Positive Inspirational Leadership Stories

Five leadership skills that increase engagement

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 behaviours and the most important of these behaviours 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 regularly, 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. Effective leaders need 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 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 organisation's 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 organisation. The effective leader also understands that gaining their team's commitment to the organisation'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 capitalises on all of these strengths. The leader's 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. Engagement will be diminished if any of them is missing. 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 like 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 organisation and the managers involved.

With all the evidence we now have about the significant increases in organisational performance as employee engagement increases, can anyone afford not to make the effort?

Written by Keith Ayers
Keith is Managing Director of
Integro Learning Company, Sydney, Australia

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