Business Leadership Today

The Most Important Role of a Leader


Matt Tenney, Author of Inspire Greatness: How to Motivate Employees with a Simple, Repeatable, Scalable Process

Because everything a leader does affects an organization’s culture, and culture influences the employee experience, the role of the leader is one of the most important roles in an organization, and effective leadership is crucial to its profitability.

In fact, a 25-year study by Gallup revealed that about 50-70% of an employee’s perception of their work environment is linked to the actions and behaviors of leadership.

Leaders have a profound impact on employees, influencing everything from how engaged they are with their work to how likely they are to seek out other employment opportunities. The relationships leaders establish with their team members ultimately determine how successful an organization will be in the future. 

For leaders to see their organizations achieve their vision, they have to recognize the crucial role employee success plays in organizational success and continually work to bring out the best in their employees by building authentic relationships with them that are conducive to honest communication, a collaborative spirit, and high performance. 

The most important role of a leader is to commit to the success of their employees so they can do exceptional work. Leaders do this by keeping employees motivated, shaping the employee experience positively, uniting employees with a shared sense of purpose, and maintaining a good system of communication.  

This article will examine how leaders can excel in this important role and help their employees reach their full potential. 

Committing to Team Members’ Success

The most important role of leaders, and the one that is essential for ensuring long-term, sustainable success, is committing to employee success. 

This means committing to more than delegation, oversight, and accountability. It means creating a positive, supportive work environment that is conducive to both collaborative efforts and individual contributions, helping employees remove barriers to success, and helping them truly engage with their work and the organization’s mission. 

Leaders lead their teams to success by keeping them motivated to perform well (through intrinsic motivators like flexibility, growth opportunities, and recognition of contributions), positively shaping the employee experience, maintaining good communication so that employees are clear on what is expected of them and which cultural norms should guide their actions and behaviors, and keeping employees united with a shared sense of purpose. 

Keeping Employees Motivated

Keeping employees motivated to do great work is not just about ensuring the day-to-day work of the team is done; it’s about inspiring each team member to fully invest in their roles and give their best to every duty, every project, and every collaborative effort.

Motivation drives employee success and employee satisfaction. Unfortunately, only 2 in 10 employees strongly agree that their performance is managed in a way that motivates them to do outstanding work. 

To keep employees motivated, leaders work continuously to create the necessary conditions for their employees to do great work and help them identify and remove obstacles to doing great work. 

Leaders can do this by providing their employees with the flexibility they need to do their best work without compromising their well-being, offering them growth opportunities that help them excel in and beyond their role in the organization, and recognizing their achievements to encourage them to perform well consistently.


In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, flexibility has become even more important for job seekers. However, many organizations seem determined to continue the kind of micromanaging that characterized the “old normal” when it comes to flexibility and independence for their employees.

A recent survey of HR managers found that 70% of respondents cited flexibility as a driver of resignations, the most cited cause in the survey.

In this video, Kathleen Steffey, founder and CEO of Naviga Recruiting and Executive Search, shares why remote access is now a necessity for almost every organization and how it will be the norm for businesses going forward.

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Offering remote and hybrid work options where feasible is a great way to meet an employee’s psychological need for independence.

In addition to remote work, workers these days are also seeking more flexibility in their jobs in the form of more autonomy. 

Autonomy can mean different things to different bosses and can vary depending on the company. The goal of giving employees autonomy (whatever that looks like in your organization) is that it meets an employee’s need to work in more self-directed ways when possible. 

When leaders build trust-based relationships with employees, autonomy becomes much easier. And giving employees the tools they need to work with autonomy demonstrates to them that they are trusted by leadership, which encourages them to hold themselves accountable and take ownership of their roles. 


A recent Pew Research Center survey found that a lack of opportunities for advancement was among the top reasons US workers quit their jobs last year. 

Employees need to feel highly competent in the work they do to engage and consistently produce quality results, and they also need to feel that they are growing, building experience, and gaining new skills and knowledge. 

Leaders facilitate learning and development opportunities for employees that help them meet this need and demonstrate their commitment to the future success of employees by investing in their growth.

Research compiled by LinkedIn has shown that employees who spend time learning on the job are 47% less likely to be stressed, 39% more likely to feel productive and successful, 23% more able to take on additional responsibilities, and 21% more likely to feel confident and happy.

Leaders can offer development opportunities to employees in the form of learning, whether through online classes, live training, tuition reimbursement, or activities with professional organizations.


