Don’t waste your time communicating: ENGAGE!


Didier Marlier

April 12, 2019

From Disruption to Engagement

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So many leaders still assume that the job has been done, once their Convention, webcast or confcall ended-up well! The Communication Pack is ready; the new Strategy, Vision, Organization or Roadmap has been explained and everyone will now cascade it, supported by a professional communication team… “Mission accomplished”, do the leaders feel by leaving the room.

This is what happened to a friend of mine, directing a multinational in Switzerland. He had invited me to sit in his “Top 300 Convention”. A lot of efforts had been invested to make it the kick-off point for the new strategy dissemination. He was, understandably proud and wanted to prove, maybe, that he could easily do without external support. The Convention took place in a magnificent hotel. Participants were bombarded with PowerPoints for three full days (only interrupted by the traditional Gala dinner and other edutainment sketches) and, when everybody left, very chic leather cases were offered to the 300 hundred leaders, filled in with a sophisticated communication package, supposed to help them brief their respective organizations about the new strategy.

Whilst containing with difficulty his joy and satisfaction (he had been honoured by a standing ovation at the end of the Convention), he asked me what I thought. I was embarrassed, congratulated him for the show. But he insisted on the strategy roll-out by his top leaders. As he pushed strongly, I admitted to him that nothing would happen. The briefcases would soon be emptied of their content, and used by his people for their own needs. But nothing would be communicated in a meaningful manner.

He got, legitimately, upset: “You are always so negative! When it isn’t done by your team and you, you assume it won’t work. I tell you it will!” I dared him with a bet. In 6 months time we would embark in his his magnificent sports car and visit the offices of the country (presumably better informed than on the other continents). We would randomly ask employees about the new strategy and see how well, it had been disseminated. He shook my hand and 6 months later, our trip due to last two days ended in a single morning. He was fuming: none of his employees had a clue about the new strategy!

Clearly, he had committed the mistake so many leaders do: He communicated but failed to engage!

Communication is not engagement. It helps, it is necessary but it is not at all intended to engage people and the organization. Our book, “Engaging Leadership” describes the three levers of engagement (borrowed to Aristotle): Logos (intellectual), Ethos (behavioural) and Pathos (emotional). Here is how they work:

  • Logos (Intellectual clarity): No one will engage into something that doesn’t make sense to them. A Vision statement, designed by the Exec Committee will only speak to them. It doesn’t mean much to those who did not contribute. These are just a bunch of words! We call this the “Gleneagles’ syndrome”, from the name of that luxury 5 stars hotel, located on a Scottish golf course, where Boards of Great Britain isolate themselves from their employees, in order to seriously redefine the future of their business. After spending 5 days on hard work, golf of course, and outstanding meals, they return to home base and are profoundly upset that those, who were not in Gleneagles, aren’t enthusiastic when presented the fruit of their hard labour. Engaging at Logos level means co-creating Clarity, Meaning and Ownership with our people. It means having the courage and patience to let them digest, interpretate and make sense of a statement or strategy that have been designed in high spheres, not necessarily aware of what goes on at the bottom of the pyramid. Antoine de St-Exupery, author of the Small Prince (Le Petit Prince) wrote: “Love isn’t about staring at each other’s eyes. It is about looking together in the same direction!” No one should learn a new Vision, Mission or Values statement by heart: Transformational Leaders make sense of it and act on it!
  • Ethos (Behavioural exemplarity): “Culture eats strategy for breakfast!” used to say Peter Drucker. Since (following Hay and Gallup) 70% of an organization’s culture comes from the behaviour of its leaders, behavioural exemplarity is the “make it or break it” of any strategic, operational or cultural change! People do not believe what you say, they believe what you do and what they see! Clearly aligning your behaviour with the new organization, strategy or culture has no alternative. And this set of behaviours applies only to you. Let your people reflect and choose which behaviour of theirs they should authentically work on and display, in order to give them credibility when they seek to engage their people into Change!
  • Pathos (Emotional engagement): Don’t assume that what gets you out of bed, is what stimulates others. Encourage your leaders to reflect and find, in the new Vision, Strategy etc. what will emotionally resonate with them. If meeting his ambitious promise to the Board may motivate the SBU President, creating new jobs in their unemployment riddled valley is what will speak to the heart and pride of local blue collars. Keeping industrial jobs in Europe may resonate with the CEO of a European multinational, but I am not sure it will mean much, leave aside be well received by his Asian or American workforce…

I can’t resist the temptation of displaying this Monthy Python’s extract (The Life of Brian), about the challenges of communicating in our Conventions. For sure it will remind you of some you have been a part of…

I hope to have clarified that communicating on a Vision, Mission, Values, Strategy or else, falls short of engaging people. My partners and my mission is to help you design a truly engaging process whereby your people will engage themselves, prior to engaging others into the Transformation you are launching. Enjoy your Leadership Journey!


  1. Jay Rao

    Bravo! Another classic my friend. I have to share this with the Babson leaders. Thanks. Jay

    • Didier Marlier

      Thank you dear Jay. I feel humbled!
      This misconception (believing that I engaged when I simply communicated) was something I have seen so often, that I thought worth sharing.
      Enjoy your week end!

  2. Tom

    Merci Didier.
    Again showing that only talking is not enough! it is about talk, engage and do. And did we understand it and felt it?!?!
    Thx Tom

    • Didier Marlier

      Thank you Tom and I like the translation you do of Logos, Ethos and Pathos into talk, do and engage. I’ll owe you copy rights on this;) Have a great week!


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“Engaging Leadership” has been written for leaders who are about to engage their organisations in change."

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