Karin’s Leadership Articles

Great entrepreneural companies have a passionate spirit that feels like a gust of warm wind sweeping you off your feet as you walk through their door. It may be a bit hectic, but you want to tighten your shoelaces and run along. I’ve been working with some of these guys on strategy and growth, and it’s an exhilarating journey.

There are challenges of course, but I’m not finding them in the employee engagement arena. Employees are volunteering to help with the enthusiasm of Horshack in Welcome Back Kotter. 

I’ve also seen companies rush to get (or stay) big, and lose their edge. Vision turns into secret plans for the inner circle, lawyers cautioning against transparency, building a diversity “strategy” that translates into babble and ratios, leaders turning to HR for employee engagement, and somewhere along the line, someone deciding it’s time to start “stack ranking” performance.

As you become bigger, never forget the joy and freedom of being small.

3 Ways Thinking Small Will Improve Engagement

“From a small seed, a mighty trunk may grow.” -Aescuylus

1. Be Real, Fun, Involved, and Empowering

An entrepreneurial CEO recently brought me in to help build leadership bench strength. Rather than “train,”  we built a vision, identified priorities and then a business case for a program with a significant spend but a massive ROI.

The CEO stayed out of the room until the team presented their “case” along with theme music and dramatic visuals at the end of the day. His eyes glistened, and his comments were brief, “If this works, this will be gold.” Then he laughed and said. “Hold on, I’ll be right back.”

He then came back with a large, professionally printed version of a previous plan to tackle the same issue that had failed. He said one word. “Execution.”

After his eight word caution, he funded the project.

They executed flawlessly.

A well-mannered, “I believe in you, don’t screw this up,” goes a long way.

2. Keep the Vision Visible

Despite the obvious common sense nature of this statement, I’m always surprised at how rare this is. Sure you’ve got to hold some stuff close to the vest, but if you’re having employees sign “non-disclosures” right and left or are keeping your true strategy confined to a small inner circle, know there are a lot of dots not getting connected and a lot of brains thinking small because they don’t have the perspective to think bigger.

Folks feel the secrecy, which leads to a fast growing feeling of “If you don’t trust me, why should I bother?” Bothered and included leads to brilliance. Share enough information to stir positive, proactive angst.

3. Stay Humble

Small companies have the common sense to know they can’t know it all, and are not afraid to learn, read, and bring in extra support. I’ve only heard, “I really need to get smarter in this arena” from the small guys.

When you think you already know, you don’t learn.

In a fast-changing world, the confident and humble will outsmart and out run “I’ve got this.” Every time.

Be real, open and humble. Think smaller to think bigger.

employee engagementToday’s image is a word cloud based on your awesome comments (and emails) on Friday’s post, defining “employee engagement.” If you missed the chance to add your definition click here 


Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt helps human-centered leaders resolve workplace ambiguity and chaos, so that they can drive innovation, productivity and revenue without burning out employees. She’s the founder and CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders, an international leadership development and training firm known for practical tools and leadership development programs that stick. She’s the award-winning author of four books including Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates and Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results-Without Losing Your Soul and a hosts the popular Asking For a Friend Vlog on LinkedIn. A former Verizon Wireless executive, Karin was named to Inc. Magazine’s list of great leadership speakers. Karin and her husband and business partner, David Dye, are committed to their philanthropic initiative, Winning Wells – building clean water wells for the people of Cambodia.


  1. Steve Borek

    Be consistent in your actions. I’ve seen it time and time again, management says they’re going to make serious sustainable changes and everyone in the organization rolls their eyes thinking “Here we go again. The flavor of the month, quarter…” The team doesn’t take management seriously. Why? Because they know, like many times before, they won’t follow through.

    If you say you’re going to do something, do it. Then, take small consistent actions over a long period of time that shows you mean business.

    • Karin Hurt

      Steve, Excellent add. Totally agree.

  2. Terri Klass

    Excellent post, Karin!

    I love all your points especially being empowering. When CEO’s include their leadership team in decision-making, the results are a higher performing team as well as deeper work relationships. I saw this recently in a small bio-technology company I worked with. Their new CEO empowered her senior leaders to feel ownership by including them in the many changes the organization faced. That way, each department felt equally part of the new direction.

    Thanks Karin!

    • Karin Hurt

      Terri, Thanks for sharing your example. There’s tremendous power in inclusion.

  3. LaRae Quy

    I love all your points, Karin. Especially the one where you encourage the vision to be shared. Often. If it’s not in everyday language, mission creep starts to set in. And it can be difficult to get focus back on square one if everyone isn’t already too bogged down in their own little “programs.”

    • Karin Hurt

      LaRae, Amen. The little missions oftent trump the bigger cause.

  4. David Tumbarello

    Karin – Employee engagement should be an agreement between management and employees. It’s like trying to create a cooperative atmosphere in the classroom. When I taught young ones, I learned the need to create lessons that engaged students. In fact, when creating the lesson plan, my responsibility was to create a hook – and then to continue with part of the lesson that would engage the students. Students, I found, would say that they don’t like school but as parents know, after 3 snow days, kids are ready to go back and be social and learn and engage. My part of the contract is to create a package that engages students. Their part of the contract is to give it a chance, not simply to be present, but to anticipate some benefit, some joy, some growth. I feel it’s the same in corporate situations. If all parties take responsibility for a good dose of the engagement opportunity, energy will be multiplied 10-fold. Again, both parties responsible. Then go for it!

    • Karin Hurt

      David, Love it! Positive anticipation and benefit of the doubt. What if we all approached each day thinking that something extraordinary was about to happen and to be on the lookout. I bet we’d find it more often.

  5. Alli Polin

    Love this, Karin! I was engaged by a small company where all the top players came from a mega huge company. They wanted to implement a formal performance management program. Instead of focusing on the quality of the feedback conversation, they wanted to document performance 3-4 times a year so they wouldn’t have to pay out full bonuses. The potential, passion is energy is there but moves like that are slowly but surely killing it.

    • Karin Hurt

      Alli, Thanks so much for sharing your excellent example.

  6. Susan

    agree with the sentiment of the first point but not the vocabulary of the CEO. The word ‘execution’ has more than one meaning and I misread this and used the negative one instead and shuddered. It has left a vivid impression but not one that tallies with the headline. Hope this is helpful.

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