While we often hear a lot of talk about the importance of salaries and benefits, one of the most important ways that leaders keep their teams motivated is through intrinsic motivators that help employees see the impact of their work and make their work more meaningful. Recognition is a great way to do this.

Recognition is such a powerful tool for motivating employees because it meets a core human need for both the employee and the manager. Recognizing employees for their accomplishments shows them not only that leadership is paying attention, but that they also value the work employees do.

For recognition to be most effective, it should be given often, and it should be specific so employees know the work they do in their roles is seen and appreciated. 

Acknowledging the impact of employees’ work through frequent recognition can be a highly effective way of engaging them because it improves their employee experience and motivates them to keep doing great work. 

Shaping the Employee Experience

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. 

Employee experience plays a significant role in employee motivation, employee engagement, and employee retention. 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, its impact on the employee experience may be less predictable and less positive because it’s focused more on outcomes than how to achieve desired outcomes.

Meaningful work, job clarity, opportunities for professional development, autonomy, an inclusive work environment, regular recognition of contributions, healthy feedback between leadership and employees, a good work/life balance, and trust-based working relationships help positively shape the employee experience. 

Maintaining Good Communication

Without a strong system of open communication, things can fall apart fast, and team productivity can plummet, while employee dissatisfaction can skyrocket. 

For communication to be the most effective, it should be honest and respectful, and it should be mutually beneficial. Leaders should be skilled at receiving communications from employees and responding to them in a timely manner, and in a way that makes them feel truly heard. 

It should also focus on active listening, the most important part of a good system of communication. To build trust, leaders need to really listen to their employees and respond to what they are saying in the moment to get the most out of their communications. 

Leaders maintain healthy communication by clearly and consistently communicating expectations and cultural norms.


It’s essential for employees to know what is expected of them, have new duties and areas of responsibility clarified for them as situations change, and be made aware that the work they do is seen by leadership.

When employees are unsure about what is expected of them in their roles, it creates a situation where they experience conflict on a daily basis about their duties and responsibilities. 

Lack of clarity can lead to issues with engagement, morale, performance, productivity, and retention. In situations where job responsibilities and duties may shift regularly, clarity becomes even more critical to ensuring things run smoothly.

To provide clarity on expectations, it helps if team members are also provided with context for those expectations so they are aware of how meeting them helps the organization meet its larger goals. 

Adding coaching to the mix also helps employees better understand their expectations because talking through the “how” of meeting expectations is just as important as the “why.” The key is to involve employees in setting the expectations you want them to meet so you are on the same page. 


Glassdoor found that 77% of workers consider a company’s culture before applying. Good organizational cultures are intentional, and good leaders are intentional about communicating organizational culture to their teams. 

An important part of a leader’s job is to communicate information about the company’s culture, clearly articulating and modeling the organization’s core values, mission, and vision so that it’s clear to all team members. This is how you build cultural buy-in. 

Communicating culture provides clarity for team members about the organization’s expectations of them, both in their daily interactions and the broader scheme of things, and it is crucial to helping employees see deeper meaning in their work. 

We recently sat down with Dave Gordon, author of TIP: A Simple Strategy to Inspire High Performance and Lasting Success, and discussed the impact leaders can have when they communicate culture and demonstrate values for their teams. 

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Uniting Team Members with a Shared Sense of Purpose

A recent study revealed that 70% of employees would not work for an organization without a strong purpose, 60% would take a pay cut to work at a purpose-driven company, and 90% of employees who work at organizations with a strong sense of purpose say they’re more inspired, motivated, and loyal.

Good leaders unite their team members with a shared sense of purpose that is tied to their work. Leaders connect the dots between an employee’s day-to-day activities and the impact those activities have on the organization and the communities they serve. 

To fully engage and consistently perform well, employees need the mission that the organization’s founders set out to achieve and their vision for achieving that mission.

This not only guides decision-making, but also helps employees find meaning in their work. So how do we, as leaders, ensure that the mission and vision of the organization are fully understood by our employees? How does this practice create meaning for employees?

Libby Gill, author of The Hope-Driven Leader, says it’s not enough for leaders to know the “why”; they have to be able to convey the “why” to their team: 

“The why behind your team, division, or organization may be obvious to you, but don’t assume everyone else gets it. You were privy to what the top leaders, maybe the founders of the organization, set out to accomplish. But that doesn’t mean everybody knows where you want to be six months, or a year, of five years from now. And it’s up to the leader to share that information. And the best way to do it is to create a narrative, to create a really compelling story that is so alive and so robust that people say ‘oh I see where we are going and I see how I can connect within that.’”

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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.

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