My personal morning and night routines which include mindfulness, exercise, nurturing the soul, nutrition and rest have a direct impact on my energy and how I show up and therefore on how I lead. These can be the first things to suffer for a leader whose time is limited and self-care is the first thing to go by the wayside. But like anything of value, routines require intentionality and consistency.
Quiet quitting is the emerging phenomenon of employee disengagement, essentially quitting on the job. What strategies do high-impact leaders deploy to motivate themselves and those around them to move from quiet quitting to quiet committing? Because, at its core, there is no change without commitment. Commitment to change ideas. Change beliefs. Change perspectives. Change routines, rituals and boundaries. Organizations change one commitment at a time. One leader at a time. As part of our series about “Quiet Committing: The Top Five Commitments High Impact Leaders Make & Keep To Themselves Daily”, we had the pleasure of interviewing Matthew Brackett.
Matthew Brackett, a Senior Leadership Coach, Educator, Mentor and Founder of Brackett Alliance, has 30 years of experience in the field of education and development of individuals in successful personal and professional leadership. Trilingual, he has enjoyed broad international and intercultural experience in leadership, educational and consulting roles in Italy, Ireland, England, Colombia, Chile, and Mexico as well as being a special Staff Officer in the United States Navy serving both with Sailors and Marines. He helps build resilient leaders, cultures and couples by working with leaders who want to positively influence their inner circles, lead better, love better and live better.
Thank you for making time for our visit. What was the first job you had, and how did that job shape the leader you are today?
I grew up the 10th of 13 children in small town New England. This always gets people to look up and pay attention. I mention my family context because this entailed learning responsibility and teamwork from an early age, the importance of contribution, getting a job, earning some cash and all that. My first small jobs would have been mowing lawns and shoveling snow, probably from the age of 7 and then shortly after I began working in a strawberry farm with my siblings and friends where we pruned, weeded, and picked the strawberries during harvest season. We were able to learn good work ethic from an early age. Responsibility, accountability and collaboration were all values learned at an early age. This also taught me the dignity of work and that no job is too small or less worthy of me, my time and of me doing it to the best of my ability.
We’re talking about quiet quitting in this series. What’s the greatest lesson you’ve learned from a job you decided to quit?
I must admit that quiet quitting is not part of the family fabric, and as long as we do a job, we will do it to the best of our ability and often to the detriment of some aspect of our health. In hindsight, not a positive thing. For me, it is a question of integrity, and then when it comes time to quit, that too is a question of integrity and knowing that something is nor the right fit, prepare to transition and step away into something new. I quit or resigned from a job after 20 years, and I learned much about myself in the process. I waited too long to quit. This negatively impacted my health in a few ways. I have become much more attune to self and to costs I am willing and unwilling to pay to be able to work and contribute. One other lesson is to include people you trust and have your best interest at heart in the journey of big decisions. This helped me to stay objective, not fool myself, be accountable as well as protect honesty and integrity.
Employee Engagement is top of mind for most organizations. How do you define an engaged employee?
Engagement is a complex topic as it involves many elements of the human and work experience. An engaged employee understands how their role plays into the bigger picture and mission of an organization, they perform in a responsible and timely manner, they communicate actively vertically and horizontally, and they strive to improve.
Large and highly bureaucratized organizations are a breeding ground for quiet quitting, disengagement and the law of the least amount of effort, as well as organizations where accountability mechanisms are outdated or unemployed.
Say more about your Employee Engagement portfolio. What’s working? What’s not working? And what are you piloting now to address the Quiet Committing trend?
I cannot speak to how this looks at present in my life as I am self-employed. Although, I could tell you plenty about my engagement and my procrastination! What I can speak to is what I saw and lived in organizations along with what I discover through the leaders I advise, mentor and educate on these matters. Simply said, people want to be seen, valued and taken into account. Actively do these three things at every level, and you will see better engagement. Secondly, make sure the reward system speaks the language of your people. In other words, it speaks of something meaningful and therefore motivating.
The newer generations in the workforce do not generally hold organizational loyalty as a value. There are many more options, flexibility of relocating etc. I would venture to say that the younger workforce value loyalty to oneself, to one’s career path and to one’s personal and professional goals. As a leader, I want to appeal to that and speak that language if I want my people to stay around.
As goes the leadership, so goes the team. How do you hold leaders accountable for their own level of engagement?
