In the aftermath of The Great Resignation, The Great Retirement, and The Great Rethink, the post-pandemic hybrid workplace desperately needs good leaders.
According to Pamela Hackett, Business Leadership Today contributor and author of Manage to Engage: How Great Managers Create Remarkable Results, there has never been a more urgent need to recognize the impact of leadership and figure out how to get better at it.
Recognizing the difference between managing and leading is a good place to start. Anyone can be given the title of “manager,” but it takes real commitment to build authentic relationships with employees and inspire them to do outstanding work, especially in difficult times.
As Hackett explains, “The importance of leadership in management is that it engages, enables, and energizes people to bring their best selves to work. Understanding that people are led and organizations are managed, and demonstrating the two different skill sets, enables a safe, engaging, productive, and sustainable business.”
When we understand this difference and have an awareness of the effects—both good and bad—leaders can have on the teams they lead, we can become better leaders. This is because leaders not only have a significant impact on the teams they lead, but they also have the ability to have a profoundly positive impact on the lives of their team members.
A leader impacts the team they lead by continuously communicating culture, creating a positive employee experience, fostering a harmonious work environment, and motivating employees to do great work, resulting in greater employee engagement, better performance, higher retention, and improved employee well-being.
In this article, we will explore the ways leaders impact their teams and how to ensure that the impact is a positive one.
The Impact of Leadership
Leaders have a profound impact on the employee experience. Good leaders consistently communicate cultural norms in ways that create a positive work environment where employees are engaged, have a high degree of loyalty, and feel a sense of purpose in their work.
Poor leadership has been cited as one of the main drivers of the turnover we’ve seen with The Great Resignation and now quiet quitting.
The duration of an employee’s tenure is primarily determined by the relationship they have with their direct manager according to a 25-year study by Gallup, with about 50-70% of an employee’s perception of their work environment linked to the actions and behaviors of management.
The day-to-day interactions employees have with management strongly impact their employee experience, which shapes a worker’s perception of their job over the course of their tenure with a company and builds engagement. This not only affects engagement and performance, but it can also determine the likelihood a worker will stay in that position.
The actions of strong leaders are guided by an organization’s culture. They model core values that reinforce more of the behaviors employers want to see in the organization. This lays the foundation for a positive employee experience and a positive work environment where employees can do their best work.
Culture plays a critical role in both attracting and retaining top talent. It’s also crucial to helping employees see deeper meaning in their work. Workers are paying attention to what organizations stand for these days and are seeking meaningful work with organizations that share their values.
Glassdoor found that 77% of workers consider a company’s culture before applying. Another study showed that 70% of employees say they wouldn’t work for a company that didn’t have a strong purpose.
Even more interesting, 60% would take a cut in pay to work at a purpose-focused company, and 90% of employees who work for companies with a strong sense of purpose say they’re more inspired, motivated, and loyal.
Another study found that 89% of employees say they are more likely to be loyal to purpose-driven companies, highlighting the important role meaningful work may play in people’s job-seeking behaviors.
A strong organizational culture will provide the meaning employees seek, and leaders help employees recognize this purpose by connecting the dots between the work they do and its impact on the lives of others.
Communicating culture provides clarity for team members about the organization’s expectations of them, both in terms of the work they do and their behaviors. When employees feel a sense of purpose in their jobs, and when they can take a wider view of their work and see how it impacts the world, they will be more loyal to the organization and more likely to stay put.
We recently sat down with Kathleen Steffey, founder and CEO of Naviga Recruiting and Executive Search, and discussed the importance of communicating culture in retaining and recruiting talented employees.
Steffey points out that good leaders not only see positive results when they communicate culture to their teams, but they can also improve their recruitment efforts and attract talented candidates by promoting their organization’s culture publicly.
Steffey says, “Top performers are attracted to companies with clearly defined and unique cultures. Sharing your company’s team outings, commitment to the community, and celebrations on social media and your company website provides an insight into what it is like working at your company.”
Creating a Positive Employee Experience
Gallup defines employee experience as “the journey an employee takes with your organization.” This journey includes every interaction that happens during the employee lifecycle, as well as the experiences that involve an employee’s role, work environment, supervisor, and well-being.
Employee experience plays a significant role in employee motivation, employee engagement, and employee retention, but that’s not all.
When an organization provides a positive employee experience, they see improvements in customer satisfaction, greater innovation, and generate 25% higher profits than organizations that do not provide a positive employee experience.
Too often, managers default to a transactional style of leadership, focusing mainly on organization, supervision, performance, compliance, and meeting goals, and utilizing a system of rewards and penalties to motivate employees.
While this style may yield consistent, predictable results, it does not create the conditions for a positive employee experience or necessarily motivate employees to do their best work. To have a positive impact on their team, a leader must go beyond transactional management and lead in a way that helps employees address their needs.
This means providing job clarity, opportunities for professional development, autonomy, an inclusive work environment, regular recognition of contributions, healthy feedback, a good work/life balance, and a shared sense of purpose.
A leader’s ability to build authentic relationships with their employees and create a great employee experience determines how engaged an organization’s employees are, how likely employees are to stay with the organization, and how well they perform. It also helps them maintain a harmonious, respectful work environment.
