What does it take to Lead an Engaged Team?

Leadership is hard. Most would agree that the single biggest key to succeeding in business is having a great team… and a great team starts with leadership, but after that it gets fuzzy.

What does it really take to be a great leader?

Is it being charismatic and communicating well (and frequently)?

Is it being a great visionary and having a clear picture of where you’re going (short term and long term)?

Is it being approachable and relatable and having your team’s trust? Honestly caring about them?

Is it supporting your team so they can do their best work?

Arguably it’s all of the above. In Gino Wickman’s book ‘How to be a Great Boss’ he makes a strong case for the following:

“A great boss creates a work environment where people are fully engaged and highly accountable.”

We’re nibbling around the edges of this challenge, but it would still help to have some more discrete ideas on HOW to be a great boss / leader.

Start with Employee Engagement

Another way to look at this is in terms of Employee Engagement. I was recently reminded of this by an article in Inc. Magazine – Why You Can’t Buy Employee Engagement by Bill Fotsch. He starts the article by pointing out that the Gallup Organization created a comprehensive way to measure employee engagement more than 30 years ago. They came up with 12 questions that do a solid job of indicating if an organization has engaged employees.

The initial outcome, from 30 years ago, is that only about 30% of the workforce feels engaged… and that percentage hasn’t really changed since then. The good news is that there’s plenty of room for improvement.

Questions that indicate employee engagement…

Here’s a list of the 12 Questions from Gallup (the Gallup Q12).

  1. I know what is expected of me at work.
  2. I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right.
  3. At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day.
  4. In the past seven days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good work.
  5. My supervisor, or someone at work, seems to care about me as a person.
  6. There is someone at work who encourages my development.
  7. At work, my opinions seem to count.
  8. The mission or purpose of my company makes me feel my job is important.
  9. My associates or fellow employees are committed to doing quality work.
  10. I have a best friend at work.
  11. In the past six months, someone at work has talked to me about my progress.
  12. This past year, I have had opportunities at work to learn and grow.

Overall it’s a pretty straightforward list and it seems pretty simple. But simple doesn’t mean easy. Gallup (and lots of others) have done years of study to validate this list of questions and if your team generally scores well (strongly agrees) with these questions, then it’s pretty safe to assume that you have an engaged team and solid leadership.

How does this apply to improving leadership?

To make this more practical and tangible, you need to do something with it. I’m sure Gallup (and other companies) would be glad to work with you to survey your team and figure out next steps. And that might be a great idea.

But you could also start by reviewing this list of questions and start brainstorming ways to address it within your team or your company. You could start by asking your team what they think… or if you already know that you fall short on some of these, then you can start implementing some new ideas that would likely lead to more positive answers in your environment.

Does everyone on the team really know what’s expected of them at work? When’s the last time you addressed expectations – not only on what they should be doing, but what’s acceptable in terms of an outcome?

I talked with a client of mine the other day and they shared that they’ve been really frustrated lately because things aren’t getting done when they expect. When I asked if they had shared those specific dates and outcomes, it was clear that at least part of the problem was a lack of communication.

On a similar note, when’s the last time you, as the leader, recognized each of your team members for positive contributions? If it’s not a regular ongoing thing, it doesn’t really count.

Does this engagement / leadership stuff really matter?

As I mentioned before, the list of 12 questions from Gallup are pretty straightforward. The concept’s not difficult to understand… but it’s definitely not easy to truly incorporate. You have to evolve an overall culture that supports all of these ideas on a consistent basis. And for most organizations, that’s a tall order.

And does it really matter all that much? Obviously engaged employees are happier and enjoy what they’re doing – but does that really translate to anything important?

According to a recent study by Happy Or Not they found the following:

Highly engaged employees lead to increased productivity, improved performance, higher profitability, better customer satisfaction, lower absenteeism, reduced turnover, and a positive work environment. They also contribute to the overall success and growth of the organization. 

And in case you’re wondering, these studies have found that the average improvement on Profitability is 21% and Productivity is 17%. Even ignoring the touchy-feely happy employee stuff, that seems like a worthwhile outcome to pursue!

What do you think? Are your employees engaged? Are you consistently leading your team in a positive way? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Shawn Kinkade Kansas City Business Coach