2 Surprising Ways to Be a Better Leader

Sara Baker Headshot

by Dr. Sara Baker

A leadership enthusiast, website and elearning developer, and believer that everyone deserves a workplace that builds and supports its people.

Don't wait for someone else to be the positive force of leadership that brings good to the world, do it yourself!

"If you want to build a ship, don't drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea."

- Antoine de Saint-Exupéry,  French writer and pioneering aviator

The importance of purposeful work

It’s no secret that people are more productive when they have a sense of purpose. But what if you don’t know why your job exists? It can be hard to get excited about work or even want to do it at all. This is where the notion of “purposeful work” comes in: finding meaning and significance in the tasks we perform every day. When we see our jobs as a way to make positive contributions to society, then everything changes—our energy levels go up, our creativity soars, and motivation becomes effortless!

The moment your workforce sees their jobs as part of a larger purpose beyond paychecks and benefits, they become more engaged and productive. Employees who are intrinsically motivated and engaged are more likely to be high performers.


The importance of developing your employees

To achieve full engagement, leaders must not just pay lip service to the idea of development but rather develop their employees in a way that’s practical and purposeful. Developing your team members means taking a holistic view of people—seeing them (and treating them) as complex beings with many facets to their personalities, not just workers to be managed.

When you see each team member as an individual and treat him or her as such, it engages your employees on multiple levels and ignites passion.

Companies with the highest levels of engagement have 70% engaged team members as opposed to the average of 36%. To get there, leaders can focus on creating purposeful work and developing each individual. This requires seeing every worker—even top performers—as someone who needs personal growth.

One way leaders can provide a sense of purpose is by offering opportunities for each individual team member to engage in ongoing development.

Providing opportunities for continual learning is another way a leader can get their team engaged. Being “engaged” at work can be defined as being actively involved and committed to the organization's goals with enough energy to put forth discretionary effort above and beyond what they need to do for their current job. Employees who are “not engaged” can be described as not being involved in the goals or committed to the organization and therefore only doing enough not to get fired.

Being able to develop your employees will have a dramatic impact on their ability to perform well. Providing opportunities for personal development can help create more engagement and satisfaction among your team members.


Why it's important to have engaged workers

Engaged workers are more creative, productive and loyal. They make an average of 22% higher profits over a 3-year period according to the most recent research by Gallup than those that are not engaged. Engaged employees have 50% less absenteeism and 37% fewer safety incidents than those who aren’t engaged.

Engaged workers are 3 times as likely to refer a friend or colleague for employment at their organization. Engaged employees can also help you recruit top talent by sharing information about your company and the values that drive it with potential hires.

It’s clear that engaged workers are better workers and leading an engaged team will help you achieve more results than ever before.


Implementing these techniques will increase worker engagement levels drastically!

You will be surprised how much positive effect you can actually have on your team. The first step to becoming a great leader is realizing the ability you have in motivating your teammates and then learning how to leverage that power for their benefit.

Research shows up to 70% of an employee's motivation comes from their manager, while only 30% stems from internal motivations; which means there are plenty of opportunities for us to take advantage of this by being better at managing our teams.


Leaders Can Make a Difference

The good news is that leaders do have the ability to motivate and influence their team a tremendous amount.

Your job as the leader isn't to just tell people what tasks they need to do. Your job is so much more and to be the best leader that you can be, you need to understand what people want from their leaders and how you can influence them.

Help them to get out of the rut, forever waiting for small snippets of time away from work to be able to enjoy what they are doing. Help them find a way to enjoy what they are doing at work and feel like it is purposeful and worthwhile.

It is possible for leaders to help make employees' work lives so REWARDING that they don't feel like they need to escape from work!

What?! I know, it's shocking, but It's true. Promise, I'm not making this up.


New Insights Into Your Potential

Proof:  Let's begin by looking at Gallup's research on the ability of the manager to influence (positively or negatively) the performance of their team through engagement. (And yes, I quote Gallup often, because they have #fabulousleadershipresources - no offense, Harvard Business Publishing, I love you, too).

Gallup determined (through extensive worldwide research) that managers account for up to 70% of the variance in an employee's engagement level. AND they found employee engagement is strongly linked to performance. See where this is going?

