Top 10 ways to engage employees: Lessons from David Letterman

letterman-vtlo-postEarlier this week in the U.S., the curtain came down on late night TV host David Letterman’s stellar television career. For more than 30 years, Letterman’s award-winning performances have engaged audiences and critics alike. His winning formula will be studied by late night TV hosts for years to come. In addition to being a brilliant showman, Letterman’s successful career offers lessons on engagement for business leaders too. In a nod to Dave and one of the show’s best bits, here are VTLO’s Top 10 Ways to Engage Employees.

10. Be yourself. Letterman never lost sight of his roots and neither should you. Remembering where you came from will make it easier for employees to approach you with the ideas or concerns that will drive your company’s performance.

9. Identify a common goal. Anyone who tuned in to the Late Show with David Letterman wanted to be entertained. And, from the opening monologue to the last note played by the musical guest, Letterman made that happen five nights a week. For business leaders, it is just as important to align employees with your organization’s mission and then give them the necessary tools to succeed.

8. Delegate. From Paul Shaffer to Biff Henderson, Letterman relied on a team to achieve his goals. Calling on managers or employee ambassadors to reinforce key messages will help workers align with your organization’s mission and get results.

7. Be transparent. In the days after 9/11, Letterman’s honesty brought the nation together and made it OK to laugh again. Being candid about emotions in the toughest of situations can help employees rally around you and your company.

6. Think creatively. Stupid Pet Tricks and the “Top 10” list were just two of the Late Show’s iconic funny bits. For business leaders, finding new and innovative ways to engage employees can be a very effective strategy with long-lasting outcomes.

5. Remain flexible. When Jay Leno, not Letterman, was chosen to replace Johnny Carson as host of The Tonight Show, Letterman didn’t let the setback stop him. Having an alternate plan can also help business leaders ensure that employees stay continuously engaged.

4. Stay relevant. A lot has changed since Letterman hosted his first show in 1982. Keeping up with the times enabled him to retain existing audiences and even attract new ones over the years. The same holds true in business, where succinct communications, face-to-face forums and social media are now the preferred engagement tools.

3. Be present. After more than 6,000 nights on the air, it would have been easy for Letterman to become complacent. But, he didn’t. Right up until the last show, he remained interested in his guests and what they had to offer. For leaders, this serves as an important reminder to “show up” both in person and via various communication channels.

2. Mentor new talent. The Dave Matthews Band is just one of the many talents to get their big break on the Late Show. Giving less experienced people an opportunity to shine and fostering their career growth can motivate your entire team.

1. Recognize the contributions of others. Letterman has been graciously thanking his guests and audiences for their contributions to his success. Humility is, perhaps, one of Letterman’s most engaging qualities. It has gone a long way in making him the longest-serving late night talk show host, and is a must for positive outcomes in the workplace too.

This article is by Jill Vitiello, the founder and president of Vitiello Communications Group (VTLO). VTLO is a preferred sponsor of the IABC World Conference.

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