Patient Leaders Prevail

Most leaders would agree that the pressures and expectations of business have increased dramatically in the last decade. Results, profits, and value for shareholders often take top priority, and it seems everyone wants everything faster. With technology evolving quickly and the drive to do more with less, many leaders act like things can be accomplished with the push of a button, and when they’re not, they demand answers.

In the process, leaders lose sight of treating people with understanding and support, which burdens everyone with stress and dissatisfaction. Leaders who are unfamiliar with the specifics of how projects are accomplished lack one of the most powerful management tools: patience.

The Misnomers About Patience

Everyone seems to want instant rewards. The reality of instantaneous reward is seldom realistic. The more complex the circumstances, the more time required to implement true solutions. Patience is the combination of understanding that many things take time and the willingness to allow that to play out.

In this fast-paced culture, patience is often seen as an inability to act. This stems from the incorrect assumptions that all direction is immediately evident, or all choices are obvious or no deadline ever dare be missed. Seasoned leaders know better.

When a leader takes time to choose a direction it isn’t always because of insecurity or the inability to grasp the specifics. Getting to the bottom of things often takes great effort and time to assure the most effective decisions can be made. Accounting for past lessons learned is also a significant process. Many corporate directions have failed because plans were rushed.

Another incorrect view of patience is common with that of other “soft” skills; they are associated with leadership weakness. Leadership expert Ritch Eich describes in Industry Week how patience is lumped into the same category as empathy, approachability, listening and transparency. The old-school mindset leads from intimidation, ego and control with little to no consideration of employee needs. In subservient cultures under old-school leaders, workers have little say and few options.

Today, great leaders recognize that employees don’t put up with this. Talented people are hard to find, and retention is key for success. The old leadership mindset requires an entire paradigm shift; respect and support of employees is critical. Soft skills, including patience, are now employed by the best leaders to engage and inspire employees. They know productivity is vitally dependent on employee satisfaction. People on the receiving end of impatience won’t take long to dislike their jobs and find a better one somewhere else. Leaders who have patience are among those who forge the strongest teams and succeed from that strength.

Patience is seen by many as slowing things down, risking the quick completion of critical projects. Impatient leaders see a need to keep the pace of progress hot; they make rapid decisions in order to obtain rapid results. In reality, haste generally raises the likelihood of mistakes and oversights. This can cause major delays when work needs to be redone or cleaned-up. Paradoxically, slowing things down can speed productivity. A leader’s patience in getting things right offers an effective use of time and talent.

Patience for Positive Change

Thankfully, many leaders have recognized the need to change their cultures. Bottom-line priorities of profits and market share are no longer goals unto themselves, but a result of a healthy employee culture. Satisfied and engaged workers enhance the organization and dramatically boost the chances for success.

Change is critical, and it is difficult. People resist it. Wise leaders know that change takes time. Culture shifts can’t be rushed without suffering. Transitioning from close-mindedness to open-mindedness, from a “good-enough” approach to one of excellence, or from market follower to market leader all require a thorough and deliberate process. Patience is needed to allow people to adapt, retrain, rethink and become convinced of the benefits to the company and themselves.

Many cultures are exclusive, patterned after the “old-boy” club where leaders have all the say and privileges and employees are excluded from the decision tree. A top leader needs great patience to turn this around, where employees are included and accepted and a political system becomes more equitable. This may include replacing some leaders who can’t (or won’t) make the needed changes in character. It all takes time to be done carefully.

Change also breeds conflict. Resolving conflict properly requires the patience to listen and work through difficulties, especially ones centering on personalities. Getting to root causes takes time, as does finding the best workable solutions. Many times, the causes lie under the surface, unseen under the layers that need to be peeled away like an onion. The process is one of stepping back to assess, followed by continuous adjustment and understanding, all under the guidance of the leader.

Typical everyday problem solving also requires a leader’s patience to accurately evaluate the situation and guide everyone to a common solution. Sometimes solutions need to be revised to work out the kinks. Rushing this process often causes more difficulty than the original problem.

Patience for Continued Growth

Fulfilling a vision for an organization requires planning, risk, communication, commitment, motivation, engagement and patience. None of this can be rushed. Great leaders make the critical assessments and necessary adjustments, take the appropriate pauses, provide the crucial resources and guidance and allow people the time to adopt new ways. Many corporate plans are dashed when results are forced too quickly. Haste breeds resistance and resentment. Visions are rarely achieved under those disadvantages. As business strategist Glenn Llopis asserts in Forbes, patience is a great sign of a leader’s maturity.

Leaders must also be relationship builders if they are to succeed. No plans, changes or growth are accomplished without the teamwork and unity that strong relationships afford. It’s been said that good leadership requires good followership. In other words, without inspiring people to follow and contribute, a leader can make no progress. Followers are developed only through meaningful and gratifying relationships. This is a slow, deliberate process. Leaders who have the patience to connect with their people can develop the relationships that are critical to meeting their objectives.

Relationship-building involves time-consuming activities like listening, offering and receiving feedback, personal coaching and mentoring. The trust earned in these processes permits the influence a leader needs to prosper their organization.

All of these circumstances involve highs and lows, trials and victories. Leaders with the determination to stay the course, stick to their values and see the changes through come out on top. Patience is a leader’s greatest tool on this journey. A motivated and empowered staff bolsters the rewards that make a leader’s patience well worth having.

Great Leaders Develop Their People

Years of data have revealed a repeated theme for employees: they want to be competent at their jobs and have the ability to succeed. This has become so important to them that 40% of employees who feel they’ve been deprived of the training necessary to be effective at their jobs will leave before their second year. A Middlesex University study showed that over 70% of workers are not happy with their level of professional development because they are not reaching their full potential. Gone are the days when employees accepted a dull, clock-punching life, doing the bare minimum to get by.

From another perspective, leaders want more productivity and progress than ever before. Their expectations of their staff require higher expertise, commitment and dedication. Yet, ironically, leaders often fail to recognize the need to develop their people to attain the goals they set for them. Unknowingly, many leaders are forfeiting productivity gains of 200%, according to Dale Carnegie studies. They surrender 20% higher profits with employees underdeveloped for their demanding jobs, according to ATD research. Their turnover rates are also painful.

