Winning with Discretionary Engagement

I recently had the privilege of working with an extraordinary CEO (and his leadership team) of a well-known public company in the Bay Area. This leader is both conscious and connected. He is conscious of the world and people around him, the complexities of his business and all of its stakeholders, and conscious of the individuality of each person he leads. He is connected to his own authenticity, his humility, his power, and his grace as a leader. He has successfully turned around a company that was very close to demise and sits now at the threshold of a wave that will likely carry the company and all of its stakeholders to uncharted and exciting territories in the years ahead.

During a group discussion about the traits of excellence in leadership, this CEO (I’ll call him Scott) shared the following statement: “When I interviewed for this position, I said, ‘give me any ten people and I will get more engagement out of them than anyone you put me up against. And not just normal engagement, I’ll get their discretionary engagement.’” Discretionary engagement…the secret ingredient of not only leadership excellence, but of achieving results that outperform the competition, the industry, and any standard measures of success.


Discretionary engagement goes way beyond the measures of time. Think about the engagement level of an excited new hire. Typically, they are excited about the company, open to everything, eager to learn and serve, focused on the positive and the possible, and caring deeply about the success of the business. They bring 110% of themselves to the table…their very best ‘A’ game every day. The return to the company of this engagement level, compared to the average employee that is operating at 70-80% of their potential if you are lucky, is immeasurable. It is the difference between the leaders of the pack and…well…the pack.

I asked Scott how he went about cultivating this high level of engagement, particularly when joining a company in desperate times. Here are the highlights of his simple wisdom:

Show up fully present and engaged as a leader every day.


Bring awareness, acceptance, and appreciation of the individuality of each team member.


Develop a personal understanding of the strengths to be leveraged and create an intentional trajectory with each individual team member. Recognize that some trajectories will be steep with rapid growth and other’s will be moderate, but deliver steady and growing results over time.

Invest the time to understand and determine personal adaptation strategies to most effectively lead each key team member. Demonstrate that you care in a way that is meaningful to the individual.

Balance drive and confidence with authenticity, transparency, and even vulnerability. This creates safety and builds trust.

Keep challenging and calling people forth. Pull them to the vision of their highest potential.


Keep asking for input, listening to input, and demonstrate follow through on the commitments that result.


It is rare to meet a leader that first of all understands these principles, but more importantly exercises them consciously and consistently. Tap into this reservoir of hidden power and you will see the results in your bottom line.

Truth in Leadership:

The most successful leaders know how to fully engage their teams through authenticity, transparency, and the ability to recognize, adapt and call forth many different and even contrasting strengths and motivation factors. They know how to identify and leverage the many different strengths of their team in a complementary way. They know how to coach their teams to do the same thing. It takes time, intentionality, and self-awareness. It will take you to much greater heights.

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