Improving Employee Engagement Starts with Senior Leadership

coaching-leadership-employee-engagementLevels of employee engagement are at an all-time low. Numerous studies, especially those conducted by the Gallup organization reveal the serious adverse impact on business results. Jim Clifton, Gallup CEO has clearly stated that engagement levels are not likely to improve until business leaders deal with “bad bosses” and require them to be more accountable.


Leadership Styles

However, current studies indicate that it may actually be senior leadership that is the source of the problem—and thus, the solution. Leadership style under various names has been studied extensively. Here are two examples:

1. Authentic leadership which has been shown to have a direct impact on employee engagement. Authentic leadership found its highest levels of acceptance since Bill George’s 2003 book, Authentic Leadership. While different theorists have different slants on the concept, most agree that authentic leaders are self-aware and genuine.

2. Transformational leadership has been shown to have an impact on employee satisfaction which positively influences engagement levels. Transformational leadership is a style of leadership where the leader works with employees to identify the needed change, creating a vision to guide the change through inspiration, and executing the change in tandem with committed members of the group.

Impact on Employee Engagement

These studies suggest that the following types of leadership behaviors have greatest impact on employee engagement:

– Being transparent,
– Enrolling employees in change activities,
– Involving employees,
– Aligning employees’ roles with organizational results,
– Rewarding and recognizing employees.


Of all the styles that a leader can utilize, a coach approach has the widest application and yields the most positive results. I have advocated a coach-based management approach for decades and devote a chapter to that subject in my book, Turning Good People Into Top Talent. Coaching helps employees do better work by focusing on each person’s unique strengths and weakness. They instruct when necessary and offer plenty of feedback.

Helping employees develop along a career path becomes the primary motivation. However, a coach approach must begin at the top of the organization with senior management sponsorship, and demonstrating and modeling the process. Both authentic and transformational styles of leadership are employee-focused, and use a form of coaching that keeps a constant channel of communication open.

Employees thrive under such a leader because they feel valued and challenged in a positive way. In turn, they rise to the challenge and put forth their best effort.

However there are challenges that must be addressed for leaders to consistently use a coach approach. Coaching is a slow, ongoing process, which minimizes short-term failures for long-term gain. A long-term, patient view is required for this approach to pay-off.

Work of Leaders

I have written a series of articles about the Work of Leaders process which can accessed by clicking here.

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