Leadership Development – By inspiring a shared vision

March 12th, 2015

What does employee engagement look like to you? Is it seeing that your people are eager to learn and develop their talents? Or seeing that they consistently do more than that which is expected of them? Or maybe it’s just seeing that they are happy in work? The CIPD describes employee engagement as ‘a combination of commitment to the organisation and its values and a willingness to help out colleagues’.

However you view engagement one thing is for sure – it begins with great leadership. Research shows that people are not loyal to companies – they are loyal to people. You cannot expect someone to be motivated and committed to a company if their leader does not inspire it in them. Only by developing as a leader can you hope to develop your talent.

So how do you do this?

There are a significant number of leadership development training options available that can help leaders to engage and develop their talent. But arguably one of the best ways for leaders to engage their workforce is by doing what Kouzes and Posner would call ‘inspire a shared vision’. Unfortunately it has become the norm in many work places for leaders and leadership teams to feel like they have to be visionaries, like they have to have brilliant, inspiring ideas that their people will immediately jump on board with.

James Kouzes and Barry Posner would argue:

‘Yes, leaders must ask, “What’s new? What’s next? What’s better?”—but they can’t present answers that are only theirs. Constituents want visions of the future that reflect their own aspirations.’ From To Lead, Create a shared vision

As a leader you might passionately believe that you can make a difference and you may have brilliant ideas about the future of the company. But great leadership is not about dictating. You cannot engage your people by simply telling them what your vision and goals for the company are and expecting them to feel excited about them. It needs to be a collaborative process where you consider the needs and aspirations of everyone and where everyone can have an input.

Research from the CIPD has shown that ‘allowing people the opportunity to feed their views upwards is the single most important driver of engagement’. The Institute of Employment Studies (IES) has similarly found that the main drivers of engagement include ‘involvement in decision making’ and ‘the extent to which employees feel able to voice their ideas, and managers listen to these views, and value employees’ contributions’. It’s clear that in order to remain engaged people need to feel as if they can make an impact on the business and that their ideas are listened to and utilised.

It is true that this is often easier said than done. Whilst in smaller companies it might be possible to involve everybody in decision making meetings and listen to everybody’s ideas and opinions, in large corporations it is not so easy. You can send surveys out to everybody in the company and have ‘suggestion boxes’ for people to voice their opinions – but how much of this feedback actually gets taken on board? And can such an anonymous, far removed way of gauging attitudes be the best way to understand what your people want? It isn’t only in small companies that we see great levels of engagement – it is possible in larger organisations; it just takes a bit more imagination and thought about how you can create that personal touch without it becoming unmanageable and costly in terms of time and resource.

Whatever the size of the business, a leader’s ability to listen is one of the key ways that people will feel valued and engaged. Making sure that everyone feels that they can voice their opinions and ideas is vital, as is actively asking for this input. And even more important is making sure that everybody’s ideas are carefully considered and the good ones utilised.

The solitary figure sat in an ivory tower, ruling with an iron fist is an image of ancient history. Leadership is no longer a dictatorship. The great leaders check their egos at the door to nurture a culture of openness and collaboration.

By Emma Webb