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What will make you a great leader that drives both business results and employee engagement?

Harvard Business review published (June 2017) an article  from  Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman where the examination of 360-degree assessment data from more than 60,000 leaders showed that only 13% of the them can both drive business results and create an engaged, fun-to-work team. By further deep-diving into the data set they found that six behaviours were common to these high performers:

  1. Communicates clear strategy and direction
    1. Leaders who communicate well and provide clear direction have a much more engaged team.
  2. Inspires and motivates
    1. Inspiring behavior unleashes the energy within people to do their best work.
  1. Establishes stretch goals
    1. When stretch goals are collaboratively set with a team, amazing things happen. Work becomes fun. Everyone is all in. People feel valued and competent.
  1. Has high integrity and inspires trust
    1. If a leader who is not trusted sets stretch goals, team members will often assume they are being manipulated and taken advantage of by their manager.
  1. Develops others
    1. Developing others has the twofold impact of elevating performance and creating a culture that is fun and engaging. It also attracts more people who want to work in it.
  1. Is coachable
    1. Leaders who ask for feedback from others and work to make improvements are highly respected. Their coachability is an example to everyone.

Many of these dual effect generating behaviours can be considered ”soft”, dealing with the human side of leadership. Indeed this observation is further strengthened by Gallup’s  James Harter and Amy Adkins. In Harvard Business Review article (April 2015) they discuss about the results of two studies both made to more than 7 000 adults in the US on their relationship with their managers. They summarize that according to the employees great managers are able to create crucial links between talent, engagement, and vital business outcomes such as profitability and productivity. As a conclusion they describe three manger’s behaviours that drive both better employee engagement and business results:

  1. Communicate Richly
    1. “employees who feel as though their manager is invested in them as people are more likely to be engaged.”
    2. “The best managers understand that each person they manage is different
  1. Base Performance Management on Clear Goals
    1. clarity of expectations is perhaps the most basic of employee needs ”
  1. Focus on Strengths over Weaknesses
    1. “The most powerful thing a manager can do for employees is to place them in jobs that allow them to use the best of their natural talents”

If we broaden our view from business goals it seems intuitively true that an engaging working environment facilitated by a great leader has positive effects at home too. As a matter of fact this is not even a question of intuition. Several studies worldwide suggests that the mental well-being at work is far more important than physical well-being and that when you are feeling well at work you treat your loved ones with respect and care.

Should governments put much more focus on solving the issue of bad leadership by guiding and incentivifying both private and public organisations to develop their leaders’ soft skills?

At least in Finland they do. In the new Finnish national core curriculum (OPS2016), the learning goals of the transversal competences are described as seven competence areas. The areas are

  1. Thinking and learning to learn
  2. Cultural literacy, communication and expression
  3. Managing daily life, taking care of oneself and others
  4. Multiliteracy
  5. ICT-skills
  6. Entrepreneurial and work life skills
  7. Participation and building sustainable future.

Instead of having subject matter learning goals high in the ranking list, Finnish authorities are guiding the schools to take further actions in developing pupils’s and students’ soft skills. When comparing the summary suggestions of the two HBR articles and the seven competence areas set by the Finnish Government I feel proud of the strategy paper of Finnish learning and education. It shows that the authorities have carefully listened to the needs of the changing World and articulated clear goals.

What is maybe the biggest difference in HBR articles addressed and the Ranking list of goals of the Finnish education system is the emphasis on understanding and developing diversity skills. Native english speakers seldom have a real understanding of what lingual diversity really feel. When you are working in an international team it is sometimes frustrating when bright minds are overruled only because they cannot articulate as well in english as their US or UK born collegues do.

So, to add on to the great lists of soft behaviours that drive both business results and employee engagement, I would add behaviour related more explicitly to understanding diversity as a source of innovation and inspiration.

Originally published by Jussi Simolin at Innoduel Blog on 2 October 2017.


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