Ask the OD Doctors: I have done all I can as a leader, but some of my high potentials still lose their sense of purpose and engagement

ASK THE OD DOCTORS: "I have done all i can as a leader, but some of my high potentials still lose their sense of purpose and engagement. what else should i be doing?"


By Dr. Peter Cheng

Co-Founder & Chief Dialogue Officer

What is disengagement? How do we know when employees are disengaged? What are signs of a disengaged workforce? As leaders, we tend to think that we have done our best to engage our constituents and they seem to be elusively disengaged or in the case of the question, losing their sense of purpose. What might the causes of such disengagements? Is it about the leader’s doing or undoing? What other factors might be influencing the employee engagement level?

Defining engagement on the onset might be helpful for us to examine what makes people engaged or disengaged. There are several definitions out there but the one I find most apt is “Engagement is the extent to which people are committed to exert efforts in the organisation and how long they intend to stay with their organisation”(Corporate Executive Board, 2004).

There are essentially two main branches of commitment: Rational Commitment and Emotional Commitment. The former describes the extent to which employees believe that their supervisors, teams and organisation care for their well being - that includes financial, development, and physical development. The latter refers to the extent in which people enjoy, value and believe in their jobs, their managers, teams and the organisation.

When people are engaged with their leaders, they exert discretionary efforts to be helpful, productive and go the extra mile to perform for themselves and for their organisation.  Engaged people also have clear intention to stay long term with their organisation apart from being an ambassador. The outcome of increased discretionary efforts and intention to stay lead to better performance from the employees and lowering attrition rate at the same time.

So if we were to examine the ‘elements’ influencing Rational and Emotional Commitment, leaders would have to ask themselves the following questions to discover the factors influencing employee engagement, and ultimately better engage their employees.

  1. What have I done to earn the respect from others? What might be some things that I have done that cause the loss of respect for me as a leader? What else could I do more in this aspect?
  2. What have I done to establish credibility with my employees? What could I do more? Stop doing? Continue doing?
  3. What have I done to show that I care for my people? What else could I do more?  What are some things that I do that are uncaring? What must I rid of myself in those uncaring doings?
  4. What is the ‘trust temperature” among the team members: cold, warm or hot? What causes this “temperature?”
  5. What might be some unresolved trust-breaking issues that need to be addressed but have not been attended to?
  6. Do I know what gives my employees real enthusiasm in their work and gives them full of energy at work? What can I do to find out more about what gives them enthusiasm and energy? What have I done to sustain such enthusiasm and energy?
  7. What is the “Enjoyment temperature” of the work environment? Cold, warm or hot? What can I do to make the workplace a fun place?

Now back to the question “I have done all I can as a leader, but some of my high potentials still lose their sense of purpose and engagement. What else should I be doing?”

As leaders, we tend to think that we have “done all we can”. Perhaps a quick self check against the questions listed above might shed some light on what you have done well and what you could have omitted and what you could be doing differently to garner the discretionary efforts that come only from engaged employees. When that is done, the intention to stay with the organisation would be a natural by-product.