Employee engagement is quite the buzzword in today’s society. As leaders, we know it is important, but do we really understand how to engage our employees?

Looking at it from your employee’s perspective is a good place to start. Do you talk to your employees regularly and understand their challenges? What are you indirectly saying to them through your policies and management practices? For example, how would you feel to have cameras all over the facility or be micromanaged by your boss? Would you feel more empowered or less so?

If we truly want our people to be engaged, then we, as leaders, must take real steps to remove the negatives causing them to disengage, find ways to empower them and give them reasons to be engaged.

The philosopher Peter Koestenbaum describes empowerment as responsible freedom: “Taking personal responsibility for getting others to implement strategy is the leader’s key polarity. It’s the existential paradox of holding yourself 100% responsible for the fate of your organization, on the one hand, and assuming absolutely no responsibility for the choices made by other people, on the other hand… The leader’s role is less to heal or to help than to enlarge the capacity for responsible freedom.”

Most employees want to feel they play a role in the company’s success and that their efforts are necessary and valued. The underlying fundamental concept creating fulfillment in an organization is a sense of two-way trust. You must allow people to have the freedom to exercise personal choice and to take responsibility for their work and the decisions they make. You must also make sure your actions and words match.

If people are just required to be compliant, they often don’t feel personal responsibility and their full potential is buried. They often exhibit a state of indifference and suppress emotions of concern, excitement and motivation. They are cynical, believing that leadership is motivated by self-interest.

Think about the conflicting message you are sending if you have a motivational poster on the wall that says, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” But you are highly critical of people for taking shots that don’t succeed. What is the message? “Don’t try.”

I prefer to empower people and learn from mistakes. My saying is, “Make mistakes. You learn more from your failures than your successes. But don’t make the same mistake twice.”

Does my organization believe it? You betcha! After we made the same mistake twice, I printed a note card with the above quote and gave it to every single person in the organization. It is a constant reminder to me and them on how we as an organization deal with mistakes.

Our organization shares values and a vision for the future. We learn and improve quickly because people have the freedom to innovate, experiment and fail within the guidelines of our values and vision. We are in the constant pursuit of perfection, continuously improving each day, trying to make a positive mark on the world.

In the U.S. Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson states, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights that among these are life, liberty (freedom) and the pursuit of happiness.”

These are not simply words from history. These principles are still valid today. People thrive, engage and are more successful when they are given the responsibility and freedom to realize their own potential. Why, as leaders, are we still running our businesses as command-and-control dictatorships and expecting to have engaged and empowered employees?