Many of these issues can be minimized with the proper emphasis on employee development. Unfortunately, too many companies struggle to practice it.

What Development Means

Raising the level of an employee‘s value is not as simple as getting them more training, although training is a very crucial aspect of it. Effective development touches every aspect of an employee’s experience, including technical, managerial and interactive skills. The employees who contribute the most to their company are given the ability to know what they’re doing, apply what they know, enjoy what they do and grow to do more.

Technical training is essential, of course, allowing each person to carry out the tasks they are assigned within the system provided to them. Studies show that less than 15% of workers feel they have the skills they need to use workplace technology to effectively do their jobs. This includes computer and internet usage.

Some jobs call for high levels of skill in several areas beyond the commonly accepted norms. For example, engineers may have great theoretical and innovative skills, but need to be more proficient at technical writing or public speaking to document or present their ideas. Production supervisors generally have good process and productivity knowledge, but often need communication or conflict resolution skills to address the issues that crop up every day.

Fortunately, excellent sources of specific training in all these areas are available and leaders will benefit by allowing their people to get any training they need. Companies that fail to budget for ample technical training also fail to account for the cost of a skill shortage, where processes fail and problems expand without sufficient solutions.

Many employees need better managerial skills, where communication and collaboration are essential. A staff that works well together sharing information and ideas, setting and achieving goals and drawing the input of others to make great plans is making use of good managerial skills.

Business insider Steve Olenkski sums up the development goals very nicely in the Forbes article, 8 Key Tactics For Developing Employees. He states that organizations develop employees for two reasons ¾ to enhance employee interest and engagement in their roles (which raises productivity), and to grow new managers who in turn engage others.

Engaged people take on more responsibility, motivate themselves to keep improving and inspire similar motives in those around them. Employee development is best designed to build better people who are more interested in what they’re doing, are more effective contributors and raise the bar for the entire culture. Everyone benefits when any employee develops into the person they ultimately can be.

Develop people through specific processes.

Career planning is an often-overlooked process that identifies an employee’s ambitions, skills and opportunities to grow, as seen from a long-term perspective. Companies should always be mindful of how each employee can maximize their potential and provide the most value.

Career plans are highly individualized, focused on the goals the employee and leader agree are worth attaining. Development steps are documented and tracked to make the process effective. You must guide, encourage and assist the employee along the way to make their experience fulfilling and provide the best outcomes.

Any worthwhile plan has measurable means of tracking progress and accomplishment. Criteria for development success are not difficult to create but are necessary to assess the status of the employee’s journey. A milestone may be to complete a series of formal training or finish a project using newly attained skills.

Another process-related aspect of employee development may actually be the minimization of some processes. In other words, reduce the red tape and technicalities workers often face in the completion of assignments. A mindful leader will mend political fences or streamline an official approval procedure to help an employee accomplish their work. Try to reduce mundane tasks or offload routine busywork to other resources when possible. Put as much authority into the employee’s hands as you can and their growth will accelerate. You’re interested in developing new skills and expertise, and people need the time to do that.

Develop people through specific actions.

Not all development needs to be formal or regimented as Gwen Moran notes in her Fast Company article, How to Help Build Employees’ Career Paths So They Don’t Quit. Growing and developing can also happen through everyday activities and assignments.

One of the best ways to grow an employee is to connect them with a mentor figure, someone who’s knowledge and insight have been proven over the years. One of the goals in mentoring is to train the mentee how to solve problems and gain the confidence and self-awareness needed to handle tough situations.

Employees who’ve shown that they’ve gained a greater perspective can also mentor others. Providing this opportunity is a great development step that benefits everyone, including the leader.

Employees benefit from learning how your company works, where experts in other disciplines teach their basic practices and procedures. Very few employees can describe the flow of work through each of their organization’s departments but knowing this puts them in a better position to contribute. Giving an employee the chance to shadow others helps them see how that department works. They gain invaluable knowledge.

By design, employees who show significant levels of development are candidates for moving up. When the time is right provide them the chance to prove themselves in a new role. This may be a vacancy from a retirement, or more significantly, a position created for them where no one has had the chance to lead before. Giving someone a groundbreaking chance to make a difference is the ultimate motivator.

A final area of development is to provide the employee opportunities to offer their input and receive your feedback. Discuss their progress, ideas and lessons learned. Let them know how they’re doing and offer continued insight, support and direction. This is the foundation for effectively developing your people.

How Great Leaders Resolve Conflict

One thing is certain: when people are put together in working groups, there will be conflict. As a leader, it’s not a question of if you will face employee conflict, it’s a matter of when. Conflict is a natural occurrence in human interaction that leaders should not only expect, but be prepared for.

As business strategist Glenn Llopis advises in the Forbes article, 4 Ways Leaders Effectively Manage Conflict, leaders who fail to address conflict within their staff experience varying levels of disruption, disunity, lowered morale and diminished productivity. Resolving conflict effectively and positively is one of the most misunderstood and often avoided aspects of leadership.

With a dual approach to conflict, where measures are taken to minimize conflict triggers and mitigate conflict once it becomes apparent, everyone benefits.

Preventing Causes of Conflict

The best way for leaders to maintain a unified environment is by understanding what conditions cause conflict and putting in place management practices that avoid those conditions.

Conflict can be briefly defined as opposition put into action. The most common way opposition surfaces is in written form. Email and memo wars are prevalent, where chains of conflict can take on a life of their own, dragging bystanders down with them.

Conflict also takes on a verbal form, where arguments not only disrupt the work of those arguing, but interfere with the work of everyone within earshot.

Lastly, and most harmful, are physical conflicts. Physical combatants require immediate action per law and your company disciplinary policies.

A major cause of conflict is competition. Many will agree that some level of competition is healthy, but when it interferes with the ability to complete assignments it becomes a breeding ground for conflict. Competing priorities and action plans are a prime example. Employees may be put in competition for budgets, time, people or potential rewards. Leaders who can level the priority and resource playing field demonstrate that people are the priority. When they accommodate the overall needs of the team as amiably as possible, they avoid unmerited competitions and the conflict that follows.

