Engagement Starts With Leaders

Engagement Starts With Leaders

4.6 min read

Anthony T. Eaton

Today, no leader can afford to be indifferent to the challenge of engaging employees in the work of creating the future. Engagement may have been optional in the past, but it’s pretty much the whole game today.~Gary Hamel

According to a 2014 Gallup poll less than one-third (31.5%) of U.S. workers were engaged in their jobs in 2014. While that is up from the previous year and the highest since Gallup began tracking engagement, the flip side is that the majority of employees are not engaged and according to the poll 14.5% were “actively disengaged”.

The Gallup poll went on to say that the highest engagement was amongst managers and executive officers and had increased over 2013 from 34.7% to 38.4%. This means that 61.6% are either not engaged or actively disengaged. So what is the effect of this disengagement on front line employees?

A 2013 survey by recruitment agency Staffbay.com found that 87.2% of employees wanted to leave their current role within 12 months and a study by Harris Interactive indicated that 74% of people would consider leaving their job. While these studies were done in 2013 they are still relevant considering the economy and job market is considerably better now than it was then. It is important to also keep in mind that talented employees are always in demand and those are the ones who will leave first.

Where does manager engagement fit into this picture? If we look at the Staffbay survey, 52.6% of their respondents said they would leave because they did not trust their boss. A CareerBuilder survey said that 37% had poor opinions of their boss, and a recent Gallup study reported that about 50% of the more than 7K surveyed said they left a job “to get away from their manager.” Clearly there is a problem with today’s management, but what is the solution?

Identify & Select

I think that if you ask what’s made us successful, it’s because we’ve been fortunate enough to identify, in a number of cases, great people early. Then we throw all the resources behind them and are aligned with them.~Dan Levitan

Poor or bad managers cost companies billions because they directly impact employee engagement and turnover. The first problem is that companies tend to select individuals to manage instead of lead. Anyone can be a manager, but being a leader takes a completely different skillset. Getting the work done and making the numbers are important but they are not the end all be all because those costs are easy to measure. What is harder to measure is the lost potential productivity by employees who are disengaged by their poor manager and the staggering cost of turnover. Instead of selecting managers based solely on their ability to get the work done or make the “numbers”, companies need to define what skills make for good leaders and select based on a mix.

Train & Develop

You can work really hard, but if you’re not training in the right way you’re not going to improve and get to the level that you want to.” ~Michael Chang

Once the individual with the right mix of leadership and management skill is identified and hired the work must continue with robust training and development. Too often, after hiring a manager the individual left to their own devices and then senior management wonders why they have so many problems or their great hire failed. It cannot be assumed just because someone knows how to land the sale they know how to lead other people. Leadership is learned and if a person has never had good leadership they can’t be expected to know what it looks like. New managers need to have a structured process to develop them into strong leaders.


Accountability breeds response-ability.~Stephen Covey

It seems simple but it holding people accountable seems to be one of the biggest challenges for organizations because accountability really starts with setting clear expectations. Setting clear expectations involves more than just stating what you want the end result to be, it also involves clarifying the how, when, and what happens if the expectation is not met. Finally it involves actually following through and holding the individual accountable. This should be truer for leaders as they set the example for everyone else.


“Not everything that can be measured matters and not everything that matters can be measured.” ~Einstein

Metrics are important but only if value and action comes from them. Something must be done with the data that is collected. Their tends to be two extremes when it comes to metrics, either nothing is being measured and thus opportunities for improvement and re-alignment are being missed, or everything is being counted but nothing is being done with the data because there is either too much or it has just become an exercise in collection for collections sake.

When it comes to leadership metrics the first step is to define what counts and then separate them from other business metrics like financials etc. The second step is to define how they will be used. Here it is important not to fall in the trap of collecting data for collections sake but actually using it.


All of these things should yield results in the form of employee retention and satisfaction. Those things will in turn result in greater productivity and a better bottom line. It all starts with identifying the right leaders. Develop them so that they are actively engaged. Expect them to set the right example. Establish metrics that count and hold them accountable.

  • Quote of the Day

    “Leadership is lifting a person’s vision to high sights, the raising of a person’s performance to a higher standard, the building of a personality beyond its normal limitations.”

    — Peter Drucker