Accountability deserves a whole different conversation as it has to do with motivation, integrity, honesty, responsibility, etc. In an era where freedom, self-sufficiency and independence are considered absolutes, it becomes more challenging to make a case for accountability. Accountability must be understood in the context that as humans, we generally slide to do less rather than to more. We will push boundaries and limits to see how much we can get away with. A perfect example of this is what we see in children as they grow and expand their boundaries. As we mature, these dynamics shift, but the natural inclination can continue to show its head in different contexts. In my view accountability involves clarity of communication, clarity of expectations, clarity of consequences and assertiveness in follow-through. Accountability is a fundamental pillar of culture and climate. This is no less true than with leadership. Engagement for a leader provides motivation, credibility and respect in the organization, all invisible elements, but no less powerful in a climate. And in my view, leaders ought to hold themselves to a higher standard of engagement knowing that the organization feeds off of the leader’s engagement.
The first phase of the pandemic ushered in the phenomenon called The Great Resignation, where employees left organizations to pursue greater meaning and purpose. Then came The Great Reshuffle, where employees left organizations to pursue promotions, pay and perks. Now we’ve entered a third phase, Quiet Quitting, where employees are deeply disengaged. What do you believe to be the key drivers of Quiet Quitting?
I may have spoken to some of this earlier in our conversation. Besides the vital elements of people sensing they are seen, valued, appreciated and involved, a few things come to mind when you ask this. On the part of the employees, some of this can have to do with a different understanding of work ethic; a natural tendency of avoidance of challenging, difficult and costly tasks; a sense of entitlement; a desire for quick and easy results; and less passion for what we call work and the dignity of work in all of its forms. Work doesn’t always offer the sense of satisfaction and fulfillment that others may have experienced. On the part of the employer, given the drastic need for talent, the employers can lower standards and leave accountability off to the side for the sake of trying to get by and not increase turnover.
What do you predict will be the next phase in the evolution of the employer / employee landscape?
I consider that all we have considered will lead to a massive shift in the working landscape as organizations will have to invest more in making their people better. This may cut profits, but will improve climate, will reduce turnover, and will generally improve engagement which essentially is a win for everyone. And why not, this could even increase profits.
What leadership behaviors need to evolve to improve employee engagement in a sustainable way?
I often consider that leadership training is poor, and that the compensation structures are outdated. There are many high-quality employees that are excellent at their current jobs and ought to be compensated appropriately for that. These same employees, being great at what they presently do, may not be great in a leadership role. Usually, the only way to a raise or better compensation is promotion. This may not be in the best interest of the individual or of the organization, but traditionally, this is the only way to so called career growth.
Let’s go back to what I said previously: leadership training is poor. We must invest intentionally in proper selection and preparation of people for leadership roles, then offer appropriate accompaniment and feedback. The understanding of leadership has grown immensely over the last three decades, along with the complexity of leadership in a vast and rapid paced social, technical, global and intercultural landscape. The so called soft skills are valued today and greatly needed as well as right brain abilities and skills, and this is in part due to the fact that computers and machines can do so much of the other work. I few key skills in my view for leaders are: social and interaction skills, emotional intelligence, cultural intelligence, effective communication skills, professionalism, timely decision making abilities, knowing and using the available expert resources in the organization and team to lead better.
Change requires commitment and happens one choice at a time. What are the top five commitments you make and keep to yourself daily that have a material impact on those you lead?
1 . My personal morning and night routines which include mindfulness, exercise, nurturing the soul, nutrition and rest have a direct impact on my energy and how I show up and therefore on how I lead. These can be the first things to suffer for a leader whose time is limited and self-care is the first thing to go by the wayside. But like anything of value, routines require intentionality and consistency.
2 . Be visible, available and approachable, and value the time of others.
3 . See, value, treat and appreciate each person I come in contact with as I would like to be seen, valued, treated and appreciated.
4 . Visit my people in their spaces and places.
5 . Clarity of communication and to never tire of repeating values, principles, guidance, and expectations. The greatest gift of kindness I can offer is clarity of communication.
What’s the most effective strategy you’ve discovered to get back on track when you break a commitment you’ve made?
Name it, own it, learn from it and get back in the saddle. If it affects others, reconcile with them to the best of my ability.
Thank you for sharing these important insights. How can our readers further follow your work?
They can visit my website at Brackett Alliance, follow me on LinkedIn and Instagram under the same name, and look out for any podcasts that I may be on for helpful content.