5 Leadership Behaviors Loyal Employees Trust

November 14, 2012 at 3:23 PM

Is any relationship truly ever completely reciprocal?   Not really, because one party always wields more power over the other. This is a human behavior dynamic that is tough to ignore, especially when we look deeper at workplace culture and team dynamics. There are leaders and followers, loved ones and lovers, employers and employees. We might like to think equality, common goals and unquestioned commitment are the norm but it simply doesn’t happen. It’s true in personal life and in the workplace. I recently spent a weekend at a high school graduation where teachers glowingly described the fairly small class as a group of leaders. Although parents and kids basked in the glow of achievement and praise, it was clear that some in the group were more equal than others, more accomplished, more confident and composed. While the speeches were heartwarming they seemed insufficiently realistic: clearly not all in that class are destined for success, and not all will be leaders. Despite what we say as a society about equality, the best we can offer is what seems like taking the easy way out: the promise of equal opportunity.

Sure, leadership is a process by which one person influences thought, attitudes, and behaviors.  However, the leader who sets the direction, sees what lies ahead, visualizes what can be achieved, encourages, and inspires is sadly often missing.  I believe that there is an arrogance of being different at the top.  It’s hard for us to imagine someone in an unrelated field having answers for health care for example.  But if you are a leader that is probably where many answers for us lie.  Leaders today talk a lot about loyalty, retention, and the business value of empowering employees to be brand ambassadors. Nonetheless, research literature and blogs abound which discuss the erosion of employee loyalty to the workplace, especially among Gen X and Y. The prescriptive leadership and talent management advice runs the risk, from changes in compensation structures to more flexibility in work schedules, team building and more, all aimed at encouraging employee engagement with the employer’s brand. But the worry persists and with good reason: can the damage inflicted on employee trust by years of layoffs, pay cuts, IPOs and taming benefits be overcome?  The change in company climate will undoubtedly be reflected in the employees, a reality that leadership is experiencing firsthand.  So the question becomes, how will leadership manage them?  They’ll need to feed these new millionaires’ entrepreneurial mindsets, giving them time and autonomy to work on their own projects. They’ll have to become expert at stroking egos while not setting up cultures that give the lottery winners on staff too much sway. And they’ll need to keep people from checking the stock price every 10 minutes, and be willing to say goodbye quickly to those who don’t want to stay.  So, is there a way to increase loyalty and engagement in the workplace? I believe the Leader beyond me role is expanding.

I believe there is a way to increase loyalty and engagement through me, and it requires a near-equal exchange of information about the business’s goals and challenges and a shared sense of the value of work. This true for CEOs and for employees alike. It’s a two-way street of respect and trust.  All great leaders know getting there is the challenge, of course. Here are 5 behaviors for leaders and hiring managers to adopt when struggling to keep employees happy and loyal:

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·       Tell the truth. Not everyone is a star. Pick out those with leadership or other valued talent potential and nurture them. This will come back to the business as these individuals, in turn, nurture other workers.

·       Communicate roles and responsibilities. Provide a path to success not only for those with leadership promise but for all employees. Sometimes this will mean difficult changes, but remember the most important skill of a leader: never surprise an employee with bad news. Have a development plan for all, and a get-well plan for those whose performance lags. Make sure everyone knows the plan.

·       Create a workplace culture that values real people relationships. For many employees, workgroup relationships and relationships between managers and workers drive engagement and loyalty more effectively than foosball machines, logo T-shirts, and Thirsty Thursday gatherings.

·       Be fair and open. This does not mean treat everyone equally – it means have transparent processes for managing and leading. Employees are more likely to respond positively to change when the process used to manage change is fair.

·       Model the behaviors you seek. Just as the headmaster at the high school did, accept your responsibility as a leader and act with engagement, commitment and responsibility. Do this every day.

Seven leadership skills that are consistently viewed as most important now and in the future include: leading employees, strategic planning, inspiring commitment, managing change, resourcefulness, being a quick learner, and doing whatever it takes.  The fact of the matter is that leaders lack the skills they need to be effective today. Of the top five needs inspiring commitment, strategic planning, leading people, resourcefulness, and employee development only resourcefulness is considered be a top ten skill. This is what some call ‘the current leadership deficit.’  Leaders are not adequately prepared for the future. Even though today’s leadership capacity is insufficient to meet future leadership requirements there are still four of the most important future skills we cannot ignore: leading people, strategic planning, inspiring commitment, and managing change.  These are among the weakest competencies for today’s leaders. The leadership gap ends up appearing notably in high-priority, high-stakes areas. Other areas where there is a significant gap between the needed and existing skill levels are: employee development, balancing personal life and work, and decisiveness.  So that, when important competencies are found to be weak spots, targeted development initiatives can be put into place.

