4 ways effective leadership inspires employee engagement

Embracing effective and collaborative leadership can lead to ‘total employee motivation’ in the workplace

Effective leadership inspires team members to perform at their best. This illustration depicts a leader holding up two ladders as a bridge for others to cross over.
Image Credit: Ray Domzalski

When workers are unmotivated and disengaged, it’s easy to blame tools, processes, even workplace culture as contributing factors. But more often than not disengagement boils down to a lack of effective leadership.

Leaders who are effective are capable of unlocking what Vega Factor co-founder Lindsay McGregor calls “total employee motivation.” According to McGregor, leaders need to inspire their employees not just to execute their jobs well, but to also find purpose within their roles. Here are some ways leaders can better connect with their teams, encourage collaborative leadership, and inspire team members to do their very best work.  

1. Employees trust leaders who both lead and follow

Good company leaders don’t needlessly exhibit authoritative behavior. According to psychologists Kim Peters and Alex Haslam, who conducted the study, I Follow, Therefore I Lead, leaders can benefit by showing others that they can be followers who are willing to roll up their sleeves and actually work within the group.

Peters and Haslam also argue in the Harvard Business Review that “leaders need to be seen as ‘one of us’.” Ultimately, their analysis shows that those who identified themselves as natural leaders were unable to convince their team of it. Instead, individuals who called themselves followers were the ones who eventually rose through the ranks to become leaders.

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2. Passion and positivity increase employee performance

After interviewing more than 140 company leaders, analysts at top research firm McKinsey identified five key qualities of “centered leadership” that, if combined, can result in more effective leadership:

  • Finding meaning in work
  • Leveraging connection and community
  • Converting stress or fear into opportunity
  • Taking action despite the risks
  • Maintaining the energy of others through motivation

Showing enthusiasm for your work, and conveying this passion to others, can help increase performance and employee engagement. This optimism can also promote collaborative leadership among workers by empowering them to step up to the plate and lead during tumultuous times.

3. Effective leadership prioritizes organizational health

Successful leadership is about more than ticking off short-term boxes and getting to the next milestone—it’s about contributing to overall organizational health.

McKinsey research suggests that there are four key leadership “recipes” (combinations of management practices) that contribute to organizational health. One recipe prioritizes innovation and talent development; another focuses on competitor and financial analyses. But when it comes to championing teams, the five effective leadership qualities that truly matter are:

  • Providing opportunities for growth
  • Inspiring and motivating employees
  • Being open and trusting
  • Offering financial incentives
  • Assessing and managing risks

By providing open and honest communication via effective leadership, you can activate what LEADx.org founder Kevin Kruse calls an “engagement profit chain.” This is a series of actions (triggered by employee engagement) that leads to greater and more long-term success for the organization overall.

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4. “Take care of your people, and they’ll take care of the mission”

Managers need to demonstrate a sincere interest and trust in their teams. One McKinsey study shows that supporting employees—along with problem-solving, collaborating, and improving productivity—accounts for 89% of overall leadership effectiveness.

Putting your employees’ happiness and productivity above your own (and above the company’s) is the foundation of servant leadership—and that’s something Slack’s vice president of Global Workplace and Real Estate, Deano Roberts, strives for. “Take care of your people, and they’ll take care of the mission,” Roberts says.

Effective leadership lays down the foundation for employee trust

Good leaders know that providing support, offering feedback, and recognizing employees’ hard work are among their most crucial tasks. But great leaders are self-aware and able to objectively assess whether they’re setting a good example for the rest of the team to follow. By first modeling the behavior they want to see in their team members, leaders will be that much closer to having a fully engaged team in good times and in bad.

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