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The Ugly Truth About Leadership and Engagement

Your staff engagement results are in… and despite all the hard work you have put in, crafting mission statements and values and developing leadership capability frameworks, your results haven’t improved or have even got worse!

Does this sound familiar? Poor engagement results are bad news for CEO’s and executives who have been incentivised to improve employee engagement. And it’s bad news for employees too. As this is often where the blame game begins.

There is often a debate about whether to share the results and if so, how and to whom. There is often a justification stage where leaders try and justify away the results. But, if you want to turn engagement around, organisations need to start focussing on what drives engagement.

High engagement is significantly influenced by leaders and their capacity to develop a positive psychological safety climate in their teams. Research highlights that psychological safety not only influences engagement, but it is the KEY to high performing teams.

Google’s Research in Project Aristotle found high performing teams share something in common – high levels of psychological safety. Those leaders who led high performing teams also took responsibility for the development of a positive psychological safety climate.

Low levels of engagement, low retention rates and employee burnout are signs that the psychological safety climate is poor. But so often Leaders aren’t accountable for these results. According to Dan Collins, management consultant and former Olympic medallist, Australian organisations don’t foster a culture of accountability or even ask “are we accountable for setting up an environment where people can be winners?” (HR Daily). Given the significant influence leaders have on psychological safety and engagement, it’s critical that leaders are provided the necessary support to improve their leadership capability.

According to AON in their 2017 article ‘The Engagement Outliers – How to Accelerate Extraordinary Improvement in Employee Engagement’ their research found that turnaround companies fixed some dismal employee experiences in critical culture drivers like Leadership and suggest it’s next to impossible to engage large numbers of employees when most people see ineffective leadership.

Too often, it is easy to blame employees for poor engagement results but it’s also not useful to blame leaders either. They simply don’t know what they don’t know!

Recent research by Ultimate Software, points to a blind spot in leaders about their leadership capability. Their 2017 study, found that Managers commonly over-estimate their leadership capability due to over-confidence and lack of training.

71% of managers reported that they knew how to motivate their team, but only 44% of employees believed their manager knew how to motivate them.

80% of managers think they are transparent with their direct reports. Only 55% of employees agree.

Approachability was identified by 75% of employees as the most important quality in an effective manager today – but only 50% indicated they have an approachable manager.

This report highlights that just because leaders ‘think’ they are doing a great job, doesn’t necessarily mean that staff agree. But so often, this isn’t what organisations are monitoring and therefore gaps in knowledge aren’t being detected, let alone supported.

So often leaders are promoted based on technical expertise and are not provided training in contemporary behaviour-based leadership development to support them to understand their own emotions, drivers and motivators, let alone how to influence and motivate their teams.

So, what most leaders end up implementing, is what ‘they’ would want from their leader. But, not all brains think the same way – so what one leader may do or say to motivate a team or individual can actually result in a threat activation and disengage others.

Ron Carucci, in an article published in Harvard Business review suggests organisations can’t change if leaders can’t change with them. Organisational change and enterprise transformation efforts have a dismal failure rate. 60 -70% of transformation efforts fail. ‘Few leaders would disagree that personal transformation is an important building block of any successful change effort. Unfortunately, too many leaders want transformation to happen at unrealistic speeds, with minimal effort, and everywhere but within themselves’.

There is increasing evidence of an endemic lack of self-awareness in leadership and the costs to organisations are significant. If organisations are looking to improve their engagement scores, then perhaps it is time for organisations to value psychological safety in their leaders, and provide the necessary training for them to understand and engage effectively with their people.

Contact us today to find out how you can build leadership capability and psychologically safe climates to become an employer of choice with a highly engaged workforce!

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