Employee Engagement: Lessons From the Army

Published on April 3, 2013 by

Alan's Note: I'm happy to post a guest blog today by Army Sergeant T. J. Trent. I want to take this opportunity to thank him for his service--and for the personal story and leadership insights he is sharing with us. If you think being a leader in the military is without challenge, think again. Here's Sergeant Trent to tell us why:

Why do some people come to work full of passion and ready to conquer any and all obstacles they may encounter?  On the other hand why do some arrive to work already mentally checked out? Let me share a story with you as we think about these questions.

In mid 2012 I embarked upon a new journey in my military career. In the process I met a relatively new Sergeant who had potential--but he was wasting it and was really just collecting a pay check. That was hard for me to stomach at first.  I am a self-motivated "take no prisoners" leader--once I set my sights on something, I am going to achieve the objective.  I love leading Soldiers and I could not understand why my new Sergeant didn't feel the same way

He came to work every day physically, but not mentally and emotionally. I could tell he wasn't willing to stay at work a nano-second longer than absolutely necessary.  To make matters worse, it seemed his mind was anywhere but on his duties. Could it get any worse? How about this--despite the fact that he enlisted in the military--he was definitely not a team player.

As a young, passionate Staff-Sergeant, this I was having a hard time wrapping my brain around all this.  However, I made it my job to do just that—and over the course of the next few months I learned why this young leader was so disengaged. Only then was I able to help him make a change.

I discovered three reasons explaining his lack of passion and engagement:


  • Lack of Vision: After reviewing my Sergeant’s files, I realized his leaders failed to help him understand his role and impact within the organization. He was literally told to make, coffee, order, supplies, and make sure the boss’s uniforms were properly assembled. Understanding this helped me to have more patience as I was leading him.


Tip: Give your team members a vision that is meaningful and motivating to them. Communicate clearly what you expect from them—but connect the expectations to how they make a difference to your organization.


  • Lack of Purpose: Purpose and engagement go hand in hand.  You cannot have one without the other.  My Sergeants leaders failed to properly explain his purpose within the organization.  In his mind he was there to complete small tasks that really had no affect on the mission at large. Who would be “engaged” with that?


    Tip: We are only as strong as our weakest link.  Clearly define each team member’s role within the   organization so each one knows why they matter.


  • Accountability: Everyone is responsible for their actions or lack of action. A failure on the part of leaders does not remove responsibility from each team member. It's time for all of us to stop the blame game and take responsibility for self.


Tip: Habits are formed over time and changing them can be challenging. It’s not enough to just tell someone once or twice what their purpose is and how important they are to your organization. You have to reinforce the message over time for it to “take.” You also have to hold the person accountable during this learning period.

The insight and experience gained working with this young Sergeant was priceless.  Several times throughout our journey together he thanked me and said “Staff Sergeant Trent, without your help I would just be collecting a pay check.”

(TJ Trent is currently a Staff-Sergeant stationed at Camp Humphreys, South Korea.  TJ is a veteran of four tours of duty in Iraq and one overseas tour of duty in Korea.  He is married to his best friend the beautiful La Shawn M. Baker-Trent.  They reside in Texas with their 5 year old Basset Hound Roscoe P. Coltrane.

 TJ blogs at www.borntwolead.com.  Please follow him on Twitter @Born_Two_Lead and on Facebook Born_Two_Lead.)

Do you have any thoughts to add regarding employee engagement?  What have you experienced in your leadership journey.


  1. Joseph Lalonde

    TJ, you're showing up everywhere now! Congrats on landing the guest post on Allan's site.

    I'd add that we also need to provide feedback to keep employees engaged. When they're lacking the feedback of whether or not they're doing good work the engagement slowly slips until they're disengaged.

    • Alan Allard

      Joseph, great point. One of the things team members mention the most about what they want but do not get consistently is timely feedback. Thanks for the insight.

  2. TJ Trent


    Thanks. I agree! I started providing this young leader feedback and he started improving.

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