The Secret Ingredient

for Igniting Engagement and Results

Published on: March 2017

Written by: Jennifer Sukalo

When chefs cook, they are often asked: “What is your secret ingredient?”

Every recipe has steps that anyone can follow, but there is always one secret ingredient that takes your dish from ordinary to extraordinary. The same holds true in leadership. We are frequently asked: “What is the secret to delivering better business results?”

Have you ever wondered why some leaders consistently deliver exceptional results while others struggle to meet targets and KPIs? Well, then keep reading, because we will not only reveal the steps in the recipe for success, but also the secret ingredient to igniting engagement and results.

Getting things done

At its core, being a leader means that you have to get things done through others. Whether you are a project leader, a matrix leader, or have multiple teams reporting to you, as a leader you have to get things done through other people. You are no longer an individual contributor, but an orchestrator of others. You deliver business results through those you lead. Embracing this concept is the first step in the recipe for success.

It is about people, not numbers

“I am so used to focusing on results that I always refer to excel spreadsheets when making decisions. It took me a while to realize that I am not managing spreadsheets, I am leading people.”

This is an all-too-familiar quote we hear from leaders just like you. When your sole focus is results, and you forget who delivers the results, you miss the bigger picture. You have forgotten the first step in the recipe for success: the people you lead deliver the results. No matter how hard you stare at those numbers on the spreadsheet, they will not change unless you help those you lead change them. Step two in the recipe for success is focusing on your people, not the numbers.

The critical link in the chain

According to recent Gallup research, 87% of employees worldwide are not engaged at work.1 What does engagement have to do with results? Well, engaged employees generate greater value for their customers and clients. When customers perceive value, they have higher levels of satisfaction and tend to be more loyal. Higher customer satisfaction and loyalty will deliver superior business results and organizational success. So, engagement is directly linked to business results. In fact, Gallup found that companies with highly engaged workforces outperform their peers 147% in earnings per share. We call this concept the Leadership Value Chain and the chain begins with the leader. You as the leader have the greatest impact on the engagement level of those you lead and are therefore the most critical link in the chain. Your leadership character and capability determine your actions and behaviors, which in turn shape the environment for those you lead. This environment can either work to enhance or diminish engagement. Step three in the recipe for success is taking ownership of the role you play in the Leadership Value Chain.

The secret is in the sauce

Chefs rarely like to reveal their secrets, and will often say that the secret is in the sauce. In this case, the secret is in the sauce, or more literally, the environment. The secret ingrdient in the recipe for success is the environment you create for those you lead. In the Simon Sinek TED talk “Why good leaders make people feel safe,” he highlights the importance of the workplace environment. Sinek suggests that if you get the environment right, remarkable things happen. So, how do you create an environment that generates a deep sense of trust and cooperation, and drives employee engagement?

In today’s fast paced world, busy is a constant. Rarely do we come across leaders who have discretionary time to spare. Therefore, it is critical to spend your time and energy where you can create the greatest impact on the environment for those you lead. In order to make it easier for you to remember where to place your effort, we have created an acronym. Taking a nod from Sinek, we too are focused on making people feel S.A.F.E. However, in this case, each letter stands for a crucial element of the environment that requires your attention. The secret ingredient in the recipe for success is ensuring that your leadership actions and behaviors create an environment where those you lead feel S.A.F.E.

How effective leaders help people feel S.A.F.E.:


  • Provide clear and timely communication so people have clarity around what is happening and what is expected of them.
  • Seek and provide regular feedback to create a culture of open communication and continuous improvement.
  • Build confidence and trust with others by ensuring that their actions and words match.


  • Demonstrate that they value and genuinely care for others.
  • Highlight the accomplishments and value created by team members and individuals.
  • Provide thanks and gratitude to team members and individuals for their efforts.


  • Create a feeling of community and camaraderie amongst team members and individuals.
  • Treat people as if they are family, putting the interests of others before their own.
  • Generate a sense of belonging, with shared success and accountability.


  • Drive a strong sense of purpose and meaning by connecting daily work to personal values and beliefs.
  • Align on-going development and growth opportunities with passions and strengths of individuals and team members.
  • Create line of sight between daily work and the overarching organizational mission and vision.
Taking action

It is time to move from simply reading the recipe to taking action. Follow the steps in the Go-Do list below to ignite engagement and deliver exceptional results through those you lead.

Step 1
  • Identify one week in the next month that represents a typical work week for you.
  • At the end of each day that week, ask yourself the following question: How did I make people feel S.A.F.E. today?
  • Assess yourself against the specific leadership actions listed for each word in the acronym, identifying:
  • Strengths – actions that you are already doing and could do more of.
  • Development opportunities – actions that you are not currently doing and could start doing.
Step 2

Based on your assessment, answer the following questions:

  • What does this mean about the environment you have created for those you lead?
  • How do your business results reflect the environment you have created?
  • What changes do you think would have the greatest impact on the engagement level of those you lead?
  • What steps could you take to implement those changes?
  • Identify how, when and where you will take the first step in implementing those changes, and who you will enlist to hold you accountable.
Bringing it all together

The leaders who deliver the best results are the ones that “get it.” They regularly apply the recipe for success, making sure that the secret ingredient is ever present. These leaders recognize and embrace the fact that they must get things done through others. They focus on their people, not just the numbers, and take full ownership of the part they play in the Leadership Value Chain. They harness their power as leaders to create environments where people feel S.A.F.E.; where there is a deep sense of trust and cooperation; where people feel valued and appreciated, like they are part of a family; where people are connected to their work, and where they are highly engaged. These leaders have truly linked their leadership to business results. They continually work to grow their leadership skills, knowing that the better they are at leading their people, the better their business results will be.

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