If You Want Engaged Employees, Develop Your Leaders

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I remember as a child playing the game tug-of-war with my friends. Each group was vying to get the other team to change their position by tugging as hard as possible. Often, we appointed one person to act as a distractor for the other team to try and throw off their concentration, hoping this would give our team the upper hand. Unfortunately, both groups had our heels dug in, and neither were willing to budge. In the end, none of us had much success moving the other (either by force or distraction), and we were all physically exhausted. Letting go of the rope and relinquishing control usually concluded the game.

Think about your professional and personal relationships. Positive and negative conflict (i.e., the tug-of-war) is a natural part of relationships. I’m sure you can recount when you tried to change someone’s feelings, thoughts, or behaviors about something and ended up physically and emotionally exhausting yourself (and the other person) during the conflict. The best way to successfully change someone’s behavior is to change your own behavior. The same can be said for leaders. Trying to change employee behavior or actions will prove fruitless unless leaders are willing to change their behavior first. But how can they do this?

Developing leaders who nurture a healthy culture

The most important job of a leader is to create a culture where employees can thrive, feel comfortable contributing and asking questions, and pull together toward a common purpose. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard managers tell me they want employees to bring them problems rather than hiding them under the rug. Yet the culture wasn’t conducive to open discussion about issues, so employees were reluctant to divulge work problems for fear of retaliation or being disregarded.

To create a high-performing culture, leaders must facilitate and cultivate a healthy and thriving environment for all employees. For many leaders, culture is a top priority, with 64 percent of CEOs saying culture is critical to an organization’s success. This is excellent as it shows an understanding of the importance of culture and how influential it is in driving a company’s bottom line. Unfortunately, for too many organizations, their leaders are not walking the talk.

There are three drivers of culture leaders must understand to create the high-performing organization they desire.

  • Behaviors: An employee’s behavior is how they conduct themselves in the workplace.
  • Experiences: In reaction to specific behaviors, experiences (negative or positive) are created.
  • Beliefs: A belief about an organization is the perception that actions influence reward and reprimand, or what is acceptable or unacceptable, given the organization’s culture.

When one of these drivers change, the others change as well. In the example above, if a leader changes their behavior when an employee brings them an issue by listening, asking questions, and supporting the individual in solving the problem, the employee’s experience will change. The more positive experience will, over time, create the belief that it is safe to surface issues. As a response to the leader’s change in behavior, employee behavior changed, leading to experiences and beliefs that nurture a high-performing culture.

The leader’s role in creating self-directed employees

A healthy work culture results in self-directed employees who believe they’re responsible for their actions and accountable for the outcome of their actions – the kind of employees every leader wants. When organizations don’t invest in developing their leaders or culture, other-directed employees can emerge. These employees lack a sense of responsibility and actively engage in culturally destructive behaviors that affect an organization’s overall function. Your leaders can help create self-directed employees by identifying the actions and behaviors they want to see in their employees and actively creating experiences that support your team’s beliefs and behaviors.

Supporting a plan for success

As a leader, you play a significant role in creating your employees’ experiences and influencing their behaviors. And your organization must develop your leaders’ skills to do that successfully.

I’ve spent years facilitating solutions and coaching organizations to support growth and success. Connect with me to find out which solutions can put your organization on the fast-track to identifying and developing effective leaders.

POSTED ON: Leadership, Productivity, self-improvement
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