Fostering a Harmonious Work Environment
When leaders regularly communicate the organization’s culture and model its core values, it provides guidance for employees in their interactions with co-workers, which helps to maintain a positive work environment.
This helps to keep morale high and combats toxicity. Toxic work environments fueled the Great Resignation, with many who left their jobs citing toxic work environments as the top reason for doing so.
Lisa L. Baker, the founder of Ascentim LLC, says leaders can address and prevent toxic situations in the workplace by clearly and consistently communicating cultural norms, which clarifies expectations, guides employee behaviors and actions, and ensures values alignment.
Baker has outlined a five-step process known as “The 5 Cs”:
Cultural norms and expectations must be clear to everyone. It’s equally important to demonstrate what is and is not acceptable behavior as well as the consequences for toxic behaviors. It’s important for leaders to model what they want to see from their team.
Building meaningful relationships with your team and others inside and outside the organization is essential. Leaders need to create an inclusive environment that has an “open-door” policy, so the team feels comfortable sharing their experiences. As individuals we must be willing to invest time to get to know people (and allow them to know us) on a personal level.
If you see something, say something. Too often we hold in negative emotions and allow them to fester. Be willing to have the crucial conversations that are essential to healthy relationships and work environments. Have the conversation with the right person. Set boundaries. Focus on behaviors.
You cannot conquer what you’re unwilling to confront. Don’t put off difficult conversations. Swift action is necessary to prevent negative behaviors from creating a toxic culture.
Decide what action you will take if someone who is causing toxicity in the organization does not respond positively to culture, connection, communication, or confrontation. It’s better to terminate one toxic person than to lose many good people because of that individual.
Leaders who follow the 5 Cs are not only providing clarity and reinforcing cultural norms for their employees, they are also ensuring a positive work environment in which their team members can thrive and do great work.
Motivating Employees To Do Great Work
The most impactful job of a leader is to inspire their teams to do great work. However, only 2 in 10 employees strongly agree that their performance is managed in a way that motivates them to do outstanding work.
Motivation is essential to getting employees to do their jobs well. If we expect great work from our teams, we have to understand what motivates them to engage with their work and invest in the success of the organization, with the understanding that their success as an employee is closely tied to the organization’s success.
There are two types of motivation: intrinsic and extrinsic. While compensation, an extrinsic motivator, has always played a prominent role in retention, intangible motivators and rewards are becoming more important to today’s job seeker.
Leaders can motivate their employees to do outstanding work by offering their team members flexibility, autonomy, the opportunity to advance and grow, recognition for their achievements, and a sense of purpose in their work. All these factors can contribute significantly to an employee’s overall well-being.
How Leaders Impact Engagement, Performance, Retention, and Well-Being
We know leaders play a central role in shaping employee experience. We also know that employee experience can impact an employee’s level of engagement, performance, the likelihood they will stay in their job, and their well-being.
Employee engagement is an employee’s emotional commitment to their work, the organization they work for, and its goals. It describes the bond an employee builds with their specific job and the organization.
High engagement in an organization indicates that employees care about their work, are dedicated to the organization, and their attitudes and behaviors are aligned with the organization’s core values.
Leadership is the cornerstone of engagement because of the central role leaders play in shaping organizational culture, which, in turn, shapes employee experience.
According to Business Leadership Today contributor Laurie Sudbrink, “Leaders affect employee engagement the most. A leader’s ability to authentically build relationships with team members, their level of self-awareness, their sense of accountability, as well as their health and well-being, can all have a significant impact on employee engagement.”
To see a real boost in employee engagement, leaders should also be engaged in leading their teams and authentically demonstrating their dedication to the organization’s core values through real, impactful actions and behaviors.
Doing this will not only boost engagement, it will also create an environment where employees perform well and improve the overall performance of the organization because, while employee engagement affects an employee’s job satisfaction and well-being, we can also see its impacts in more tangible metrics such as retention, turnover, absenteeism, profitability, and productivity.
Because leadership can impact the employee experience, the work environment and its culture, and, therefore, employee engagement, leadership can strongly impact employee retention.
Employee retention refers to a company’s ability to prevent turnover and retain its employees. Employee turnover refers to the number of employees who leave a job, either voluntarily or involuntarily, during a certain period of time.
Employee retention is driven by employee experience and employee engagement because an employee’s attitude toward their job and their level of engagement with the work they do determines whether an employee will stay or seek out other job opportunities.
Leaders who positively shape the employee experience are also helping to improve the well-being of their employees. They aren’t just motivating employees to do great work; they are providing the ideal conditions for them to thrive.
Matt Tenney has been working to help organizations develop leaders who improve employee engagement and performance since 2012. He is the author of three leadership books, including the groundbreaking, highly acclaimed book Inspire Greatness: How to Motivate Employees with a Simple, Repeatable, Scalable Process.
Matt’s ideas have been featured in major media outlets and his clients include numerous national associations and Fortune 500 companies.
He is often invited to deliver keynote speeches at conferences and leadership meetings, and is known for delivering valuable, actionable insights in a way that is memorable and deeply inspiring.