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Leadership, Mastery and Engagement 


Imagine the following story:

Tina is about to celebrate her tenth birthday with her family and friends at her house.

Although she lives in Limassol, a coastal city in the southeast Mediterranean, she hasn’t yet had the chance to learn how to swim. Her uncle Lakis, an avid year-round swimmer and a seasoned diver, buys her a book about swimming to ignite her interest in the activity.

The book describes in a playful and colourful way the various styles of swimming, such as the freestyle, backstroke, butterfly and breaststroke. It also shows the breathing techniques and muscle group movements involved in each stroke.

Now, clearly, no one—not even Uncle Lakis—truly thinks Tina will be able to swim by reading the book, regardless of how many times she reads it or how well she recites the chapters on muscle group movements.

Even if she were to watch 100 related YouTube videos on how to swim, she still wouldn’t be able to swim.

The only way for Tina to actually learn how to swim is by experiencing the act of swimming.

In other words, Tina needs to take a leap of faith, get into a swimming pool or the sea, and try to find a way to stay afloat.

Without actual experience, the learning process is forever incomplete.

Enter the twin pillars of “experience and learning“:

The fifth and six components (the “E” and “L”) of our MARVEL framework of engagement and improved productivity in the workplace.

For employees to stay committed, immersed in their work and engaged, leaders and managers are advised to ensure that their people are presented with a matched balance of challenges and skills.

The reason being that people are naturally wired to pursue mastery.

People have a natural inclination to seek competence and are inherently driven to become better at doing things.

We have been pursuing mastery and engaged in solving puzzles since when we were toddlers; no one paid us to learn to say “broccoli”; no one paid us to learn to crawl and then walk.

Similarly, no one pays us to solve sudoku puzzles during our coffee breaks, figure out challenging riddles with friends over a bonfire or take up guitar lessons during the weekend.

Get this:

The pursuit of mastery and competence is a reward in and by itself.

Leaders should leverage this natural inclination of their employees by involving them in jobs, tasks and projects that keep them on their toes.

This way, employees can stretch and push beyond the boundaries of their perceived limits and thus grow as professionals and human beings in whatever it is that they are doing.

In that sense, by offering challenging experiences and learning opportunities to our employees and team members, we can dramatically improve their level of self-motivation, self-satisfaction, focus and long term engagement in the workplace without spending a single extra penny on salary increases and bonuses.

This is the fastest way to build highly performing teams comprising of self-driven individuals who bring their whole and best selves at work.

This is also one of the most economical strategies for causing positive impact on the bottom-line financial results of your organisations in the longer term.

Sounds utopic or extreme?

Well, it’s not.

According to Gallup, organisations with highly engaged teams can experience up to 21% higher bottom line profitability, 41% less employee absenteeism and up to  57% less employee turnover.

Concrete results. Not touchy feely theories.

The seminal work of the American-Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced Chick-Sent-Me-High-ee) goes to prove this very point. You are more than encouraged to check out his fascinating and inspiring work.

What about you?

What experiences and war stories do you have in the field of motivation and engagement?


(*) The story is taken from my book The MARVEL of Engagement: Turning Passive Employees into Active Ambassadors.

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