4 Ways for Leaders to Increase Feedback and Engagement…Especially When You are Uncertain and Confused

By Mike Cardus  |  Organizational Development Consultant, Executive Exchange Facilitator

Confusion causes a search for easy; when easy is not the answer. While management consultants and Human Resources promote theories of engagement, agility, resilience, and cultural fit like a cure-all for what ‘ails us. We feel a loss of something and seek the recipes of others to show us ‘what matters or what should matter’ to a diverse workforce.

Paradoxically this causes a dependence on others to determine how we should be engaged or how our workplace culture ought to be. Therefore, alienating and causing us to feel less engaged and more like misfits.

In most organizations, the leadership seeks examples and expects our workplace plus situation to fit into the example. When we do not fit – we think that we are broken and not the example. After all, the expert should know better how to lead the company…. right?

“The life conditions in question prompt men and women to seek examples, not leaders. They prompt them to expect people in the limelight – all of them and any of them – to show how ‘things that matter’ (now confined to their own four walls and locked there) are done. After all, they are told daily that what is wrong with their lives came from their own mistakes, has been their own fault, and ought to be repaired with their own tools and by their own efforts.

Therefore, no wonder if they assume that showing them how to handle the tools and make the efforts is the major – perhaps the only – use of people who pretend to be ‘in the know.’ They have been told repeatedly by those ‘people in the know’ that no one else will do the job which could be done by themselves, by each one of them separately.” – Zygmunt Bauman. Liquid Modernity pp 71.

While business thinker gurus and authors like to believe that their recipe will work for you, and it may, it often does not. Disengagement is more often the result.  This is because the person now accountable for the progress of the ‘expert system’ is often individually focused on figuring out the new system and becomes viewed as someone who did not understand or apply it correctly.

Ideas for Increasing Listening and Engagement

In researching the tension between the individual and the organization, we tend to focus on the individual to figure out and navigate a bad organization design that encourages political and scheming behavior to get recognized or get ahead. The political and manipulative behavior that is part of the organization, designed by the systems, is against our better nature. We understand the choice – For me to survive within this environment, these behaviors get me ahead, and these behaviors leave me behind. When we use manipulation and trust repelling behaviors to get ahead, we feel stressed and disengaged because we are repelling the people we know and work with, in some instances, the same people who helped us get to where we are today. Here are some ideas to break that cycle:

1. Seek out those that disagree with current behaviors.
  • While consulting a manufacturing company, I led a study that found that the more changes made from the management level, the more workarounds the front-line created to avoid the change.
  • We developed a ‘workaround team’ and openly found those that were doing things differently. We documented the differences, and the people were interviewed and left to continue their work.
  • Through gathering these ideas, we found an increase in trust throughout the organization. We identified many bad ideas from management – leading to better ways to make change happen and improve output.
2. Openly invite problems and not solutions.
  • I know the mantra of “don’t bring me problems, bring me solutions” sounds leadership like – it’s not. When you only want solutions, people hide all the problems.
  • One CEO I know has on the organization’s ‘Key-Result-Areas’ a just fix it This line is where each manager lists customer, process, product, and people problems. They document and share these problems in monthly management team meetings. Sometimes they can solve the issues, and often they cannot. Knowing the problems supports the organization in determining what to do and what not to do.
3. Listen and talk to people, watch them work, observe the problems, and ask how you can help.
  • As a manager of an organization, data is helpful, and your discretion is necessary. By talking with people, you can gain a qualitative temperature of what is happening regularly. These discussions and your listening attract trust and build the organization’s capacity to accept and recover from threats.
  • One High School Administrator I know found a very low trust and hostile culture in a new school. For the first 18 months (while doing many other things), she chose to have bi-weekly one-on-one meetings with each employee. She called these “Intentional Conversations.”
  • In the one-on-one’s, the first 10-15 minutes were school-based stuff (goals, roles, procedures, behaviors); the remaining 15 minutes were just time to share. She told each person, “What we talk about stays in here with me; anything you say I will not share with anyone. If you say you ate tuna fish for dinner and someone else finds out, it is because you told them, not me.” After ten months, the change in trust and conversations in the one-on-one’s plus staff/ faculty meetings was much better.
4. Be thoughtful and purposeful about your organization design.
  • Adding too many management layers, or not having enough support, creating unclear roles, or promoting people who are not right for the role all hurt the organization.
  • You can do some research and determine what works, BUT do it slow and thoughtfully. Create a safe-to-fail experiment and form a hypothesis of what you expect to have happen. From the experiment and hypothesis, seek contrary evidence, look to see where you are wrong. Be on the lookout for what worked to increase and what did not work to decrease.
  • The design of your organization or team will increase or decrease the capacity to handle more work or grow.
  • As an executive manager, the systems and integration of the whole organization are your accountability and authority.


Recipes are useful until applied and tested within your context of need. Learning from them can be helpful, and adjusting them based upon your organizational, leadership, or team need is necessary. Those that do something different are those that stand as leaders.


Mike Cardus: BNP Executive Exchange Facilitator:
Mike has focused expertise in team building, managerial-leadership, and organization development. Frequently asked to create solutions to address the development of high-performance teams, retention of talent, the innovation of product and profit streams, group conflict, coaching of leaders, developing systems to drive positive behaviors, and development of skilled knowledge to increase organizational and personal effectiveness. Working primarily with teams and management within these organizations, his role has been honed to coach, counsel, facilitate and conduct focused group work. Learn more about Mike.