Gut Check: Are You A Disengaged Leader?

June 1, 2015 Vince Molinaro
Gut Check: Are You A Disengaged Leader?I was concerned. We had just finished discussing the results of the employee engagement survey of a client. Overall the results were not good; employee disengagement was very low.

However, we immediately noticed something very interesting. When we looked at the results by level, we found that the leader population was even more disengaged than employees.

How could this be?

Many organizations struggle with employee engagement. I’ve been tracking it, and when you look at all the large-scale studies from around the world, at any given time, only about 25% of employees are fully engaged. These are the employees that show up every day and demonstrate their passion, creativity, ingenuity and commitment.

At the opposite end are the fully disengaged employees. They typically represent 15-20% of all employees and show up giving only the bare minimum required to keep their jobs.

The balance, about 55-60% of employees are only moderately engaged. They show up at work only to go through the motions. The good news with this group is that under the right conditions, these employees can be inspired to become more fully engaged in their work.

I can understand why employees may feel disengaged. Bad workplace cultures create negative conditions that erode the desire to fully contribute. This is why most of the focus by organizations has been on improving the work environment: more social activities, dress-down Fridays, putting a ping-pong table in the empty meeting room. These simple ideas can contribute a bit to improving engagement, but to me they miss the heart of the issue: you can’t have strong employee engagement without strong leader engagement.

Think of your own experience. There’s a good chance that you felt most engaged at a personal level when you worked with a leader who was also highly engaged. She set the tone at a deeply personal level for everyone else.

This is exactly what’s been missing in the discussion about employee engagement. We tend to focus on the superficial things and don’t pay attention to the critical role of leaders in driving high engagement.

This is why I was so concerned when I saw the data in my client’s engagement results. If the leaders were less engaged than the employees, what hope was there for this organization?

Now, I’m prepared to give employees a little break when it comes to engagement because they don’t control all the variables in their work environment.

But when it comes to leaders, I’m not as inclined to give them a break. All leaders have an obligation to be fully engaged in their roles. To put it more strongly, if you aren’t fully engaged in your leadership role, you’re not fulfilling the duties and responsibilities of leadership.

All leaders experience tough times that can erode our personal level of engagement. I get that. However, leaders must learn to rise above those tough times and find a way to stay focused on the tasks at hand. If you don’t, then you aren’t any better than your employees and you really need to question whether you should be in a leadership role.

If you aren’t fully engaged in your role as a leader, everyone you lead will know it. If you don’t address your situation, then you run the risk of being only part of the problem, and never part of the solution.

This week’s gut check asks: are you a disengaged leader?

Follow me @VinceMolinaro


About the Author

Vince Molinaro

Vince Molinaro is the Global Managing Director of Strategic Solutions at Lee Hecht Harrison. He is also the author of The Leadership Contract – a New York Times and USA Today bestseller. Vince has spent more than 20 years as an adviser to boards and senior executives looking to improve leadership in their organizations.

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