What Makes a Good Leader? Employee Engagement and the War for Talent

Leadership qualities that build employee engagement

What Makes a Good Leader? Employee Engagement and the War for Talent

Employee Engagement is usually described in terms of people feeling a strong emotional bond to the organization, demonstrating a willingness to recommend the organization to others, and committing time and effort to helping the organization succeed. It suggests that people are motivated by intrinsic factors (e.g. personal development, being valued, and having a wider, shared purpose) rather than issues relating to extrinsic reward (eg. pay and status). Employee Engagement is strongly linked to high productivity at work, but what are the leadership qualities that build this commitment?

Setting Direction and Building Trust

It is sometimes said that managers keep things on track, but leaders create energy. Increasingly, managers are seen as leaders, particularly in the context of building employee engagement. As a start point they need to create Role Clarity, so there is a clear sense of purpose and well-defined objectives. This is important at all levels, but of course takes different forms, depending on the experience of employees and the complexity of the task. For professional or managerial staff there is often a strong need for consultation and dialogue on how best to proceed. It is surprising how often people are not clear about the reasoning behind proposed changes, new initiatives, or how these will be implemented.

It is also important to understand the difference between Motivation, associated with initiative and discretionary effort, which is supported by perceptions of a supportive environment, doing meaningful work and self-belief (i.e. the ability to visualise oneself overcoming a problem) and Engagement, which is influenced by the support given to personal development, and people’s trust in their immediate manager. This may be linked to perceptions of fair and consistent behaviour, and competence, which can also affect views of senior management capability.

What Makes a Good Leader

Research relating to employee engagement offers significant insights into the behaviour required by leaders. Most significantly, a good leader demonstrates high awareness of role relationships and appreciation of the need to clarify role requirements. Effective leaders set clear direction whilst helping employees respond positively to work demands. They therefore involve employees in a process of regular dialogue, helping them to make sense of what is required. This strengthens the feeling that tasks are meaningful and have a wider purpose.

Building this shared sense of purpose is not easy. There may well be disagreement or conflicting views on how best to proceed. Research by Pario Innovations in the UK has identified four key steps that managers need to master to become leaders. Central to leadership are the “Purposeful Conversations” that help build genuine commitment. The process is described as Leading with AIMS, where AIMS relate to Awareness, Insight, Meaning & Support.

How Important are Individual Employee Attributes?

Individual attributes, particularly differences in mindset and Cognitive Style, affect discretionary effort, which is central to what we mean when discussing motivation at work. The combination of self-belief, a more questioning outlook and the sense of doing meaningful work in a supportive environment are the drivers of personal effort and initiative. However, the role of the immediate manager can play a key part in building or undermining people’s feelings of Competence and Personal Mastery.

If competence, motivation and engagement are not supported it creates problems. Studies by Pario suggest that a proportion of people in most organisations are Disaffected and this may involve 5 – 8 per cent of the workforce. These people do not identify with the organisation and generally lack a sense of longer-term involvement. They only stay because they do not have a good alternative. They may be less skilled and feel less ‘professional connection’ with the business. As a start point, they require clear objectives, regular feedback and development of a sense of shared purpose to increase their involvement.

Effective Leadership and Organizational Development

The research highlights issues affecting employee engagement that may not be covered by a traditional ‘job satisfaction’ or employee attitude survey. It is important to have a clear model of the factors that affect motivation and engagement. Understanding the key issues that have most impact of people’s identification with the organization is also vital in the War for Talent. This insight opens up opportunities for management and leadership training focused what is required to increase overall levels of motivation and commitment.

Higher education can also be an option. An online Master’s Degree in Organization Development and Leadership gives managers the chance to apply newly learned concepts, giving them real-time examples of how effective the program is. The skills learned through this program also give managers the insight needed inincite change within the organization and this progressive thinking can help to attract new employees in the future.

The practical implications of recent research are significant. The information from a well-designed survey enables organisations to focus follow-up interventions far more effectively, and also achieve a much clearer focus on the Practical Leadership Skills that make a real difference to performance. Feedback is the life-blood of modern organizations, and there is great potential for organizations to build on more effective 180 and 360 degree feedback. The latest tools offer real insight into key aspects of behaviour, and now include the option to target specific questions to different groups of respondent. This is a powerful way of developing more-effective leadership behaviour, which benefits the immediate work climate and the wider cultural norms of the organisation.

In Conclusion, we are starting to identify strong links between Employee Engagement Surveys and Innovative 360 Degree Feedback. These techniques help profile factors associated with a dynamic culture that fosters talent. They also bring into focus the drivers of psychological well-being, vital to healthy organizations. The new tools identify the leadership qualities contributing to high performance, and assess these far more objectively than was possible in the past. This means that there is now a strong business case for taking positive action on issues that impact on motivation and commitment at work!

Find out more about Leadership Effectiveness and Employee Engagement

Go to http://pario-innovations.com/leadership_skills_ebook.html and find out more about the new Pario e-book, How to Unlock Your Leadership Potential.


About the Author:

David Sharpley is a Chartered Occupational Psychologist with Pario Innovations Ltd. A keynote speaker at the 2010 “Excellence in Talent Management” Conference in Barcelona, he also presented new research on leadership at the 2011 UK Occupational Psychology Conference.

Pario services include Intelligent 360 Degree Feedback. This provides the option to target specific questions to different groups of respondent, and also offers Group Reports that support Training Needs Analysis. The company also designs employee engagement surveys that build on new research.

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Jessica Miller-Merrell

Learn more about Jessica Miller-Merrell, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, the founder of Workology, a workplace HR resource, and the host of the Workology Podcast. More of her blogs can be found here.


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