Earlier this year, there was much talk about quiet quitting. It refers to employees doing the bare minimum requirements of their job and putting no more effort, time, or energy than is necessary. In other words, they are disengaged.
Let’s explore leadership engagement and how to maximize it.
Why Is Leadership Engagement Important?
It can be argued that leadership engagement was why Jamie Dimon was able to steer JP Morgan Chase through the financial crisis of 2008, keep his job, and turn it into one of the largest banks in the world. All while his 2008 contemporaries were forced to sell their banks, resign in disgrace, or both.
In the run-up to the financial crisis, other Wall Street executives had been focused on maximizing short-term profits to maximize their own compensation. They kept this mentality as the crisis took hold and weren’t fully engaged in the success of the firms they led.
At the same time, Dimon had backed off from the risky ventures of his contemporaries and ensured that JP Morgan Chase’s balance sheet could withstand a crisis. Why did he do this? Because Dimon understood that he had to ensure his bank’s long-term success.
So, why do engaged and engaging leaders make such a difference?
Every team in an organization has a leader. It’s almost impossible for a leader to be engaging with their team if they’re not engaged themselves. Engaging leadership has a sort of trickle-down effect.
Mid-level leaders are the bridge between the executive leadership’s vision and the employees responsible for executing it. CEOs and other executive leaders are responsible for casting visions, whether they’re meant to be met from several months to several years into the future.
Individual employees are responsible for those day-to-day tasks that help bring that vision to life. Mid-level leaders must bridge the gap between those two different perspectives. That is, they translate the executive’s future-minded vision into actionable steps for employees to perform. To do that successfully, these leaders must be engaged in the vision.
To see this in action, consider the 2008 Financial Crisis again. Most banks in the early 2000s were headed by disengaged executives whose visions were premised on short-term profits.
On the other hand, at JP Morgan Chase, a mid-level leader like Charlie Scharf avoided those same risks and was honest with shareholders about the company’s dire financial situation. This demonstrates the importance of the right vision and shows how important mid-level leadership can be to executing the vision. It also shows how engaging leadership trickles down.
Engaging leadership leads to engaged employees. Employee engagement has been consistently shown to counteract low retention. Gallup’s 2023 State of the Global Workplace Report found that “engaged employees require a 31% pay increase to consider taking a job with a different organization; not engaged and actively disengaged employees, on average, want a 22% pay increase to change jobs.”
If someone is more engaged in their job, enjoys their work, and feels it has meaning, they’re more likely to stay.
How Does Leadership Engagement Affect Employee Engagement?
It’s helpful to have a working definition of employee engagement. Wilmar Schaufeli and his colleagues defined work engagement as “a positive, fulfilling, work related state of mind that is characterized by vigor, dedication, and absorption…”
The same paper found that employee engagement is maximized when an employee’s needs for autonomy, competence, relatedness, and meaning are satisfied.
Where does leadership engagement come into the picture? The Schaufeli research survey found that engaging leadership directly and indirectly promotes employee engagement.
It meets employees’ needs for autonomy, competence, relatedness, and meaning. The leaders that do this are empowering, strengthening, connecting, and inspiring.
This kind of engaging leadership increases employee engagement and individual and team performance while decreasing burnout and boredom.
Also, one of the studies in the Schaufeli survey showed that engaging leadership increased “job resources.” These resources include team spirit, role clarity, and task variation. Engaging leadership also decreased “job demands,” like work overload, emotional demands, and work-home interference.
By doing so, this engaging leadership created a work environment that met employees’ basic needs of autonomy, competence, relatedness, and meaning. That is, engaging the leaders themselves will meet the needs of their employees through how they interact with them.
Engaging leadership makes for better workplaces and better organizational cultures. But what is it that makes leadership engaging, and what can be done to help leaders develop those characteristics?
What Makes Leadership Engaging?
An engaging leader meets the four basic needs of their employees by empowering, strengthening, connecting, and inspiring them.
An empowering leader gives their team members freedom, responsibility, and a voice in the team’s overall direction. They might also give their team members assignments with expected results while letting the team members decide how they’ll achieve those results.
