Engagement is as much about employees as it is about managers. Employee engagement can be made easier when the manager humbles himself to be coached by his employees. It shows trust for starters. Engagement doesn’t have to be a fancy initiative. It starts in the trenches. One of our new friends author Jake Breeden shows us one way.

You’ve probably worked on how to get better at coaching your employees. But have you worked on getting better at being coached by your employees? Good students lean forward in class, ask questions when they’re confused and look to make connections between the new things they’ve just learned and the old ideas they’ve already had in their heads. Are you a good student of the people who work for you?

Learning from your employees is one of the most powerful and least utilized tools in the leadership tool box. And I’m not talking about listening to your people when they try to make a point. I mean something more serious and more purposeful. Identify something that one of your employees does well and make it a point to learn from her. Make it her goal to get you to learn from her, and hold her accountable for delivering on that goal.

Do you have someone on your team who is world-class at interfacing with the IT team to get thoughtful, prompt responses? Then tell her she needs to coach you on how to do a better job of that. Later, she can help teach the rest of the team. But first, I recommend one-on-one coaching in which your employee coaches you on something specific that you want to learn from her.

There are (at least) five good reasons to learn from your employees in a purposeful way:


Show yourself learning, and you’ll instill a learning culture. The more you make yourself ready to grow, the more you role model a growth mindset for others. The person who coaches you will naturally be more willing to learn – not just from you, but from others.

Authentic Leadership

Display the confidence to make yourself vulnerable enough to learn from your team, and you’ll reveal yourself to be a humble, human, authentic leader.

Drive Engagement

It’s a challenge to teach the boss. But if it’s a fun, different, stretching challenge it can drive additional engagement at work. And it’s a great way to breathe new life into something that someone has been doing for years.

Increase Employee Self-Awareness

Your high performing employee might not know exactly why she’s so good at the thing you want to learn from her. Ask her to coach you, and now she must reflect on what exactly she does. It’s great development for her to convert her tacit knowledge into explicit lessons that can be more easily conveyed to others.

Learn Something!

Don’t forget the most obvious benefit – you’ll learn something new and improve your own skillset. This only works if it’s genuine. You must pick an area where you honestly respect a team member’s capabilities and you genuinely want to improve your own skills. Think of every person who works for you as a teacher. What do you want to learn from each of them? Everyone on your team can coach you to be better at something. Build your learning plan, and leverage the potential coaches all around you.

Connect with Jake

Jake Breeden is the author of Tipping Sacred Cows: Kick the Bad Work Habits that Masquerade as Virtues (Jossey-Bass, March 12, 2013). For the past ten years he’s taught leaders in 27 countries as part of Duke Corporate Education’s top-ranked faculty. Visit Jake at his website breedenideas.com. You can also follow him on Twitter here.


Photo courtesy of  Sharad Haksar