Leaders – It’s Not About You

Leadership is simple. It’s about influencing a group of people to accomplish a goal. The problem is most managers forget about the people, the goal, and their role in influencing others. In other words, they do everything except lead. Maybe this is the reason why 70% of employees are disengaged at work. The vast majority of workers are disconnected because most managers are also unplugged.

Most bosses are just too busy to lead. They are focused on their own work. They are going to meetings, working on reports, replying to e-mails, or checking off items on their to-do lists. These managers are simply too busy to get out of their office and truly engage with their teams. As a result, most employees hardly ever see their managers and rarely interact with them.

If you’re a leader, your actions have a profound effect on the lives and careers of the people working for you. Once you are given the responsibility to lead a team it’s no longer just about you, it’s about them. Great leaders understand this and go out of their way to get to know every employee they are responsible for.

These leaders understand that every interaction with an employee is a chance to lead. They engage in deep, meaningful conversations with their employees and do more listening than talking. Great leaders are sincerely interested in what each employee has to say. These leaders know that engaging with their teams is a critical part of their job.

How about you? Are you engaging with your team? Ask yourself these three questions:

  • Do you know your employees’ names, how long they’ve been with the company, and something about their lives outside of work?
  • Do you take time out of your daily schedule to visit your employees where they work?
  • Do you take time to thank employees, appreciate their contributions, and celebrate their successes?

Leaders – it’s not about you. When you are in charge, you have the watch. You are not only responsible for the results of the organization, but you are also responsible for your employees. Engaging with employees is an important part of your job, much more critical than answering a few e-mails.

Great leaders know that employees who are appreciated, respected, and supported will be more engaged and will always do more than expected.

Learn more about how to be a more effective leader in my new book, I have the Watch: Becoming a Leader Worth Following.

Desperately Seeking Leadership


I had a great opportunity to teach a session on leadership to a group of students finishing up their MBA program at a major university last week. My presentation was titled “Leadership Matters – Lessons from the Front Line.” The feedback I received was positive but a bit surprising. The students said the presentation was extremely valuable because it exposed them to the real world of business leadership. They said it was the first time they had a chance to listen to a seasoned executive talking plainly about the challenges of leading people. As it turns out, there are actually no courses on leadership in their program of study.

The sad truth is that most managers today have not received any formal leadership training. Most employees are promoted into leadership positions, because of their education, seniority, technical skills or past performance. Most simply learn leadership “on the job” and many don’t have the necessary talent to be a leader. This is probably why there is such a leadership gap in business today.

In fact, the Gallup organization just released a study on leadership in the workplace and their findings were shocking. They found that 70% of employees remain disengaged at work, a number that has stayed consistent for the past 12 years. They also found that leadership played the most significant factor in the level of employee engagement. They found that leaders accounted for almost 70% of the variance in employee engagement across businesses and business units. Their conclusions were clear and disturbing. The lack of great leaders in companies is the primary reason for poor employee engagement.

Even worse, they concluded that great leaders are rare and difficult to find. Their study showed that only one in 10 people possess the high talent to lead people. Those 10% have the natural skills and abilities to engage employees, work with customers, retain top talent and create a high-performance culture. They also found that an additional 20% of people have some of the characteristics necessary to be a great leader. Those individuals can become great leaders if their company invests in coaching and developmental plans for them. Their conclusion was that great leaders are hard to find and most will require coaching and training to reach their full potential.

So how can you close the leadership gap in your organization? Let me suggest four areas of focus:

Look for leadership talents and abilities in your employees. Great leaders are hard to find but even harder to find if you don’t actively look for them. You should spend time with your employees looking for those that step up and naturally lead projects or initiatives.

Give potential leaders the opportunities to lead. If you have an employee with leadership potential, regardless of their seniority or experience, give them an opportunity to run a small project or lead an activity. This will give you an opportunity to validate your assumptions.

Promote leaders based on leadership talents and abilities. It is important to avoid the pitfalls of promoting based on seniority, technical skills or past performance. Only about 30% of your employees will actually have the talent to be a great leader. Look for leadership talent and abilities first.

Train your leaders like any other discipline. Employees with leadership talent still need coaching and training to become great leaders. Leadership skills are like any other skill. They must be taught, trained, and practiced to reach a high level of proficiency. Since leadership directly drives employee engagement and business performance, leadership training and development should be a top priority.

