Whose Job Is Leadership, Anyway?

by Dan Pontefract

How does the current state of leadership affect employee engagement? What is the effect of both good and bad leadership as it pertains to organizational health and engagement?

From a leadership perspective, who actually is responsible for employee engagement?

“Who is responsible for the act of leadership?”

According to Hay Group, a global management consulting firm, 63 per cent of CEOs and other members of the top team reckon it’s the top leaders in the company who are “chiefly responsible for staff engagement and leadership,” but only 38 per cent of those outside the C-Suite agree that the top tier is responsible. Now that is a disturbing leadership and engagement paradox.

Is job satisfaction correlated to employee engagement? Or is job satisfaction more correlated to life satisfaction as per the research conducted by Rain, Lane and Steiner? And if it is — if job satisfaction is akin to life satisfaction — are leaders paying enough attention to their employees such that they are in fact caring about their lives, connecting in ways that allow them to enact life-work balance and a sense of community, and a sense of belonging with their colleagues? Do today’s leaders actually care about the person that is doing the work? Do they even know their name let alone what provides them with job satisfaction?

Between 1985 and 2005, the number of Americans who stated they felt satisfied with the way life was treating them decreased by roughly 30 per cent. Even more shocking was the number of dissatisfied people; this increased by nearly 50 per cent. The reasons appear to be related to Americans’ declining attachments to friends and family, lower participation in social and civic activities, and diminished trust in political institutions.

Rather than life imitating art, is life imitating the organization instead? As levels of employee engagement have dropped and subsequently stagnated over the past thirty years, it’s no wonder the perceived quality of life has decreased as well.

This begs the question whether today’s leaders know if members of their direct report teams have children or not? It’s cheeky, I know, but it’s a valid question. Does leadership equate to cardboard cut-out relationships or is it an engaging and personal liaison opportunity?

If employees are enthusiastic, committed, passionate, and generally into their work, isn’t it time leaders of any stripe, at any step in the hierarchy chain, acted with more humility and were less parochial?

Does the health of an organization and its overall engagement correlate to productivity and in return financial results?

Does it correlate to customer loyalty, employee turnover and retention? While the questions may sound rhetorical, why do command-and-control tactics dominate the workspace versus “cultivate and coordinate” as per MIT Sloan School of Management professor Tom Malone’s suggestion from his book The Future of Work?

Have we not reached, therefore, a professional paradox in the workplace?

Shouldn’t we be advocating for and developing a more engaged leader?

Has the organization become so blind that, within the underbelly of the top leadership ranks, a professional mutiny is in the works? Perhaps it’s already in motion. A mutiny that manifests in human capital contradiction where employees are either punching in their time to simply get through the day or they are in eternal job searches hunting for the Holy Grail organization that actually cares about their well-being.

And leaders, who sit ignorant to the brewing storm, continue to commit crimes of managerial misdemeanor.

The job that people perform is central, or at least a large part of their personal identity.

Picture yourself meeting someone for the first time at a cocktail party or a community gathering or your child’s first soccer practice. What do you inevitably ask within the first two minutes of your initial conversation?

“So, what do you do? Where do you work? How long have you been there?”

When your new acquaintance looks sheepish or worse nosedives into an apoplectic rant about their place of work, you might do one of three things:

  • Wince, smile and nod, and affirm that their place of work is awful;
  • Agree to never buy the company’s product or service due to this diabolical repudiation; and/or
  • Hold your breath, wait for the conversation to end, and find the nearest safe harbor as soon as you can.

Employees in today’s organization are expecting more from leaders than what is currently being offered. Sadly and paradoxically, 69 per cent of executives agree they too feel engagement and leadership is a problem in their organization.

It is time to connect the dots between leadership, engagement, learning, technology and collaboration. It is time for the act of leadership to be carried out by everyone in the organization.

In my opinion, it is time for a Flat Army in our organizations.

Dan Pontefract is the author of Flat Army: Creating a Connected and Engaged Organization and is Chief Envisioner at TELUS. He’s currently at work on his next book.

Reach him at www.danpontefract.com or on Twitter @dpontefract

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