An empowering leader might also facilitate a weekly pulse meeting with their team to check their progress and gather their thoughts on how best to move forward. An empowering leader is never micromanaging or controlling and meets their teams’ needs for autonomy.
A strengthening leader facilitates their team members’ professional growth and delegates tasks to them in ways that play to their strengths.
A strengthening leader might assign more challenging assignments to push their team members to improve, never impeding their professional growth or denigrating their professional abilities. A strengthening leader meets their team members’ needs for competence.
A connecting leader creates a sense of team spirit and togetherness. They might do this by facilitating collaboration between their team members, particularly those with complementary strengths. They get to know their team members personally and encourage them to do the same with one another.
A connecting leader will never isolate their team members or encourage unhealthy competition. They meet their employees’ needs for relatedness.
An inspiring leader fosters a shared purpose and vision in their team members. They might do this by clarifying the organization’s values and mission, along with how their teams’ work contributes to them.
An inspiring leader would go out of their way to acknowledge their team member’s contributions to the overarching vision. An inspiring leader will never tell their team their work is meaningless, nor will they denigrate the organization’s values. They meet their team members’ needs for meaning.
If a leader is disengaged or simply going through the motions, they’ll have difficulty leading. They won’t be able to meet their employees’ psychological needs and keep them engaged. Disengaged leadership leads to disengaged employees.
Strategies for Boosting Leadership Engagement
Given the benefits engaged leaders can produce, what strategies can be implemented to maximize leadership engagement?
One method would be to place engaged leadership at the top of the organizational flowchart.
To see this more clearly, it’s helpful to look at some of the causes of disengagement, specifically for those in leadership roles. What practices can help leaders re-engage and thrive? One Gallup study, which focused on leadership engagement in Thailand, assessed the following primary causes:
Challenge: “Rapid Change”
According to the study’s analysis, “Many organizations in Thailand have undergone some kind of change in management, vision, mission, or performance goals over the last few years.”
Some variation of this statement is true in organizations worldwide, not just in Thailand. Economic uncertainty, technological development, changes in laws, and shifting geopolitical landscapes have created environments of rapid change in organizations, regardless of their sector.
Organizations have to shift visions and goals so they can adapt. This can end up disengaging some leaders if they don’t see the full perspective and can’t understand the need for change.
Solution: Clear Vision Casting
Executives need to ensure that their organization’s leaders are on board with the organizational vision and see it clearly. Doing so will help them navigate rapidly changing environments.
This can be achieved by ensuring leaders always know where they’re leading their teams and why they should meet their need for meaning. This is best accomplished with a clear, documented statement of the organization’s vision for the immediate future.
This statement should always tie back to the organization’s values. It should be updated regularly, but the interval can vary from quarterly to annually to anything in between, depending on the organization’s needs. Understanding the organization’s direction will help meet leaders’ and employees’ needs for meaning.
Challenge: “Excessive Control”
The second challenge that the Gallup study identified was overly controlling executives. It confirmed that this kind of leadership leads to feelings of disempowerment among other leaders. Again, this can be true across nations and cultures.
Solution: Autonomous Leaders
This is where empowering leadership becomes important. CEOs and other executives should give mid-level leaders autonomy. If the organization’s vision is clearly stated, managers should be trusted to execute that vision in the way they know best. These leaders are in their positions for a reason, so it’s imperative to trust them to do their jobs. This will help leaders meet their needs for autonomy.
Challenge: “Poor Preparation”
The final major challenge the study identified was poor preparation. It explained that many executives rose through the ranks relatively quickly because of performance in previous roles.
However, they didn’t necessarily receive training and growth opportunities to fit into their new responsibilities. Again, this can be a problem in organizations across the world.
Solution: Amplify Leaders’ Strengths
Solving this issue is simple: Enhance leaders’ strengths so they have everything they need to excel. They should be given roles and training that align with and are tailored to their strengths. This will meet their needs for competence.
The challenges we’ve discussed exist in most organizations. They each present opportunities for implementing leadership engagement strategies and demonstrating a different facet of engaging leadership. This will boost leadership retention by enabling mid-level managers and executives to be engaging leaders.
Subscribe to Our Newsletter
Join 80,000+ Fellow HR Professionals. Get expert recruiting and training tips straight
to your inbox, and become a better HR manager.