Engaging team members is always one of the challenges of leadership. An engaged team is far more likely to be happier and more motivated to succeed. However, leaders need to up their game on engaging employees, especially at the moment. It’s not enough for communication to be one-way – teams need to feel truly involved and safe to voice their opinion.


When people ask my advice about what leaders should be doing to retain their staff right now, I have three words for them: engagement, engagement and engagement.

As someone who trains leaders and works with teams all the time (human and horse), I see first-hand the impact of leaders sparking true staff engagement. An engaged team is a happy team that works well together, feels motivated and as a result adds genuine value in their role.

This leadership and employee engagement is more important than ever now for so many reasons. Many of us have come out of lockdown after working remotely and teams need to reconnect. Everyone is talking about skills shortages – the Australian Bureau of Statistics reports that job vacancies are 46.5% higher than before the pandemic, while at the same time, reports say around 40% of Aussies are planning to leave their jobs in the next year.

In this environment, leaders need to seriously look at how they are engaging their teams and genuinely seek to improve. The occasional check-in or email is not enough. It’s not about the leader telling everyone else what is happening. Rather, it’s a carefully-cultivated process of fostering two-way communication and then giving each other the space to develop their ideas and fulfill their role.

People need to feel they’re being understood and heard. They want work in an environment where it is safe to speak up, voice their opinion and input into solving problems.

In other words, it’s time for serious thought about staff engagement.

Taking it to the next level

So, how do you really up your game on staff engagement? For me, a good place to start is to first recognise and then celebrate differences. It’s finding a space to understand everyone’s behaviour, without judgement. That’s what I like so much about working with horses – they never label anyone, but you’d be surprised how much they teach a team about each other and also themselves.

A part of this is of course looking at your own leadership. Always remember that who you are impacts on others. It’s not something to be taken to heart, even though it’s easy to do this, as after all it does arise from your personality. For example, if you realise your team is engagement is not optimal because you are not communicating clearly enough with them, then you can take a step back and understand it’s not a judgement on who you are, but rather a skill that needs to be developed. It’s not about placing blame but looking for improvement.

We’ve had lots of personal moments like this in our training. We had one leader who openly declared at the end of one of our courses that he needed to be more empathetic. You could instantly sense the relief from the rest of his team. They would have found it difficult to tell him this directly, but his realisation – which he came to himself, rather than it being planted – was a turning point for this team and their engagement with each other.

You’d be amazed at how quickly teamwork and engagement starts to improve after working with horses to wipe the slate clean and start responding to fresh situations.

Re-thinking communication

Coming back to two-way communication as a mentioned earlier. Once again, the horses will subtly show everyone the areas where they need to improve. Too bossy? The horse won’t co-operate. Not assertive enough? The horse won’t co-operate. Trying to yell at the horse? Just won’t work.

‘This all sounds good in theory, but how do I go about it?’ you might be thinking. And you have a point. It’s not easy.

That’s why we like to use a range of tools in our training. This includes our MiRo psychometric testing, alongside some theory and problem solving and team-building exercises with our horses.

So, if you need any help in working out a team engagement program, then please get in touch. I’d be happy to talk to you and work out a solution that will improve your team dynamics immeasurably. 

If you’re interested in learning more about our unique leadership training with horses, email info@leadingedgelifeskills.com.au.