The Impact of Strong Leadership on Employee Happiness

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Employee retention is a major issue for many organizations. With an average median employment rate of just 4.6 years, there is much speculation as to why good workers leave their employers, even when they’re paid well. Innovative and flexible environments can alleviate the issue of retaining top talent to some degree, but getting employees to stick around longer may actually come down to a much more basic principle.  

While many key attributes of a workplace change over time, some comprise the cornerstones of a well-run institution—and the most important of all of those ideals is leadership. The “command and control” style of previous generations is no longer fruitful in today’s workplace. HBR expounds on this as early as 2011, explaining,

“Many executives realize that they need a new playbook for this hyperconnected environment. Those who climbed the corporate ladder in silos while using a “command and control” style can have a difficult time adjusting to the new realities. Conversely, managers who try to lead by consensus can quickly see decision-making and execution grind to a halt. Crafting the right leadership style isn’t easy.”

 And while it’s a difficult undertaking, it’s certainly not impossible to develop a solid infrastructure that supports its staff in a most meaningful way. As technology affords teams the ability to work together more cohesively than ever before, there is no shortage of strategies to take into consideration.

Concurrently, with a primary focus on the “Employee Experience”, as it becomes more prevalent in today’s world, there is a unique opportunity to utilize strong enterprise leadership as a linchpin for retention. Recent research has found that management style can have an immense impact on the overall happiness of an employee. As a Gallup study notes,

70% of the variance in employee engagement is due to the manager.

With the right training, managers can provide the conversations, recognition and feedback that drive employee engagement, which in turn drives a great employee experience.”

As this trend only continues to grow, C-level executives are beginning to take note and are working towards making strides in becoming better spearheads of their corporations—take for example, Shannon Schuyler, PwC’s first Chief Purpose Officer, explaining to Forbes,

“Over the past two decades, employers have been creating more personal relationships with employees and have paved the way for a work experience that goes beyond satisfaction and minimum effort. Today, we’re seeing employees want more from work than a paycheck  they want a fulfilling experience.”

And Jim Barnett, current CEO and co-Founder of Glint, and former CEO of Ancestry.com notes to HuffPo,

“It is essential for a company’s leadership to gather and use data from their workforce—from top to bottom. With rapid and focused data collection, analysis and response, the company can understand and be on top of issues and address them swiftly.”

As top leaders begin to shift the expectations they have for themselves, they can begin to develop a style that will have major impacts on the organization as a whole. For those who haven’t yet taken a deep dive into how to become a better enterprise leader, BA Times explores a few core competencies that comprise this style—namely,

“An enterprise leader has a deep sense of purpose. They are passionate about their careers and the companies they serve. These leaders truly desire to enable and realize transformational change within their organizations and the communities in which it serves.

Most importantly, these leaders view their purpose differently. Enterprise leaders understand the impact of their actions on people’s lives. For example, they consider their role as the enabler of job growth for a community and nation versus a means for expense management.

Additionally, enterprise leaders have a sense of belonging and acceptance with their organization. They accept the company culture and build time within their strategies to help preserve, expand and improve organizational culture. They lead by example and help others understand the importance of purpose.”

Taking that high-level analysis into consideration, what can managers do to begin to curate stronger, more engaged teams that lead to longer employment for an organization? These five steps can make a dramatic impact on employee happiness—and in turn— their overall longevity.

1. Authenticity

When you’re honest and ethical, employees implicitly trust that you’ve got their best interest at heart—and, in turn, they’ll be more loyal for longer periods of time.  Now more than ever, potential employees are looking for a more moralistic leadership style than previous generations. They’re even sometimes willing to sacrifice the best pay and perks, if it means that they can work with a company that has heart.

Via Psychology Today:

“An authentic leader has an ethical core. She or he knows the right thing to do and is driven by a concern for ethics and fairness. The roots of authentic leadership come from ancient Greek philosophy that focuses on the development of core, or cardinal, virtues. These virtues are Prudence (fair-mindedness, wisdom, seeing all possible courses of action), Temperance (being emotionally balanced and in control), Justice (being fair in dealings with others), and Fortitude (courage to do the right thing).”

