. This is especially important for millennial workers, who are more likely to seek out development opportunities and an inner sense of purpose through their jobs, she says.

“So many of them leave because they feel the manager doesn’t even care about their potential for growth and opportunities for the future,” she says.

Understand What Motivates Each Team Member

When it comes to motivation, Ghawi encourages managers to not overlook the role that money plays in helping employees feel appreciated. “So many people, specifically the small-business owners, want to give so many benefits, but what they’re paying is not equal to the market rate,” she says. “Of course people are going to leave.”

Beyond compensation, she says workers are almost always motivated by potential for growth in their careers, specifically opportunities to gain new skills and responsibilities. They are also increasingly attracted to flexibility, such as remote working, as well as a sense of purpose beyond merely completing required tasks.

“That’s so important,” she says. “It’s about knowing the meaning of their work, how it’s linked to the bottom line and how it’s going to be viewed as part of the bigger vision.”

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