The Gallup study makes a clear case for solving the employee engagement crisis in this country. The solution is simple, we need better leadership. The problem is that great leaders are hard to find and companies today are not doing a good job indentifying, promoting, and developing leadership talent. As leaders in our organizations, we need to change this. We need to keep a careful eye out for leadership talent in our employees, give potential leaders a chance to lead, promote leaders based on leadership abilities, and develop our leaders through coaching and training. If we place a high value on leadership in our organization, we can begin to create the culture of employee engagement we so desperately need.

So what do you think? Are the results of the Gallup study a wake-up call? Are there other things that need to be done to solve the employee engagement crisis in America? Do you think great leaders are as rare as Gallup says they are? Why can’t every employee be a great leader?

The Power of your Presence


Have you ever had one of those bosses who was never around? They worked in an office with the door closed, they never came to your work area or location, they spent all their time in meetings, or maybe didn’t even know your name? As an employee, it can be incredibly discouraging to have a disengaged boss.

The problem is that most leaders don’t understand the power of their presence. This is probably why, according to the State of the American Workplace report by Gallup, 70% of employees are disengaged with their company.

In an earlier article, called 10 Simple Ways to Become an Extraordinary Leader in 2015, I described 10 activities to become a better leader in the new year. Number one on that list was being present. Being present is exactly what it means. Employees need to see you and you need to see them.

So why is it important that employees interact with their boss on a regular basis? Let me suggest five simple reasons, especially in this time of decentralized offices and remote locations, why you need to be present as a leader.

You ensure proper communication. Robert Whipple has a great new article out called Face to Face that addresses this very issue. He refers to the old UCLA study that showed that only 7% of what is understood is from words, the rest comes from facial expressions and the tone of your voice. He suggests in a time of decentralized offices, an over-reliance on texts and e-mails will cause your communications to suffer. You must see your employees face to face to ensure your message is understood.

You see what is really going on. I wrote about this in an articled called 5 Lessons from the Shop Floor. The point of that article is that, as a leader, you need to get out of your office and go to where the value-added work is being done. Too many times, leaders make decisions based on what they think is going on. Unless you spend time with your employees, there will be a significant gap between reality and your assumptions on reality.

You learn new things. There is a rich and useful world of “tribal knowledge” to be discovered. The collective wisdom of your employees is incredible but you need to be present to learn about it. Your employees know what works and what doesn’t. They know where the real problems and opportunities are. Spending time with employees gives you a new perspective and can boost your improvement activities.

They see you as approachable. Every boss likes to say they are approachable but what do your actions tell your employees? Do you work with your office door shut? Do you walk through the office looking down at the floor? Demonstrate you are approachable by getting out of your office with the purpose of saying good morning to your employees. If you have remote employees, spend a week working at their location so they see you. The more approachable you appear, the more likely they will open up and talk to you.

They see you as part of the team. Too often, leaders think they are more important than their employees. The truth is that more value-added activity is occurring with your employees than you. You may be the coach, but they are on the field making it happen every day. By being present and showing respect to your employees, they see you as an important part of the team not just a name on the bottom of an e-mail.

They see you as the company. Whether you like it or not, your employees see you as the company. If you are distant and disengaged as a leader, how do you expect they will act towards the company? The truth is that frontline leaders trump CEOs when it comes to employee engagement. In a recent HBR survey, 73% of respondents said that frontline managers were vitally important to achieving a high level of employee engagement. If you want engaged employees, you need to be an engaged leader.

The fact that 70% of employees in the U.S. are disengaged at work tells me that, as leaders, we still have a lot of work to do to improve our leadership skills. One of the most important skills is simply being present. Too often, leaders are disconnected and disengaged. Being present ensures you are communicating properly, that you face reality and see what your employees see, that you learn more about what is really going on, that you become more approachable, that you are seen as part of the team, and that you foster an environment of employee engagement. Simply getting out of your office and spending time with your employees will make you a better leader.

So what do you think? Can the power of your presence change the level of employee engagement? Do you think we are too busy as leaders to spend time with our employees? Are there other ways to communicate with employees to increase engagement? Can webinars, video conferencing, and the use of the company intranet take the place of being present? Let me know what you think!