2. Collaboration

Everyone wants to feel like they belong; the best way to create inclusiveness in the workplace is by encouraging collaboration.  There is power in numbers, and when everyone is working towards a common goal, the chance for great successes is better than ever when they push through together and not alone. Creating camaraderie also positively influences employee longevity by creating a sense of morale that will make them want to continue on with the same crew.

Via Forbes,  

“In trying to capture and communicate the cumulative wisdom of a workforce, the public and private sectors have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in portals, software, and intranets. But collaboration is more than the technology that supports it, and even more than a business strategy aimed at optimizing an organization's experience and expertise. Collaboration is, first and foremost, a change in attitude and behavior of people throughout an organization. Successful collaboration is a human issue. Take a look at this video clip to see what IBM IBM +0.19% found out about people and collaboration.”

3. Communication

Just like anything else, communication is key when it comes to building a strong employee rapport. Providing thoughtful insight, constructive criticism and the like in a way that is easily understood is a must for managers.  When one member of the team struggles it has implications on everyone; a successful leader is able to identify the problem, and address it with a clear, concise conversation that leads to a positive improvement for all.   

Via CIO:

“Throughout the year, I challenge my team: Have you communicated to your low performers? Have you given them development plans? Are you getting HR involved? Those are the kinds of conversations we have to have to grow a healthy team. By addressing low performers, high performers, and high potentials in a consistent and programmatic way, we can retain the right people. The talent market is tight, and the last thing we want is for our high performers or high potentials to leave.”

4. Purpose

What’s the point of doing something if you don’t understand why you’re doing it to begin with? Often times, businesses get so bogged down by the operations side of everything that they forgot to communicate why what the employee is doing is important. Giving a team a sense of purpose allows them to transform into their best selves to accomplish the task at hand.  They’ll also feel like a more cohesive member of the team because they understand how they work within the major structure of the organization.

Via Success.com,

“ Purpose releases energy. The higher the purpose, the greater the energy. Purpose also frees us. The more profound the purpose, the greater the sense of freedom. Purpose opens up possibilities. Obsession drains our energy and binds us to the activity itself. Less joy, less energy and less freedom are the results. When observing the passionate, focused behavior of people, it can sometimes be difficult to know if they were being passionately obsessive or passionately purposeful. If the behavior is adding energy, joy and fulfillment to them and others, then it is probably coming from a purposeful place.”

5. Transparency

 When you put all of a puzzle’s pieces on the table, you can quickly start to see how the whole picture comes together. The same is true for understanding the relevant intricacies of an organization.  When a team can look at the sum by its parts, they’re often times better suited, and more motivated, to accomplish a task.  And while there is definitely a balance between being transparent and providing TMI, erring on the side of being forthright is a stellar step to improve motivation. 

 Via Entrepreneur,  

“Employee alignment, for transparency’s sake, means taking a look at the big picture and seeking to understand everyone’s role within it. This is easily done when employers practice transparency in the workplace. Transparent leadership results in employees who understand the company vision and how their efforts help achieve company-wide goals. Transparency is at the top of HubSpot’s Culture Code. Its internal wiki includes financials (cash balances, burn-rate, profits and losses, etc.), board meeting decks, management meeting decks, “strategic” topics, HubSpot Lore & Mythology -- basically anything and everything employees need to stay informed and aligned with the company vision.”

For enterprise organizations to be most successful, it’s imperative to look at the employee lifecycle through the lens of leadership. The effectiveness of high-level management trickles down to effect the performance of everyone below them—positively or negatively. Transforming the idea of participating in the traditional heavy handed style at the top allows everyone to flourish; paving the way for all staff members to do their feel good about doing their best work— which, ideally, encourages them to stick around for a long time into the future.