Democracy, Work and Employee Engagement

No nation in the history of the world has paid greater respect for the value of the individual voice than the United States.

Moving into the 2012 holiday season, following an incredibly interesting political season has me reflecting on the nature of our political and work worlds — and their many parallels.

It is true that an effective democracy demands citizen engagement. Only those who choose to participate have any power because power comes not only through the ballot box, but by expressing our individual voice in the campaigns and regarding the issues.

In our workplaces, success also demands employee engagement. Engagement is defined as initiative — those actions employees choose to take that move their organizations closer to its goals. In fact, no other factor correlates more to organizational success than the level of employee engagement — for the simple reason that employees are the “value-creation engines” of any healthy free enterprise system.

I grew up in a politically engaged family, so I learned a lot about the nature of that world and what it meant to be involved. My father was mayor of my hometown and as kids in the early 1960s we participated in park dedications, appeared on the front page of the local newspaper (six children, mom and dad around the Thanksgiving turkey), and marched in the annual downtown parade.

Yet, there is much more to political engagement than pomp and circumstance. I witnessed my dad having to deal with the frustrations of our city’s citizens. The role of mayor is all engaging because everywhere you go citizens step up with their needs, expectations and disappointments. Political work is all about setting direction and implementing policies to serve citizen needs, not to serve oneself. It’s about seeing the whole and trying to make the best of all of the parts in an enormously complex world of demands, influences and change.

What I have learned about the political world is that it is only as good as the people who get involved in it. We need great leaders to be highly engaged more than ever — to stop our nation’s decline as the global leader. We need these leaders in both the elected and the administrative sides of government, people who are committed to consistently achieving outcomes that serve citizens.

In the workplace, great people and great leaders are equally essential because our economy thrives on business success. We need workplaces where engagement is designed into the management system. Engagement cannot be an afterthought or seen as an occasional opportunity; it must be a basic design construct.

I am grateful we live in a political and economic world where we have a say, where our voice is both intended and expected to be heard. There is no construct more fundamental to our nation than the power of the individual voice, the power to speak and be heard, the power for our gifts and passions to be utilized for the common good.