Another cause of employee conflict is poor communication. Conflict is sure to appear if people don’t feel informed, or they are not sure of what is expected of them. Speculation and rumors create uncertainty, which can trigger anxiety and elevate conflict. A culture of communication and transparency minimizes gaps in information. Make it your policy to keep people informed and involved in the activity of the organization. Being truthful, without holding back bad news, will earn you trust and greatly minimize conflict.

Unfair treatment and/or lack of equal opportunities are another cause for conflict between coworkers. When people believe that they’re left out, unappreciated or not important, it sets-up resentments, rivalries and conflict.  Leaders with awareness and engagement skills create a supportive, understanding and inclusive work environment with equal treatment and consideration that prevents the kind of insecurities that can breed conflict.

The Proper Conflict Resolution Approach

When working with opposing points of view there are a number of potential outcomes, but only one is beneficial for all:

  1. If you concede to one party, the imbalance will make short life of any peace you establish. This kind of peace is likely in appearance only.
  2. If you avoid the issues at hand and mandate a resolution, everyone loses. The result may be a conflict worse than the original, and your efforts will fare worse than doing nothing.
  3. If you require the parties compete for a win, this also establishes a worse scenario in the long run. The conflict is only inflamed.
  4. If you have the parties compromise, which is a partial concession, the peace may last a while, but compromises are soon resented. The conflict typically ends up where it started, this time with an additional issue.
  5. The most effective approach is to collaborate and come to a resolution where both sides achieve a sense of win. If both sides can agree to make similar adjustments or concessions, they will have a sense of cooperation and success. The solution is found in the middle ground, where both sides come toward it and meet there.

As a leader, your role is to facilitate a civil collaboration and resolve the conflict with the most agreeable solution. This is a significant skill that many leaders haven’t developed. The power of conflict resolution is not to decree a fix, but to guide both parties to devise a solution they can live with. Llopis suggests the leader be proactive and intentional. These approaches establish you as a trusted coach, mediator and advocate for each side.

An Effective Conflict Resolution Process

As a facilitator in employee conflict resolution, it’s the leader’s job to guide the process by using effective steps that people will understand and follow:

  1. Resolving conflict is a private matter between the opposing employees and their leader. It is a personal encounter conducted by the leader, with the goal of helping each person take away value and agreement.
  2. The leader affirms the values and principles everyone in the organization is to strive for, which includes teamwork, cooperation and fairness.
  3. A mediation process is used to hear out each side, value their perspectives and help each party understand the viewpoint of the other.
  4. The leader guides each participant to offer viable solutions. The suggestions are reviewed, modified and discussed until an agreement can be reached. This is generally not as difficult as it may appear. Solutions are often simple, but people in conflict often don’t see them without help.
  5. The parties are led into an implementation and follow-up process where progress can be monitored and reviewed. This is a critical time for strong support from the leader.

Leaders who have developed softer skills will have the most success in conflict resolution. Your empathy, authenticity and active listening are critical in developing trust in you, and the process. A qualified executive coach can be a great resource to help you hone these skills and apply them in the conflict resolution process.

The Power of Humble Leadership

Today’s leaders face innumerable challenges that previous generations never confronted: employee disengagement, cloud-based speed of commerce, political correctness, cultural diversity, social sensitivities and a hyper-focus on efficiency, among others. Pressure to succeed is higher than ever. Leaders know they must have an A-game, and they continually encounter methods that experts claim will improve proficiencies.

Humility, however, is an often-overlooked character trait that flies in the face of culturally accepted leadership norms. It may, in fact, be the most powerful attribute a leader can have to engage and inspire people. Leaders dream of motivated teams, yet many try to develop them in all the wrong ways.

Fundamental Paradigms

For generations, workplace humility was seen as a detriment, not an advantage. For the greater part of the 20th century, leaders believed organizations were best run with power, intimidation, authority and ego. Employees were told what to do and were shown the door when they failed to comply. Decisiveness, toughness and assertiveness were deemed leadership strengths. Facts and figures ruled the day, and leaders seldom prioritized employee needs.

These paradigms are still found in many corners of commerce. Old-school leaders regard softer skills as weaknesses. Unfortunately for them, the primary weakness in this mindset is results.

The word “humility” is plagued with negative connotations. Humble leaders may be erroneously viewed as unsure of themselves, permissive or unable to stand firm. Nothing can be further from the truth, and outdated leadership paradigms are responsible for countless organizational woes.

Studies and surveys over recent decades clearly show that organizational prosperity is highly connected to employee satisfaction and engagement. A company runs much better when its people feel good about what they’re doing. Recent emphasis on efficiency and growth has led leaders to examine these softer skills and pay closer attention to people’s needs.

Thus, the leadership world is trying to learn how it can engage and inspire employees, though humility’s role hasn’t yet achieved universal buy-in. Many bosses still enjoy being bosses, with the authority and privileges the role affords. Fortunately, positive, people-oriented approaches have made their way into leadership game plans, including onboarding, open communication, telecommuting, progressive office layouts and a host of enticing perks. Humility, nonetheless, must become a more popular leadership practice.

Humility’s Advantages

Employee mindsets have shifted from previous generations, according to current data. They want much more than a paycheck, seeking interpersonal connections with their leaders. They desire purpose, significance and the fulfillment associated with making a difference in the workplace. Employees want to contribute value and enjoy meaningful work. They need assurances that they’ll be given the opportunity to succeed at the tasks they’re assigned. They want to be valued, supported and encouraged. They’re looking for leaders who will connect with them and meet these needs.

When employees’ needs go unmet, the organization also suffers. Morale and attitudes steeply decline, and engagement and work ethic follow suit. Productivity and effectiveness drop, and overall business performance significantly deteriorates.

Humble leaders are more adept at meeting people’s needs because they connect with them at the most basic human level, explain organizational leadership consultants Merwyn A. Hayes and Michael D. Comer in Start with Humility: Lessons from America’s Quiet CEOs on How to Build Trust and Inspire Followers (CreateSpace, 2010). Employees sense sincerity, care and openness in a humble leader. They see someone who puts a higher priority on people’s needs than his or her own. They value a leader who will help them succeed and develop into a better worker, which promotes purpose and self-esteem. Employees become inspired and respond with respect and trust.

When encountering humility, employees feel they are listened to and heard, and their best interests are served. They experience humble leaders growing and empowering them, rather than controlling or manipulating them. Humility allows leaders to relate to their people more personably, fairly and reasonably. Humble leaders deemphasize their own importance by emphasizing their people’s worth.

