Mark Craemer No Comments

Leaders do many things but perhaps more important than anything is the behavior they demonstrate in the workplace. This includes how well they communicate, their honesty and integrity, and their overall level of engagement.

This leading by example is something employees pick up on and often emulate without any directive. And a leader’s engagement level can directly impact their employees’ engagement level.

Research by Gallup and others has consistently shown how critical leaders are in engaging team members. If managers are engaged, they are more likely to be supervised by highly engaged executives. And frontline employees supervised by highly engaged managers are more likely to be engaged than those supervised by disengaged managers.

This trickle down affect may be instructive for how to further increase productivity in the workplace. Overall confidence in the marketplace can certainly engage our corporate leaders like nothing else, but engagement at the top—no matter the level of marketplace confidence—is more important than ever.

A recent Gallup poll of more than 150,000 U.S. workers revealed that about one in three employees are actively engaged in their jobs. This varies depending on occupation, but the percentage is up in almost every category from an earlier poll done in 2009. Overall, this should signal good news for business and the U.S. economy.

That’s because there is a strong relationship between employee engagement and a company’s overall performance. Engaged employees mean greater productivity.

According to the Gallup poll, the greatest increase in engagement was in “managers, executives and officials” where it measured 36% and ten percentage points higher than the earlier poll.

Every occupation measured showed improvement other than “service workers” where engagement levels actually decreased by three percentage points over the same period. Those in “transportation and manufacturing or production workers” were least likely to be engaged in their work and most likely to be actively disengaged.

Actively disengaged workers can cost the U.S. economy $450 billion to $550 billion a year, due to high absenteeism and turnover, quality-control issues and lost productivity.

When I am called upon to help raise employee engagement, the first question I have to answer is: What is the level of engagement of their supervisor(s)? If the answer is anything other than actively engaged, I must be honest about how little impact I can have on these employees.

That’s because the level of engagement of leaders greatly determines the level of engagement of their employees.

Think about the great bosses you’ve had in your career. Most likely they all share an enthusiasm and passion for the work. The same was probably true of teachers back when you were a student. It was those very few passionate teachers who inspired you in ways unlike all the others.

In virtually every aspect of our lives, actively engaged people are those who we want to be around and emulate. Their drive and passion are infectious.

Business leaders don’t have to be overly charismatic, but they do need to demonstrate positive emotional attachment to the work, their colleagues, and the organization. This cannot be fabricated, but it can be replicated.

This is not to suggest that having an actively engaged leader results in actively engaged employees. Much more is required. But if the leader is not highly engaged, no amount of training, team building, and other interventions will provide higher and sustained employee engagement.

Leaders with active engagement will impact those around them like no other intervention. Begin at the top and the rest will be easy.

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