After almost 30 years of research I have determined that there are five essential skills that leaders must have if they are going to succeed in increasing employee engagement. They are:
1. Building Trust. Trust is an essential ingredient in increasing engagement. The first thing
leaders need to know about building trust is that it does not happen just because you are trustworthy. People do not know how trustworthy you are until you demonstrate it by
using trust building behaviors, and the most important of these behaviors is to trust
others. We build trust by trusting others. This requires a basic belief in people… a belief that people are essentially trustworthy. After all, if you have untrustworthy employees,
why did you hire them and why are they still there?
2. Mentoring. The relationship between the employee and his or her immediate manager is a critical factor in how engaged the employee will be. We have to get away from the idea that Managers cannot mentor the people who report to them. The Gallup research is very clear on this point. Employees need feedback… they need to know how they are
performing, not just once a year at review time, and be able to discuss their needs for
growth and development with a Manager who cares about them. This is a must have skill
for effective leaders… to give and receive feedback, and to coach and counsel employees in a way that increases engagement and commitment.
3. Inclusion. Whether employees feel like an insider or an outsider also impacts on their
level of engagement. Effective leaders know that everyone on their team has strengths the
team needs to be successful, and they know how to get the best out of each person
regardless of their ethnic background, gender, age or sexual orientation. They understand
that people with different personal values can work together effectively when they
commit to the same values about trustworthiness and standards of work performance.
4. Alignment. Engaged employees feel aligned with their organizations Purpose, Values
and Vision. Their work is meaningful to them because their leader helps them see the
connection between what they do and the success of the organization. The effective
leader also understands that gaining their team’s commitment to the organization’s values
increases the team’s performance standards as well as their engagement.
5. Team Development. Effective leaders understand the potential for significant increases in performance through high performing teams. They make sure that all team members understand the strengths they and other team members bring to the team, and work at developing a process that capitalizes on all of these strengths. The leaders focus is on developing the leadership potential of each team member, and ultimately implementing a shared leadership approach to continuously improving performance that is owned by the team.
All of these skills are needed to fully engage employees… if any of them are missing,
engagement will be diminished. The challenge in developing these skills is that they are
dependent on each other. That is, you have to build trust before you can be effective at
mentoring, and you will need your mentoring skills to be effective at inclusion and alignment.
You won’t have much success at getting all employees aligned unless they feel they are an insider, and to build a high performing team, the leader needs all of the above skills.
The reality is that these skills don’t come naturally to many managers, and yet they can be
learned. But extensive research by Daniel Goleman (author of Primal Leadership) on leadership learning has established that they cannot be learned during a single training event. Developing these skills will for many managers require the unlearning of old habits, often habits of a lifetime, and the learning of new habits. It takes time, reinforcement and practice… and a serious commitment from both the organization and the managers involved.
With all the evidence we now have about the significant increases in organizational performance as employee engagement increases, can you afford not to make the effort?