A leader’s desire to meet people’s needs cultivates a loyal following and promotes positive responses. The entire organization benefits when people and practices operate optimally and life at work is enjoyable.

Humble Behaviors

Before determining how best to reflect humility, it’s important to grasp what it is and what it looks like. Perhaps pastor, speaker and author Rick Warren expresses it best: Humility is not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less.

While strong leaders are stereotypically portrayed as egocentric, forceful, bold and self-serving, humility is by no means a lack of confidence or authority. It’s a mistake to view considerate and other-focused leaders as ineffective. In reality, self-serving leaders are ruining workplaces everywhere, to the point where most employees do not care for their jobs or employers. Self-serving leaders have yet to recognize the clear outcome of widespread research: Their style doesn’t work.

True humility is a response of noble character, based on a choice to regard the needs of others ahead of one’s own. At its heart, humility is characterized by a desire to serve and dedication to bettering others. Humble leaders are fulfilled by helping others achieve fulfillment. A leader with a humble approach lifts people’s spirits, self-esteem and confidence, which enhances overall organizational life.

Hayes and Comer cite numerous humble behaviors, any of which can be clearly discerned when on display. Some of the more important ones are:

Admitting mistakes – If you can be vulnerable, transparent and fallible in front of your people, your true self is revealed, and people are drawn to you. You convey safety, build trust and strengthen relationships.

Empowering people – If you push authority down to the most effective level, you give up some control to your people. This engages them and demonstrates they’re valued and trusted.

Actively listening – This shows people you’re interested in and care about them. You’ve laid the foundation for trust and forging a loyal following.

Crediting others – When your people succeed, give them the credit to build teamwork and inspire higher productivity. People will go above and beyond for a supportive leader who doesn’t steal the spotlight.

Empathy – Being sensitive to people’s trials helps you better understand their perspectives. You’ll lead them more considerately, and they’ll reciprocate with appreciation and allegiance.

Other humble behaviors include honesty, kindness, sincerity and approachability, each of which sets the stage for more favorable employee responses and mutually beneficial relationships. Humble leaders exhibit behaviors that more effectively meet people’s needs—and when their needs are met, there’s no limit to what they can accomplish.

Assess Your Humility Level

Once you grasp the basic tenets of humility, you can more accurately gauge how well you exhibit it. Start by assessing your behavior and responses to the following questions. (You can work with a trusted colleague or coach to ensure you see yourself clearly.)

Do you frequently lose your temper? Perhaps you’re short with people or pressing your points without regarding theirs. Take stock of how people respond to you. Is there an issue with your approach? If your employees try to avoid you or resist bringing up difficult topics, you may be overbearing. Focus on being calm and collected, and recognize the harm caused by a lack of kindness or empathy. Put yourself in the shoes of a person confronted with your gruff approach.

Are you a focused listener? Are people frustrated because they can’t complete their sentences with you? Do you make sense of their points, or have you missed part of the conversation? Do people’s comments indicate that you don’t understand their perspective? Practice better listening skills by eliminating distractions and making a deliberate effort to grasp everything someone is saying. Imagine being quizzed on the conversation to see if you’ve caught every point. Ask questions to verify what you were told. (If this embarrasses you, use it as an incentive to listen better.)

Are you too focused on your own image? Do you build yourself up at others’ expense? Do their victories end up on your bragging list to impress your boss? Do you give your people a chance to present how they accomplished their tasks? Any attention your people draw from success reflects directly on you. Great leaders don’t need to grab credit. They earn much more respect when their people get the credit. Advance your reputation through your team’s exemplary track record.

Do you search for sources of blame when things go wrong? Are your stories getting more creative as you try to avoid judgment? Is throwing people under the bus more the norm than the exception? Try to recognize that blame causes more damage to your reputation than the initial problem. Respect and trust are earned only when you accept responsibility for a situation, learn from it and take steps to avoid a repeat scenario. Admit to your people that you don’t know everything and you’re open to learning new ways to improve efficacy and productivity. Swallowing your pride is a major step toward achieving humility.

Making Adjustments

Leaders can certainly change—at least to a degree. Behavioral adjustments and upgrades are possible, but they take work. An entire overhaul of your behavior is generally not workable and may indicate you’re not in the correct role.

Hayes and Comer point out that a cognitive decision to improve is only the first step in practicing humility. Change is proportional to the effort you put into it. Lasting results are achieved only after rigorously practicing new behaviors.

Training your brain requires focus, repetition and ongoing feedback from others. Consider hiring a qualified professional coach to help you adopt a humbler approach to leadership. The rewards are well worth the investment.

Keep Your Vision Alive

Top business leaders embark on their role with great enthusiasm and expectations. They set out to make a difference and craft a success story. Fueled by their freedom to create, leaders draft mission and vision statements to frame their organization’s purpose. Their mission statements define their work or specialty, and their vision statements declare what they seek to accomplish (and why).

Vision is testimony to a leader’s beliefs, and it ideally trickles down to followers. It sets the tone for all company operations.

Unfortunately, many organizations with a proclaimed vision struggle to uphold it. This vision has died somewhere along the way, starting out strong but eventually losing its power. Many leaders fail to recognize the descent. Once they do become aware, they wonder what caused it.

Fortunately, with the proper approach, visions needn’t fade away. They can (and must) be kept fervently alive.

The Cost of a Dead Vision

When a leader’s vision fades into the background, the organization’s purpose can derail. Direction meanders, and focus blurs. The organization evolves into an entity that no longer resembles its inception, and it functions at a much lower level. Signs of failure begin to appear, and consequences grow increasingly painful.

Without a strong vision, the organizational emphasis on core values wanes, and less desirable values take their place. For example, if a manufacturer wants to be known for superior products in its field, its reputation will suffer if quantity starts to supersede quality. As the company cuts corners to increase production, businesses reject or return goods. Longstanding clients take their business elsewhere, and the manufacturer now faces downsizing (or worse).

When vision fades, so do priorities. New practices and procedures may defy the company’s original spirit. If a firm’s passion to provide high-value services is replaced by efforts to drive down costs and increase profit margins, its founding principles have disappeared, along with many of its clients.

