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How leaders can positively impact Employee Engagement

Published on Tuesday, 3rd May 2016, contributed by en:Rich HR

For some time I’ve thought about writing an article on leadership styles and employee engagement. It’s a topic close to my heart as an employee engagement specialist. In my experience, the actions and attitudes of leaders have an enormous impact on engagement levels.

I’ve worked with many leaders, from the high profile, like Sir Richard Branson, to those who lead less well known businesses - but who are just as important to their employees. But my inspiration for this article came not from anyone I’ve ever worked with, but a quote from Ronald Reagan.

"The greatest leader is not necessarily the one who does the greatest things. He (or she) is the one that gets the people to do the greatest things." Ronald Reagan

To me, this sums up the impact a good leader can have. It’s not necessarily about them and their achievements, it’s how their approach brings out the best in their people. Employee engagement is about the employees after all - so it’s only logical that those that lead have a huge part to play in whether they buy in - or opt out.

From my time at Virgin through to today - I have witnessed the positive results that happen when leaders engage and motivate their employees.

So, with a little help from other notable leaders and their quotes, here is my take on how leaders can positively impact employee engagement….

Be authentic

"People buy into the leader before they buy into the vision." John Maxwell

Some of the best leaders I’ve worked with aren’t necessarily the most charismatic - but they are the most honest and open. It’s a simple concept in the way we relate to people - we all want to feel that we are getting the truth and experiencing the real person in relationships. It’s no different with leaders - people admire transparency and authenticity. An open, honest and positive leader (in good times and bad) will build respect and trust. That’s tremendously powerful in terms of engagement and is probably the foundation stone of engaging leadership.

Understand and communicate the ‘why’

"If you don't know where you're going, any road will take you there.” Lewis Carroll

With this one line from Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll could have been a great leadership coach. The role of the leader is to articulate where the organisation is going, and why. What’s more, they’ve got to be able to do it in a way that everyone can see where they fit into what should be a clear plan. An engaging leader will be able to give inspiration and motivation in how they deliver this, reminding everyone what they are working towards and how to stay on the right road to get there. Anyone can issue directions; engaging leaders make sure they are understood.

Empowerment and trust

"A lot of people have gone further than they thought they could because someone else thought they could.” Zig Ziglar

A conductor knows what every instrument in an orchestra should sound like - but they wouldn’t attempt to play them all. Engaging leaders recognise the capabilities of those around them and trust them get on with it. They delegate authority and get out of the way. In so doing they give their people space, allow them to make their own decisions and to play to their strengths. It’s the only way to help people to learn and grow - and realise their full potential.

Taking risks, and learning from mistakes

"You don't learn to walk by following the rules. You learn by doing...and by falling over.” Sir Richard Branson

“Leadership is the art of giving people a platform for spreading ideas that work.” – Seth Godin

Virgin is a great example of taking risks - and developing people in the process. At some point you have to put down the instruction manual and “just do it” - even if it doesn’t work. An engaging leader won’t hog all the ideas (or the limelight), they’ll be at the centre of a culture where everyone can express their ideas - but accept that they won’t all work. They will be prepared to let their people find out if they can - and help them if they can’t.

Be present in the culture

“Ultimately, leadership is more about ‘being’ than ‘doing’.” Henry Blackaby

“Earn your leadership every day.” - Michael Jordan

There are high profile leaders, shaping and being highly visible as part of their organisational culture. But you don’t have to have the impact of Steve Jobs, Sir Richard Branson or Mark Zuckerberg to engage. You just have to ‘be there’. Being present in the business and involved in the culture helps create higher levels of engagement by connecting with employees - and it also helps leaders reinforce the vision and values. This doesn’t have to be ‘in work’ as social events are also great opportunities for leaders to show they care.

 In summary, if there is one attribute essential to being an engaging leader and taking your people with you - it’s the ability to communicate. I started with a quote from Ronald Reagan, often referred to as ‘the great communicator’ so it’s perhaps appropriate that my closing quote comes from another famous US politician, Colin Powell…

“Great leaders are almost always great simplifiers, who can cut through argument, debate and doubt to offer a solution everybody can understand.”

 If you are a leader wanting to improve employee engagement levels in your organisation - or just some help with leadership itself - please do get in touch for a chat.

 At en:Rich our work goes to the heart of the workplace relationship between employee and employer. We help organisations and their leaders create inspiring and productive cultures.