Five Leadership Skills that Increase Engagement

Sept. 2, 2005
Few issues are more important to the success of a safety process than having supervisors and employees who are actively engaged and committed to it. As management consultant Keith Ayers points out, while much has been written on the subject of leadership, Gallup research shows that only 29 percent of the U.S. work force is engaged.

The role of great leaders, he stresses, is to get people excited about and committed to their organization's vision. He explains: "We need to understand about the role of the leader in employee engagement. Your leaders are either increasing engagement, or they are decreasing it. There is no middle ground. Everything a leader does that impacts on employees either increases or diminishes engagement."

The Truly Engaged Employee

Ayers subscribes to the Whole Person Model, in which all motivation comes from within the person. More specifically, motivation comes from the needs or values levels of this model. In other words, people do what they do either to satisfy a need, or because they believe they should it is consistent with their values.

Ayers points out: "Full engagement rarely comes from just satisfying employees needs. Receiving a pay rise or bonus, extra benefits or even a promotion can have a temporary impact on engagement, but it doesn't last long. The fully engaged employee is one whose needs and values are aligned with their work and their organization."

Five Leadership Skills

After almost 30 years of research, Ayers says he has determined that there are five essential skills that leaders must have if they are going to succeed in increasing employee engagement. They are:

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 behaviors, and the most important of these behaviors 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?

Mentoring. The relationship between the employee and his or her immediate manager is a critical factor in how engaged the employee will be. Employees need feedback. They need to know how they are performing, not just once a year at review time, and be able to discuss their needs for growth and development. This is a must have skill for effective leaders; to give and receive feedback, and to coach and counsel employees in a way that increases engagement and commitment.

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 to be successful, 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.

Alignment. Engaged employees feel aligned with their organizations' 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 organization. The effective leader also understands that gaining their team's commitment to the organization's values increases the team's performance standards as well as their engagement.

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 capitalizes on all of these strengths. The leaders 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."

Ayers notes: "All of these skills are needed to fully engage employees. If any of them are missing, engagement will be diminished. 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 they are insiders, 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 very many managers, and they can be learned. But they can't be learned effectively during a single training event. Developing these skills for many managers requires the unlearning of old habits, often habits of a lifetime. So it will take time, reinforcement and practice, and a serious commitment from both the organization and each manager."

Keith Ayers is a consultant and speaker who works with CEOs and senior executive teams who want to develop an organizational culture that is supportive of their business initiatives and impacts their bottom line. As CEO of Integro Leadership Institute, Ayers has had the opportunity to work with executive teams across the globe. For more information, visit

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