In my work I have begun to notice a slight disconnect within organizations. There is leadership. There is HR. Then there is this abstract idea of employee engagement. Often times leadership sees the need for more engagement, so a conversation is had with HR. Then HR does some proverbial leg-work and a bit later leadership is brought back into the picture in a very prescriptive manner in hopes of facilitating engagement. It all sounds quite disjointed and, as a matter of fact, it is.

The reality is, engagement and leadership are much closer together than most leaders imagine. There is a distinct connection that ties leadership and engagement. This connection is behavior. If you read Building The Contextual Revolution, you may believe that leadership primarily is connected to organizational culture. Leadership is connected to both culture AND engagement, just through different relational dynamics.

BehaviorBehavior is a two-way street in an organization, regarding leadership and employee engagement. The most common thought process around this idea is how the behavior of leadership influences and contributes to the levels of employee engagement. This has a large degree of logic and most folks can see the connection quite easily.

The important thing to recognize in how it works in the other direction as well. Imagine the leadership potential within an organization of highly engaged employees. The natural behavior of an engaged employee is leadership, no matter title, role or function.

Even in the most engaged organizations, people leave for greener pastures and the like. Employee turnover isn’t always a reflection on the quality of the organization, but rather the natural evolution of their professional development. It can be an indicator, but doesn’t have to be judge, jury and executioner without digging a little to recognize the real reason for someone leaving.

To qualify, not every engaged employee is destined to be a stellar leader. A great leader, however, has (and continues to have) a high level of engagement. Succession planning is a key component to organizational longevity and success. Quality employee engagement has a developmental component to it. There is a natural tendency to lift people up to a place of leadership, within a highly engaged organization. One of the key drivers of employee engagement is providing opportunity to grow and providing challenging work. All of these things affect behavior.

The behavior of leaders influences engagement and the behavior of engaged employees is a precursor to the future leadership efforts of an organization. Behavior both contributes and is also a result. It is the common denominator between leadership and engagement. Engagement is the responsibility of HR, but not solely. It is an individual responsibility. It is the responsibility of leadership, HR and the individual – from CEO to frontline employee. It can’t be relegated to merely one group or another. It is a synergistic effort that is strapped across the entire organization.

How can behavior connect leadership and engagement?

  • Engaged Leaders – Engaged people make for the best leaders. Their behavior will reflect their level of engagement and will not only challenge others to stay engaged, but also give an example of how things can and should be done – true leadership.
  • Developing Atmosphere – There really is no other type of leadership but exemplary leadership. What you do – your behavior – is the standard you set for those you’re leading. It is highly unlikely and quite rare for employees to have a level of engagement higher than that of their leader. Your behavior as a leader will influence the engagement levels of employees. Each person has a responsibility for their own engagement, but a leader has an even higher responsibility to use their behavior to facilitate an environment which supports and encourages high levels of engagement.
  • Promotions – At some point, there is a need to promote people into a more senior position. One of the key benefits of this is a much shorter acclimation time to adapt to the culture of the organization. Internal promotion allows for a much faster and more productive acclimation process. If there has been quality leadership behavior which facilitates engagement, and the individual being promoted is highly engaged, there is a much greater chance of them being successful in their new role.
  • Cultural Reinforcement – Culture drives engagement. No doubt about it. The behavior that comes from an engaged person who is a new leader will reinforce the organizational culture which supported the engagement in the first place. It becomes a sort of positive echo chamber for the company.

Understanding this natural dynamic will free organizations from the need to address behavior modification through processes and policies to such an intrusive degree. They’re usually ineffective and cost more to create, implement, monitor and enforce than the problem they’re attempting to solve in the first place. Allowing the behavior of quality leadership – that creates a context in which organizational culture is developed (and subsequently influences employee engagement) – to facilitate engagement is the natural and most beneficial approach to ensuring highly engaged employees. The impact these engaged employees have on the depth of leadership available to an organization is unmistakeable.

How have you seen leadership and engagement connected through behavior?