Take a Cue from NFL Commissioner and Score Big With Employees

If you’re a sports fan like me, chances are you’re gearing up for this weekend’s Super Bowl showdown between the New York Giants and the New England Patriots. The rematch between these two rivals is expected to draw a record global audience and advertising frenzy.

One of the biggest players in the game, however, won’t be doning a helmet or shoulder pads. He’s Roger Goodell, the NFL’s Commissioner.

Recently, “60 Minutes” aired an interview with Goodell, an extremely likeable guy whose love of the football spans his lifetime. Goodell makes $10 million a year to oversee the NFL’s 32-franchise, business machine that generates $10 billion in annual revenues. He’s a highly-respected CEO with a proven success record honed by some fundamental communication skills.

Despite being  a tireless road warrior with an overbooked daily calendar, Goodell makes time and takes the time to engage with the employees and customers who ultimately drive the profits of his organization. He listens and learns while he leads.

Goodell has never forgotten where he came from. That has helped him to click with all kinds. As a youngster, he joined his father—a former U.S. Senator—on the campaign trail, learning “meet-and-greet” skills and how to break the ice with small talk as a means of forging connections and relationships.

Goodell demonstrates interest in others’ perspectives. While he may not agree with them, he shows respect by seeking first to understand rather than refute.  As New England Patriots’ owner Robert Kraft told “60 Minutes,” “I wish we could get people in Washington to lead the way Roger does.”

His no-finesse actions convey a leadership style that is immersed, interested and comfortable at all levels and locations within his organization. As profiled in the “60 Minutes” piece, Goodell hangs out with fans in stadium parking lots during pre-game tailgating festivities before heading to the cheap seats to tune into fans’ cheers and jeers. Sitting in a stadium’s cheap seats is synonymous with an executive visit to the loading dock or stockroom of a office building to check in with employees.

Leaders like Goodell authentically maneuver from rug row to the cheap seats without an entourage or advance prep. Their air of comfort and mutual respect helps them to connect instinctively. Their words and actions convey a message that says “I’m part of the team, not apart from it.” That’s the ultimate value of the time investment for physically being with both employees and customers.

Is time in the trenches carved into your daily schedule? That was a question posed in my previous column, “Are You An Engaged Manager? Rate Yourself,” I wrote about engagement and the major benefits it can deliver to all businesses – big or small. We created a Dulye & Co. online pulse check for managers and employees to measure just how involved they really are. Nearly 250 responses were received over the 10-day polling period and the results speak volumes about the gap between where employees rate their direct mangers and where mangers rate themselves.

As for trench time, 73% of managers taking our poll say they spend at least 30 minutes a day checking in with employees.That’s an impressive stat! However, on the flip side, employee ratings of manager visibility varied widely. Only 23% said their managers spend 30 minutes a day with team members.

That’s quite a discrepancy. But the responses that really grabbed me were to the question: “Am I learning from what I hear from employees and using it on the job?” Managers again rated their learning experience high while employees didn’t—70% of them said they regularly learn from and use the feedback that they’ve heard versus 24% of employees who credited their managers with truly listening and learning.

Click here for the entire results of our “Are You An Engaged Manager? Rate Yourself” survey.

To me, this means managers aren’t letting employees know – in their words and actions – that these employees have tremendous talent and experience that add value. If employees don’t feel that they add as much value as those with bigger titles, levels and paychecks, they won’t go for the gusto and give a 110%.

With that said, we could all take a few cues from NFL Commissioner Goodell on the subject of engagement. My guess is that he would score in the high-performance zone if he took our poll. He definitely walks the talk on the five degrees of engagement by getting invested, immersed, interested, interactive and in the end, getting better.

Linda Dulye is internationally recognized for helping many companies go spectator free. A former communications leader for GE and Allied Signal, Linda established Dulye & Co.  in 1998 with a practical, process-driven approach for improving communications and collaboration through an engaged workforce— a formidable competitive advantage, that she calls a Spectator-Free Workplace™.