Generally, these changes occur gradually. Incremental shifts are barely noticed. Leaders may not recognize the cumulative effects until a crisis hits and they’re forced to pick up the pieces. Subtle and steady gaps in organizational vision lead to totally unexpected conditions. Picture a ship sailing with a rudder stuck only 1°off course. Uncorrected, it will never reach its planned destination.

How Vision Gets Lost

At the outset, a leader’s vision sets the tone for how an organization operates, as evidenced by its plans, decisions, responses and attitudes. In the early stages of vision-setting, guiding principles rule the day.

But day-to-day operations are taxing, complicated and require great energy. Complexity can kill an original vision, notes Andy Stanley in Making Vision Stick (Zondervan, 2007). Many leaders lose track of their vision over time and simply hope to keep their heads above water. Their attention is diverted from fundamentals to details. Crises often precipitate this. When vision gets lost in the shuffle, the organization veers off course.

In some cases, leaders see so many opportunities that they dilute their company’s efforts by trying to pursue them all. As they chase too many dreams, their original vision becomes covered with dust. Like a whirling weathervane, an organization that points in too many directions points in no direction at all. When leaders are tempted to take sudden opportunities, they send their people on paths they were never planning to take. Without proper plans and resources in place, chaos renders one’s original vision unrecognizable.

Some leaders are changed by the level of success they achieve. They enjoy the feeling of winning and controlling and let it go to their heads. Personal rewards are no longer appreciated, but expected. It’s very tempting to rearrange certain aspects of the operation to deliver personal benefits (if not emotional, then certainly financial).

Ultimately, it’s the top leader’s responsibility to plant the vision and cultivate it throughout the organization. Vision dies when a leader’s support dwindles and goals are no longer emphasized. Leaders must intentionally and consistently keep their vision at the forefront of everyone’s mind, or focus will gradually disappear.

Properly Establish Your Vision

Everyone within the organization must understand its vision. Leaders must ensure this occurs, and planning is the first priority.

Ideas are better grasped when they’re simple. Complex or confusing visions cannot be easily understood. No matter how well they’re communicated, they’ll remain elusive to most people. This is the thrust of leadership consultant Shaun Spearmon’s 2013 Forbes article "Your Company Vision: If It’s Complicated, It Shouldn’t Be." A corporate vision must be constructed in a way that’s easy to understand and remember. As theatrical producer David Belasco once said, “If you can’t fit your idea on the back of a business card, you don’t have a clear idea.” Leaders need to begin with a simple and memorable vision so it can meaningfully take root in people’s minds.

Leaders next must communicate this vision to their people. A great idea that remains a secret is as useless as a bad idea that everyone hears. Gather people together, and explain your vision. Let them understand its meaning, your reasons for it and the impact it should have on their daily roles.

As Andy Stanley emphasizes, an effective vision expresses concern about a problem in the marketplace and offers a solution. Visions yield value when they solve problems or make something better. A vision implies that failure to follow it creates substantial setbacks.

Walmart offers an excellent example of vision in its slogan: “Save Money. Live Better.” The company’s vision is clear: to help as many people as possible experience a better life by saving money on things they need. It’s simple, memorable and solves a problem to which everyone can relate. Who doesn’t want a better life? Who doesn’t want to save money?

Leaders must emphatically propose their vision to ensure its longevity. Vision should emotionally engage people to convince them of its importance. In other words, vision cannot take hold if people fail to understand its vital role in solving the identified market problem. It cannot be separated from the organization’s planning, practices and personality. Selling a vision with this kind of impact helps ensure it will have a longer life.

Effectively Maintain Your Vision

Keeping the corporate vision active and powerful takes effort, diligence, intentionality and desire, all of which must be initiated by the top leader. With daily distractions, challenges and opportunities that impact staff, you must remember that a casual approach to monitoring your vision is inadequate. Start by getting your leadership circle on board.

Keeping the vision on everyone’s mind requires a consistent focus (pointing activities and outcomes back to it). You benefit by establishing policies and procedures in ways that reflect your vision. For example, if your vision is to improve diabetic patients’ health with your extensive line of nutritious products, position all activities to deliver on this promise. Your decisions to partner with retailers must be based on helping diabetics live healthier lives. Your product development and testing should be aimed at helping diabetics stay healthy. All of your meetings, budgets and plans must be designed to support consumers’ lives. Your vision becomes a mantra that no one can ignore.

Wise leaders boost their vision even further by eliminating any activities or projects that don’t support it. As tempting as new ventures may be, spreading yourself thin by chasing too many of them always weakens the focus on your primary vision and diminishes overall outcomes.

Maintaining this mindset requires your vision to be openly and continuously promoted long after its introduction. Update meetings, signage, posters, newsletters and websites to keep your vision at the forefront of people’s experience. Some organizations state their vision on their letterhead and standard forms. Make sure it’s ingrained in the staff’s consciousness.

As advantageous as open reminders are for maintaining your vision, nothing is as compelling as a personal message from you. Direction and culture originate at the top, so your testimony carries more weight than all other promotional efforts combined. In staff meetings, periodically describe your passion for the vision. Send a video message to your employees through company email. Let them see how important the vision is to you and how their involvement is part of a greater cause. These strategies ensure your vision remains fresh and vibrant in people’s minds and, by extension, their work.

Multiply Your Vision

Vision will fade if a leader is its sole supporter. This is particularly true if you lead a large organization. Vision thrives only when everyone believes it and collectively promotes it. It must multiply beyond yourself so you’re not its only curator. Every employee must become its ambassador, passing along a passion for it.

Make sure your people are “all in,” compelled to nobly promote the cause in lieu of focusing on self-interest.  When your character reflects a concern for others over yourself, your vision writes a compelling story that people trust, believe and adopt. Enthusiastic followers are voluntary promoters, often without realizing it.

Your vision also multiplies when you reward compliance. Lead by example so your behaviors, attitudes and performance are contagious. Celebrate achievements that reinforce the vision, as Andy Stanley suggests. Publicly recognize people when their accomplishments steer the organization closer to your vision’s reality.

Let people know that you expect them to make the vision their central focus. When each person is commissioned to fulfill the vision through clearly stated policies and practices, the seeds produce a bigger harvest. Use performance assessments to review people’s support for the vision in their work.

There’s no need for one’s vision to stall or die out. When you keep it fresh and alive, you can steer your organization toward accomplishing every goal.

Building a Culture on Strengths

Much has been documented on the advantages leaders have when they strive to discover their employees’ strengths and make the best use of them. According to Gallup surveys, 67% of employees who feel that their strengths are used and appreciated by their leaders are engaged in their work. This compares to a general engagement rate of 15% in the workplace as a whole.

Employees who are permitted to use their strengths are more interested in what they’re doing and apply themselves more fully. They are more productive, inspired, and loyal. It has been long shown that when organizations lead people through their strengths, they benefit in many ways: higher sales and profits, lower turnover and absenteeism, and better customer reviews.

Clearly, it’s to your advantage to maximize the use of your peoples’ strengths. The strength of the organization depends on the applied strength its employees. But this is more than just assessing peoples’ skills. Leaders who establish a culture of strength-mindedness instill a collective focus on and value in the strengths of people. It’s a focus that must be engrained into everything and everyone.

Discover People’s Strengths

For you to know the strengths of your people, you first need to know your people. Focusing on strengths is inherently a focus on people: their abilities, interests, knowledge, and aspirations. Technical strengths are only a portion of the picture. Strengths are also measured in the softer skills: character, courage, confidence, and communication. Leaders who spend time with their people, getting to know them, have the greatest ability to assess these kinds of strengths and know how they can be applied in the workplace.

Many personal strengths are revealed through one-on-one conversations. Another way to discover character strengths is to observe how your people handle themselves, how they behave, respond, and make decisions. Getting insights from coworkers or other leaders adds to the collection of information on a person’s strengths.

Technical strengths are often more straightforward to judge by reviewing a person’s work: its thoroughness, accuracy and inventiveness. You can see peoples’ strengths by how well they tackle challenges and find solutions to problems. Their values are revealed in how they take on their responsibilities. Making note of these things gives you a good sense for the strengths of your people.

Channeling Skills into Teams

In today’s dynamic environment, leaders get great benefits by grouping their people into multidiscipline teams to make the most of their strengths. Structuring teams with a diverse set of skills and personalities feeds synergy and motivation. When paired with other skillsets, people inspire one another and learn from each other. The sense of unity reduces barriers and creates a collective drive to solve problems with creative solutions. Leaders are better able to forge a focus on goals rather than specific work assignments, leading to a higher rate of productivity.

With teams, empowerment is more viable, where authority is pushed down to the lowest level possible. People develop a greater spirit of self-sufficiency and decision making, providing higher levels of ownership, pride and interest in their work. They share their strengths and develop new ones from their teammates. They use their strengths to embrace challenges and have a more positive outlook when they’re given these freedoms.

You can utilize peoples’ strengths even more by creating workplace layouts that maximize collaboration and communication within each team. A combination of private and common spaces, with appropriate noise abatement and elbow room yields maximum engagement. Team members are naturally led to combine strengths with the different disciplines and backgrounds of their teammates, letting them get to know, trust, and influence each other. The power of interaction can compensate for a lacking in certain strengths.

Matching Projects to People

Leaders who select projects for the strengths of their people have a far greater success rate than those who simply dole out work without strength considerations. Intentionally crafting projects that specifically challenge the strengths of a person or team are also more successful. People are more inspired and inventive when forced to use their strengths, especially when they are pushed to their limits.

Projects come is varying degrees of complexity and difficulty. Leaders who want to maximize their peoples’ strengths will assign projects toward the lowest level of capability that can pull off results. This creates a challenge that causes people to lift their game, grow, and find fulfillment in ways they never thought they could.

Growing Peoples’ Strengths

Gallup and other survey takers have shown that one of the aspects people value in their jobs the most is the opportunity to learn and grow, specifically through additional learning and training. People want to get better at what they do, to be stronger contributors, and more qualified to advance to greater responsibilities. Leaders who provide their people with these opportunities see them not only advancing their current strengths, but developing new ones. As a leader you have no better ability to succeed than when your people are continuously raising their capabilities and the desire to use them.

Another significant way people can grow is to take on the role of trainer or instructor, and share what they know. Establishing in-house training programs is a great way to grow strengths in everyone. It also raises the candidacy of people for potential advancement or involvement in more complex projects.

Developing the strengths of your people is beneficial through the reputation they develop, both within and outside your organization. Internal expertise is obviously beneficial for organizations that rely on winning projects from the business community. It also pays dividends internally, when other employees seek out your team experts to learn and grow additional strengths. Forget the politics of keeping your peoples’ strengths to yourself. Everyone wins when you enhance your entire organization by sharing what you have.

The Strength-Based Philosophy

The most productive and effective organizations, the ones that have the most engaged and creative people, are the ones that have a culture focused on the strengths of their employees. The emphasis is on what people can do, not on what they can’t do. None of this happens by itself, but only through the living example and specific direction of the primary leader. These are leaders who have the philosophy that strengths are the primary focus of everything their organization attempts to do.

Such a culture invests heavily in its people, encouraging and rewarding the use of strengths. Create programs to discover and track the strengths of your employees. Offer training and teaching experiences continuously. Establishing a team structure allows people to maximize and share their strengths. Trusting people to apply themselves and be stretched beyond their comfort zone causes them to meet challenges and find new solutions.

Leaders in strength-based cultures assess their people’s performance not just on quantifiable results, but on the effectiveness of their personal development. How well do they use their strengths, and how do they maximize them or develop new ones? Leaders who are focused on strengths often coach their people directly, cultivating more talents and strengths. Setting up a system of internal coaching is also a powerful way to enhance and develop strengths, build networks, and increase collaboration.

Your strength-based culture must teach communication skills, where strengths get enhanced and used to connect people and forge a spirit of unity. Leaders who instill a mindset of helping one another get the greatest benefits from the strengths of their people, where they feel fulfilled and valued. Applying a collective focus on peoples’ strengths can fashion a culture that will boost your business better than any other approach.

The Traps of Consensus-Style Leadership

Most employees favor consensus-run organizations, where a leader uses inclusion and feedback to manage democratically. A consensus-style leader is a refreshing alternative to the tyrant who issues stern orders. But democracy, taken to an extreme, creates numerous frustrations for direct reports.

