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The Impact of Leadership on Employee Engagement

Many organizations recognize that highly engaged employees create dramatically higher levels of customer satisfaction. Highly engaged employees are less likely to quit and leave — or to quit and stay. A workplace with engaged employees is 2 – 3 times safer, more productive, creative, and producing much higher quality.

Lots of organizations are measuring employee engagement levels through regular surveys. They’ll often adjust compensation, benefits, working conditions, schedules, provide childcare, or focus on work-life balance to increase engagement.

Zenger Folkman research clearly shows that one variable is the best predictor of employee engagement, satisfaction, and commitment. And that’s the daily leadership provided in the workplace. People join organizations and quit their leaders.

To increase leadership effectiveness that increases employee engagement there’s often a debate about which works best: a management push or leadership pull? This leads right into the “tyranny-of-the-OR” trap. This black and white thinking sees it as one or the other. It’s especially tempting to believe that creating an inspiring and motivating environment through a leadership pull approach will lead to much higher employee engagement than management push.

Here’s where Zenger Folkman’s extensive research shines a light on this vital performance topic. In his blog, The Push and Pull of Employee Engagement at Ivy Exec, Joe Folkman reports on the results of a study of 160,576 employees reporting into 20,597 teams or work groups and the effectiveness of their immediate leader’s effectiveness on pushing and pulling. These surprising conclusions emerged:

“If a leader was not highly skilled (at the top quartile) at either pushing or pulling the average employee, engagement scores for that group were at the 42nd percentile. In other words they were below average.

 If a leader was highly skilled at pushing (e.g., top quartile) but not at pulling the average employee, engagement scores for that group were at the 61st percentile … on the other hand, if a leader was highly skilled at pulling (e.g., top quartile) but not at pushing, the average employee engagement scores for that group were at the 63rd percentile. This is better, but not by much.

The magic formula here is when leaders were highly skilled (e.g., top quartile) at both pushing and pulling. When this occurred the average employee engagement scores for that group were at the 76th percentile. These work groups were at the coveted top quartile level in terms of their satisfaction, engagement, and commitment.”

This surprising research is similar to what I blogged a few weeks ago in Powerful Combinations: Drive for Results and Builds Relationships. When both management push for results and leadership pull of building relationships are used, the odds of being rated as an extraordinary leader jumps from 12 – 14% to 72%!!

So we need to develop “and-also” skills rather than an “either-or” approach for highly engaged employees. As the Danish physicist and winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics for his contributions to understanding atomic structure and quantum mechanics observed, “the opposite of a correct statement is a false statement. But the opposite of a profound truth may well be another profound truth.”