According to Gallup, higher employee engagement is strongly tied to higher performance outcomes such as:

  • higher customer ratings,
  • increased profitability,
  • increased productivity,
  • lower turnover,
  • fewer safety incidents,
  • less internal theft,
  • lower absenteeism,
  • fewer patient safety incidents and
  • increased quality of products.

Simply put, leaders can positively affect the employee's engagement level which then leads to improved performance.

In other words, engaged employees typically are more productive and show increased work quality when compared to workers who are unengaged.


Which Leader Are You?

Let's look at an illustration to help put the numbers in perspective.

In the diagram below, you can see how a single employee performs with different managers.

Let's assume an employee can perform up to 100% of his/her potential.

The chart shows a single employee who performs at a baseline of 30% without any managerial influence. So this means that whether the manager is there or not, the employee is giving that 30% that is solely based on his/her internal motivation and work ethic.

See how the employee's total performance is affected by different managers, with the weakest leader on the left and the stronger leader on the right?

Manager #1 on the left is a weak manager who only:

    • Motivates the employee to give an extra 20% effort above what the employee would give WITHOUT the manager.
    • This leaves the employee with 50% untapped POTENTIAL.

Manager #2 in the middle is a little better and is able to:

    • Motivate the employee to give an extra 40% above what the employee would give WITHOUT the manager.
    • This leaves the employee with 30% untapped POTENTIAL.

Manager #3 on the right is a much stronger manager who is able to:

    • Motivate the employee to give an extra 60% above what the employee would give WITHOUT the manager.
    • This leaves the employee with 0% untapped POTENTIAL, meaning that this manager has maximized the employee's potential as much as possible.

What all of this tells us is that the team leader can have a profoundly positive effect on how engaged employees are at work.


Now That You Know...

Your leadership and the type of work environment that is provided can make ALL the difference (or at least 70% of the difference) in an employee being a no-good, horrible, hate-this-job employee or being an awesome, love-this-job employee.

Look at the amount of BLUE on the graph below. That's the amount you can positively OR negatively affect. Never again can any leader say she cannot influence employees to be better.

Most importantly, YOU can make a POSITIVE DIFFERENCE in how well your team performs and how much they love their jobs.

It's all about engagement. Is your team engaged? Are you maximizing your ability to influence 70% of an employee's motivation and performance?

Additionally, research tells us that only 1 in 5 employees feel like they are managed in a motivating way.

That means 4 out of 5 employees do NOT feel like they are managed in a motivating way.

So, the odds are that 4 out of 5 of the people reading this might need a little support in engaging their teams, which leads to motivation, which then leads to high performance and has the wonderful side effect of helping employees love their jobs.


Where to Start with Your Team

The top reasons for poor engagement reported by employees are:

    1. lack of purpose and meaningfulness in their work and
    2. a boss that doesn't care about the employee's individual development.

Starting place #1: Purposeful Work

You can get started improving the engagement of your team by:

    • Helping your team understand how their daily work aligns to a larger purpose.
    • Help them to see that what they do is important and contributes to the greater good.

People want to be part of something bigger than themselves that makes the world a better place. Help your team see how their work is doing just that.

Starting place #2: Developing Your Team

Equally important is helping each of your team members to develop. You can do this by:

    • Spending time focusing on the strengths of your team as individuals.
    • Help them to see strengths in themselves they may not have realized.
    • Provide the future vision for how developing those strengths could help them grow in their career.
    • Provide opportunities for your team to take on stretch assignments that are in their area of interest and strength but which are challenging enough to push them to grow.
    • Be careful that stretch assignments don't overwhelm by creating a safe team environment where people feel free to take calculated risks and know that they will be supported by you if things don't work out perfectly.
    • Coach your team members, have honest two-way conversations focused on growth and development and give meaningful feedback that is designed to help them be their best.

Sometimes people don't even realize what they are capable of doing until someone points it out. Be sincere and caring. Build your team up, trust them, support them through tough times and make that 70% count for something great.

Your work as the leader matters. Make it matter 70%.




Check out our other blog posts for more insights into making the most of your leadership journey.


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