6 Forgotten Habits for Engaging the Troops

“How was the food drive?” “Did you have a great time on your trip? I saw your pictures.” Nancy Morgan, the group’s president, worked the room saying hello to over 100 members individually and by name. She asked about their lives with genuine interest and listened for the response.

I spend my days working with and observing leaders of Fortune 500 organizations, but they don’t have anything on this volunteer president. In fact, we can all learn from Nancy.

Nancy isn’t famous, but she has some habits beneficial to any leader who wants to build team engagement. She is the outgoing local president of a wonderful mother-son community service group for high school boys and their mothers. It would be easy, especially for a career Mom, to feel out of the loop. There was never a chance to feel like an outsider with Nancy as the leader.

Nancy’s simple, yet often forgotten habits made a group of over 100 members feel valued and important. She was certainly effective, organized and focused, but she stood out for how she built engagement and commitment through her interest and support of individuals. Here are some Nancy Morgan habits that you can use to make a difference in your own teams:

hellomynameis1. Know everyone’s name.
I’m not sure if Nancy is blessed with a good memory or if she spent time studying on the side, but she seemed to know everyone’s name in this large group very quickly. This started at the first meeting when she came to each table to say hello and to thank us for being part of the group. Knowing everyone’s name was a small but significant way to make everyone quickly feel valued and part of the group.

  2. Show genuine interest one by one.
Nancy kept up with us in person and on social media. She knew something about our lives and our sons. She always had questions and really listened to the answers. It was no different if you saw her at the movie or out running errands. She was the one waving as she walked over to meet the rest of your family or ask about your trip. She didn’t seem to think of us as a big group, but rather 100+ individuals. Her genuine interest reinforced the importance of every member.

3. Thank and recognize others often.
Every meeting, and conversation, had many thank you’s and recognition for the charity work a member had completed or their number of volunteer hours. Also, in many of the informal conversations with Nancy, she not only remembered what you had done recently, but remembered to thank you for doing it. She made you feel like your contribution was essential and really mattered.

4. Talk to everyone, not just those you know best.
I’m sure that Nancy had good friends and other officers in our group that she worked with most closely. Yet, she never migrated to those she knew best, so no one seemed more important than the rest. She connected to everyone. We had an event for Special Olympics and she moved around to each game station and offered encouragement to the Moms and boys working there that day. Everyone there had an important role to play and she shared it by naturally interacting with and encouraging everyone, not just those closest to her.

5. Solve problems.
At one of the first big committee meetings I attended, Nancy sat to the side of the room and listened. She spoke up only when there was a problem to solve or question to be answered. “Let me check on that and I’ll let you know,” and “I’ll take care of that one.” She was there to serve and help solve problems. The committee leaders and members appreciated her hands on support.

6. Remember it’s not about you.
In all of our group interactions, she kept it about serving the community and building the desire for service in our high school sons. This is the reason this group exists. In a group with diverse interests and lots of opinions it is easy to get distracted by the personalities and factions. Yet, she never took the focus and attention off of this purpose of service and the role we all played in it. Her interest in serving the group and each of us kept the spotlight on why we were there.

I was struck by the power of these very simple, yet often forgotten habits and the positive impact it had on this group. These same habits are so important for leaders in any business or organization. And, I was reminded that you may have a stellar engagement strategy, exceptional leadership program and the perfect core competencies, but how you treat people one by one matters quite a lot.

I was listening to a Texas Rangers game the other night. The guest announcer, a former player, said, “My 7th grade son probably knows enough to manage the basics of a major league game. The best managers know that success comes not from managing the team, but by knowing how to get the most from and encourage each of the 25 players one by one.” I think Nancy Morgan is on to something.

Patti Johnson is the CEO of PeopleResults. She can be followed @pattibjohnson or her company @people_results.