Companies we learn, need to be able to use their specific data to better understand their particular strengths, challenges, current leadership deficit, and anticipated future leadership gaps. I believe we have done a good job of raising the alarm about the limitations of current leadership skills, identified high-priority competencies, and flagged areas of particular concern. This information can help senior management facilitate conversations about the identification, development, and retention of key leadership talent.  For organizations to build leadership strength, they first need to know what elements of leadership are needed and valued in the organization and for what roles. This may be an obvious point, but it is one that has organizations spending enormous sums of money and time trying to define needed competencies.  For the framework one supports, one needs to rely on the competencies measured by Benchmarks, a tool that assesses the characteristics of successful executives. After all, fine-tuning or customizing an organization’s competency model may be a needed and valuable task as organizations build a leadership strategy and create development initiatives; however, the following 20 skills and perspectives have been identified and refined though research and work with leaders and organizations:

·       Balancing personal life and work – balancing work priorities with personal life so that neither is neglected.

·       Being a quick learner – quickly learning new technical or business knowledge.   

·       Building and mending relationships – responding to co-workers and external parties diplomatically.

·       Compassion and sensitivity – showing understanding of human needs. 

·        Composure – remaining calm during difficult times.

·       Confronting people – acting resolutely when dealing with problems.

·       Culturally adaptable – adjusting to ethnic/regional expectations regarding Human Resource practices and effective team process.

·       Decisiveness – preferring doing or acting over thinking about the situation.

·       Doing whatever it takes – persevering under adverse conditions.

·       Employee development – coaching and encouraging employees to develop in their career.

·       Inspiring commitment – recognizing and rewarding employees’ achievements.

·       Leading people – directing and motivating people.

·       Managing change – using effective strategies to facilitate organizational change.

·       Managing one’s career – using professional relationships (such as networking, coaching, and mentoring) to promote one’s career.

·       Participative management – involving others (such as listening, communicating, informing) in critical initiatives.

·       Putting people at ease – displaying warmth and using humor appropriately.

·       Resourcefulness – working effectively with top management.

·       Respecting individuals’ differences - effectively working with and treating people of varying backgrounds (culture, gender, age, educational background) and perspectives fairly.

·       Self-awareness – recognizing personal limits and strengths.

·       Strategic planning – translating vision into realistic business strategies, including long-term objectives.

Results have shown that leaders lack the skills they need to be effective today.  So, even if nothing were to change in the future, today’s leaders are not as skilled as they should be to effectively manage current challenges. Bear in mind that in 2009, leaders may have felt even less capable in these key areas. Since there was a dramatic economic downturn in 2008, recent events likely have required even more of leaders. It might be particularly worthwhile for leaders to return to the financial sector for addressing woes of forfeiture.  Just like we can only continue to speculate whether leadership skill will improve as people become forced to deal with new, difficult experiences or if the leadership deficit has become larger.

Comparison of Leadership Skill Importance: Now versus Future (5 years from now)

Now                                                                                                    Future

(1)   73%         Leading people                                               89%     Leading people                   

(2)   64%         Strategic planning                                          86%     Strategic planning                 

(3)   63%         Managing change                                           86%     Inspiring commitment                       

(4)   64%         Resourcefulness                                             82%     Managing change   

(5)   64%         Doing whatever it takes                                82%     Resourcefulness             

(6)   62%         Inspiring commitment                                    81%     Participative management             

(7)   60%         Being a quick learner                                     79%     Being a quick learner             

(8)   60%         Decisiveness                                                               79%     Employee development                        

(9)   60%         Building and mending relationships              77%     Doing whatever it takes

(10) 57%         Composure                                                      76%     Balancing personal life and


 [i]*The percentage figures denote the percentage of managers who rated skill using the top 2 points on the provided rating scale.


[i] 2009 Center for Creative Leadership.


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