18th August 2019

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Categories: Engage for Success Blog

The Impact of Leadership Style & Approach on Engagement

impact of leadership styleWe are now a decade on from the publication of the original MacLeod Report to Government.

There have been several Governments across those years and some seismic events, such as referendums on Scottish Independence and UK membership of the EU. Technology has progressed, society has shifted, sabres have been rattled across the globe.

If a week is indeed a long time in politics, as Harold Wilson once suggested, then ten years is perhaps an aeon in a major economy.

When David MacLeod and Nita Clarke were asked to investigate the many impacts of employee engagement on organisational performance, the conclusions were so clear, so stark, so dramatic that every leader in every organisation in all walks of life would surely sit up, sniff the wind and take significant action.

To expect that would be to ignore the myriad of influences acting on the leadership of an organisation. Influences that are so diverse – and so often in opposition – that they can have the effect of holding an organisation and its leadership in a form of operational stasis, befuddled as to the most appropriate strategic response.

So, you may ask, what does all this have to do with the thrust of this article? It is this: In assessing the Impact of Leadership Style & Approach on Engagement with any efficacy, it is necessary to consider how a prevailing leadership style is shaped in an organisation and in its culture.

It can be said that an individual leader’s choice of style and approach might be affected by their personality, their preferences, their experiences, their values, the leaders they have worked with, their heroes and role-models, the prevailing style of their organisation and sector and a plethora of societal norms both explicit and invisible. If this logic is extended to an entire leadership team, then the results of their storming and norming as a team (or more typically as a council-of-war of tribal chiefs) will come into play. You can add to this the expectations of their major stakeholders, key regulatory pressures, financial and competitive position and their strategic ambitions. It’s a complex situation.

However, the style they adopt as a result will set the tone for every leader in the organisation at every level. This will have a major impact on the engagement of their people, because it will shape the spirit in which those leaders interact with their people. It will dictate their focus, their priorities and their key measures of performance. It will shape their attitude to motivation and to the way people are treated. It will shape the culture and environment into which people are placed.

Consider an organisation that clearly states that its primary goal is to maximise shareholder returns.

It is quite likely that the focus of its key measures will therefore be financial, that costs will be ruthlessly controlled, that employees will be treated as ‘headcount’ and the ‘human resources’ (the accent being on the ‘resources’ rather than the ‘human’) kept lean and rewarded to an ‘acceptable level’. It may also be the case that such an organisation will see shareholders as by far the most important stakeholder and thus be heavily biased toward delivering benefits to that group – almost certainly at the expense of other stakeholders including employees.

In observing many organisations of all types over several decades, it has generally been very clear to me the issues they most care about. Often this is discernible even when first arriving in their reception area or landing on their homepage. Their culture and leadership style always follow that lead.

The thing is, people are smart and sensitive. They pick this stuff up very quickly, just as any one of us might sense the atmosphere in a room as soon as we arrive. If the organisation views them as a number, a resource, a means to an end or a willing horse – how do you think they will respond?

With discretionary effort, commitment, passion and enthusiasm? With a desire to innovate? With, dare I say it, engagement?

Or will the good ones leave very quickly and the talented recruitment pool stay away?

by Nigel Girling CMgr FCMI FInstLM FRSA

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash