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"Becoming a leader is synonymous with becoming yourself.
It is precisely that simple and also that difficult.”

– Warren Bennis

Why Engagement Matters More Today

7 May 2020

Written by Gretchen Dobson

Gretchen Dobson is Engagement Counsel at The Argonauts.
She is a accomplished Global Engagement Specialist with over 27 years of experience in global constituent relations.
Connect with her on Linkedin

Introduction

W

hen you hear the word Engagement, you might think of a romantic commitment to marriage or those meetings, appointments, and special events we look forward to every year. Not this year, though. Even though we no longer juggle our time after work, jumping between two events or hopping on a flight for a meeting, we are keeping busy. We are fully engaged with this new reality of the uncertain days ahead.

Engagement is about a deeper awareness s on ourselves, our daily lives, and what stands in front of us today as we evaluate opportunities and make decisions that impact our personal and professional lives. For me, Engagement is more than the act of becoming involved or participating in the work of an organization like The Argonauts. This is the essence of my life’s work: I am a global engagement specialist and I “create the stickiness between constituents and causes.” 

Most of my career to date has been in higher education, a fulfilling place to strive for personal and professional balance. I feel great satisfaction working closely with partners who measure their success by acts of positive change and societal impact. But now with universities and schools shutting down, with businesses closing or curtailing operations, everything has been thrown out of balance. All of us are looking for a new balance so we can re-engage, safely, as individuals, as professionals, as a society. We are perhaps less concerned with stickiness than in not getting stuck. More concerned with sickness — and not getting sick. Does that seismic shift change how we relate to Engagement?

So why is Engagement especially important now?

I can answer that in four ways:

Engagement is a commitment to self. My late father would say: “You can live your life from love or fear.” He always lived his life “from love.” He instilled the importance of loving oneself, of caring for one’s mind and body. He stressed the importance of spending time with ourselves, to really know ourselves. At 80, Dad was still getting biweekly massages, reading The New York Times on the Stairmaster at his gym, and meditating regularly. He instilled in me healthy habits, the importance of listening to my body (yes, I make gut decisions) and recognizing the power behind greater self-awareness to help us navigate life in good times and bad. What kind of score are we giving ourselves for navigating the Corona crisis? Perception informs perspective. Fellow Argonaut Loes Fokker reminds us: “it is the meaning that we assign to our perceptions of events that creates the resulting beliefs and emotional reactions. How we assign that meaning depends on our inner storyteller and our prior conditionings.”

Engagement is a commitment to others. We nurture our relationships to others and embrace today’s climate with a shared understanding that we (family, friends, co-workers, Argonaut peers) are all in this together.  When we are engaged with others, we hold space for others. We practice active listening. We neither judge nor direct. We share personal experiences to demonstrate our empathy. In our Trust Circles – signature Argonaut experiences – we hold space for ourselves and the other members of our Circle. Personal and professional mentoring relationships require a level of engagement that is one-to-one. They call upon our skills of active listening, building trust, encouraging and inspiring, identifying goals for continuous improvement (note: we will learn more about The Engaged Mentor in a future article). Which kinds of mentoring opportunities can help navigate the uncertainties of our lives and workplaces? Can we find new meaning by engaging with others in need and helping them?

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Engagement is a commitment to our profession, avocation, our company or organization. Perfect examples today include our medical professionals around the world recommit to the Hippocratic Oath and the moral duty of care. Teachers enthusiastically embrace online technology to deliver education to ages young and old. Engaging is more than showing up. When we engage with our professional lives we commit to developing ourselves as well as others, we value our professional relationships, we remain humble and open to constructive criticism. But, for some of us, the Corona crisis has injected uncertainty about our jobs and our current career path. As a team member, we may feel an imbalance between our personal sacrifices and professional commitments compared to how we perceive our organization’s commitment to us. As leaders, we may feel anxious about leading from a distance and inspiring productivity from our at-home workforce. It’s natural to feel overwhelmed, but remember the importance of self-awareness. Acknowledge that crises can produce opportunities to transform our thinking and actions.

Engagement is a commitment to mission-based values that drive positive change. This is about being part of something bigger than ourselves, such as The Argonauts. The collective wisdom of our members and community embrace and support each of us as we actively participate in this amazing community of leaders and learners. We reap what we sow. Being fully engaged means trusting the process. My doctoral thesis advisor would often remind our cohort that we needed to trust the process. It was hard to see or accept that at the time, but now I know what he meant. 

In closing, full Engagement can feel like many things today. Full Engagement can feel fashionable. We may work in our pjs, but at least we can express ourselves fully in our Zoom window. It’s the new black! We engage with others online and carry on our personal and professional lives through screens rather than in person. Full Engagement can also feel intimate.  We are spending more time with ourselves and our families. We’re reflecting deeply on our values, our histories and how we reached this point. 

In the next discussion, we’ll consider Engagement as it relates to leadership. We’ll dive deeper into what it means to be an Engaged Leader. In the meantime, please let me know what Engagement means to you and how you’re coping, and engaging, with this New Normal.

If you are not an Argonauts Member yet but would like to know more about our Membership, please read more here. 

Take care,

Gretchen

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