Leaders who advocate for consensus want everyone to feel valued and happy. These apparent benefits may be dwarfed by their inherent traps, creating the very unhappiness they strive to prevent. Overly inclusive leaders may unwittingly sabotage their efforts.

Consensus-style leaders are seen as mediators or peacekeepers, seeking a calm, cooperative environment. They disdain conflict and disunity, experiencing a sense of well-being only when everyone gets along. They seek to maintain a spirit of togetherness and happiness, going out of their way to ensure people’s needs are met.

Unlike tyrants or compulsive leaders, mediators put their people’s needs ahead of their own. They accept a more behind-the-scenes role, according to Beatrice Chestnut, PhD, author of The 9 Types of Leadership: Mastering the Art of People in the 21st Century Workplace (Post Hill Press, 2017). Peacekeepers don’t want prominence or attention, just the satisfaction that everyone is productive, pleased and supportive.

To keep the peace, consensus-style leaders give people equal consideration by seeking their input and concerns. They welcome all ideas and suggestions so the team can come to agreement and keep the majority happy. Leaders mediate disagreements to avoid strife, often forgoing their own preferences and desires. But as Dr. Chestnut explains, such sacrifices may unintentionally reduce overall team effectiveness, morale and progress.

Advantages and Disadvantages

Consensus-style leaders offer some significant benefits. They:

  • Attempt to understand people’s perspectives and needs to ensure they’re affirmed and pleased
  • Avoid becoming angry to prevent discouragement or upset
  • Solicit each person’s input and ideas to avoid feelings of exclusion or disillusionment
  • Mediate disagreements to help the team find unity and safety
  • Give of themselves, often setting aside personal preferences for the common good
  • Make themselves available for discussion or assistance
  • Help each person contribute to team success without favoritism
  • Influence through diplomacy to avoid offending people
  • Shrug off personal credit to recognize others
  • Avoid blaming others and focus on solutions

As healthy as this work environment may seem, consensus-minded leadership has several potential drawbacks:

  • Leaders tend to hold back their opinions to avoid disunity, which diminishes their authority and ability to lead firmly.
  • They avoid conflicts they fear may be too difficult to handle, which permits underlying trouble to brew and makes unity tougher to maintain in the long run.
  • They take less initiative when outcomes may not sit well with everyone. Passive leaders often miss opportunities for improvement or success.
  • They struggle with decisions when they fail to achieve consensus. People may then be reluctant to trust them, especially in tough times.
  • Their indecisiveness limits progress, thwarting people’s efforts to complete assigned tasks. This causes frustration and disengagement.
  • They keep the peace by giving answers they believe people want—but not need—to hear. This misinformation causes errors in direction, judgment and outcomes.
  • They skirt around constructive feedback instead of clearly explaining how employee performance must improve. Substandard work or attitudes go unaddressed, and a lack of corrective actions may threaten the organization’s well-being.
  • They fail to offer directives when the team incorrectly prioritizes tasks. They discredit their own expertise in a misguided attempt to empower their people, which may compromise goals and progress.
  • They disfavor change, especially if it may disrupt the comforting status quo. Organizations may fall behind.
  • They ignore their personal needs as they tend to everyone else, thereby inviting fatigue, anger, resentment or burnout.

Detecting a Consensus Mindset

Employees can easily spot behaviors to which consensus-driven leaders may succumb. Problems are sure to arise if too many of these signs are prevalent.

Leaders who consistently struggle to make decisions, especially on issues where the team’s view is split, are too democracy oriented. Their tentativeness often encourages organizational stagnation and overarching employee frustration.

Consensus-style leaders tend to agree with everyone in meetings, making excessive attempts to acknowledge each participant’s views. Trying to give everyone a positive response takes peacekeeping to a new level, as not every idea has merit or weight. Praising every comment strains credulity and sets the stage for misdirection and misunderstandings.

As these leaders work overtime to provide affirmation, they may unconsciously exhibit subtle sullen behavior or give people the silent treatment. These passive behaviors may stem from resentment, notes Berit Brogaard, PhD, in 5 Signs That You’re Dealing with a Passive-Aggressive Person (Psychology Today, Nov. 13, 2016). Democratic leaders who regularly ignore their preferences or blindly favor team harmony are likely to develop some passive-aggressive tendencies.

Passive-aggressive behavior also surfaces when consensus-style leaders fail to fulfill their commitments. Saying “yes” to a request just to keep the peace often results in an unspoken “no,” later to be conveniently attributed to “forgetfulness.” Consensus-minded leaders resist suggested changes and are stubborn about initiating them. They want to keep everyone comfortable because it seems to make people happy, and this is their tacit goal.

Peacekeeping leaders seem overly settled and appreciative when disagreements are resolved and will look dismayed or pained when conflicts continue. They make noble efforts to mediate and return the group to harmony, without assigning blame. They may hesitate when asked for their personal viewpoint, making conflict resolution awkward, if not ineffective.

Consensus-driven leaders will deflect attention, preferring to shine the spotlight on their people. They’re uncomfortable with traditional levels of power or control and become distressed when issuing firm orders. They try to direct with softer skills and inspire their people with an uplifting, positive approach, making subtle requests seem as harmless as possible. Many democratic leaders prompt their people to volunteer for tasks so no objectionable assignments need to be doled out.

The Consensus-Driven Character

Developing a more effective leadership style begins with understanding how the consensus-style leader thinks and feels.

Those who overvalue consensus and unity identify conflict as their primary source of managerial tension. Disharmony causes them anguish, so the prospect of confrontation troubles them. They work overtime to establish and maintain a peaceful environment, believing that oneness is the only viable way to work—and anything short of it constitutes a problem to be rectified.

Their primary means of maintaining a unified team is to help people meet their needs, keep them positive and cooperative, and affirm togetherness while dissuading strife. This sometimes means playing the role of mediator or peacekeeper. At other times, it may mean avoiding difficult situations, hoping they’ll blow over. Keeping the peace often involves telling people what they want to hear or hiding difficult issues from them. In the moment, the short-term benefits seem to outweigh the potential long-term risks.

Blind Spots

Leaders who feed off consensus and unity as their primary means of comfort have difficulty seeing the consequences of their behaviors.

Clearly, people are never in continuous harmony. Too many opposing interests prevent long-lived peace and quiet. Ironically, a leader desperate to prevent conflict can actually foment it. Building consensus involves working through and acknowledging disagreements. Skirting them prevents consensus. Leaders fail to realize their efforts can be counterproductive, causing tension and frustration, and quashing group decision-making.

Telling people what they want to hear can be an act of miscommunication. Incorrect information leads to faulty conclusions and improper direction or activities. Leaders fail to see that keeping the peace causes more tension than being truthful and working through the issues. Employees appreciate transparency more than peacekeeping.

Leaders are better trained than their employees to evaluate complex issues. The team’s consensus may not offer the best solution. Forgoing authority in an attempt to empower people may severely backfire. Long-term goals are more important than immediate gratification.

Keeping the peace can be exhausting, especially if it means stuffing your preferences or agenda. Consensus-style leaders must accept that it’s nearly impossible to prevent all conflicts or outspokenness within the ranks. The peace they think they’re preserving may wreak havoc. Being tired, frustrated or anxious quickly ruins a leader’s ability to manage people.

Helping Leaders Through Consensus Dependency

It’s often difficult to assess one’s own issues, so consensus-style leaders will benefit from professional coaching that pinpoints specific weaknesses.

Learning to accept and work within conflict is key. Leaders who resist conflict must understand its necessity. The best ideas and solutions often hatch from disagreements. If leaders can learn that conflict needn’t be painful and that it’s actually healthy in the proper proportions, they can use it to their advantage. Minor conflicts won’t destroy unity, as leaders may fear, but rather forge it.

Employees want courageous, decisive leaders to pull them through difficult times, especially when conflict arises. Leaders must learn there are times when consensus is beneficial and other times when strong, decisive leadership is the gold standard. One’s ability to separate the two determines success. Making the correct call draws people to you, while fumbling puts them off.

Leaders who reveal themselves, who are transparent and passionate, are the most revered; they create the most loyal followers. Holding back your opinions in favor of team feedback has its place and time, but people want a real leader they can know, trust and learn from. Consensus-style leaders need to project a leader’s persona that blends the proper levels of humility, courage, wisdom, insight and confidence. Your people won’t sense these attributes if you fail to express them.

As consensus-style leaders overcome their inhibitions, their strength will shine through, and unity will be stronger than ever.

Emotionally Healthy Leadership

Leaders face a variety of pressures and expectations in today’s corporate environment. Their responses to these pressures vary, as do the personalities behind them. Ineffective or (worse) toxic cultures are a result of leaders who respond to trials in detrimental ways. Consistently effective management requires a high inner stability, making emotional health one of the most critical attributes a leader can have to keep an organization running well.

Studies and statistics tell us the woes of employees dealing with leaders who make life difficult. The rates of disengagement and turnover attest, in part, to how leaders can make work an undesirable experience. Leaders who cause cultures to have low morale, disunity or distrust are likely to have deficient emotional health. Often this condition stresses the emotional health of everyone.

If you were to take a step back, would you be able to sense any emotionally difficult aspects of your leadership role? Would you say they inhibit your performance, or the performance of those reporting to you? If so, you may need to address your emotional health.

Being Self-Aware

Anyone can allow emotions to override discernment or rational thinking. When this happens to a leader, decision making and solution generation are compromised. Emotions can get the best of a leader, and unfortunate things happen. Those who can find the proper balance of thought and feeling have the greatest advantage for managing well.

Emotional balance requires knowing your tendencies. Leaders must be cognizant of their emotional inclinations in order to address any shortcomings and correct them. This is one of the most challenging areas of leadership. In addition to technical skills and people skills, emotional skills require the deepest self-discovery. They require an accurate self-awareness that often calls for honest feedback from others. No one is the best judge of their own emotional state.

Self-awareness is a subset of emotional intelligence (EI), the ability to understand and manage emotions to maximize the effectiveness of relationships, behavior and decision making.

Although emotions can range from very positive to very negative, negative emotions—including angercontemptdisgustguiltfear, and nervousness—typically interfere with effective leadership and cause unfortunate aftereffects.

To assess your emotional tendencies, note and identify emotions, primarily during moments of stress or trial. Make a habit of stepping back to identify the emotion of the moment. Patterns may appear.

Do you find yourself easily angered or openly frustrated? Do fears or anxieties tend to make you hesitate or become unable to make tough decisions? Are your relationships suffering from resentments or pessimism you can’t seem to break? How is this impacting your culture? Try to identify these emotions and identify thoughts or actions that precede them.

While we can’t control how others behave, we can control our responses. Are your responses healthy? In other words, are they adding value? Are they justified? These are all aspects of the emotional assessment in being self-aware.

Defense mechanisms of avoidance, intimidation, denial or over-delegating are a result of an emotional inability to manage situations in a healthy way. If you find yourself repeatedly resorting to these tactics, you will benefit by evaluating why you have difficulty coping with stress. Consider working with a trusted mentor or executive coach for objective feedback and support in identifying and working through issues. Make a plan to begin an improvement process.

Enduring Under Stress

Every leadership position faces stress. It comes with the territory. The key is not to let it get the best of you; emotions make stressful moments worse. Leaders can’t be optimally effective when emotions interfere with their discernment or decision making.

Once damaging emotions can be identified, the effect they have on your leadership role becomes clearer. For example, anxiety not only inhibits decisions but shows your people an unreliable trait that loses their trust. Who will they count on to lead them through stormy seas? Anger causes resentment, distrust and withdrawal in your people. Their productivity suffers under these conditions, and that feeds more anger, replaying a vicious cycle.

A key to enduring under stress is to evaluate situations as objectively as possible, step back to grasp the need for rational responses, and maintain a strong, reliable composure. Emotions are important for a leader but must be balanced in healthy proportions with other traits. In Emotional Health & Leadership, the Global Leadership Foundation asserts that positive emotions, rational thought, and gut feel have a place in discernment and decision making. Find the best ratios for each instance.

Filtering out stress and negative emotions becomes easier when trials are treated as situations requiring calm rather than reflex. The key is to get better at making thoughtful, constructive responses rather than automatic reactions. Taking responsibility for your responses requires forethought and conditioning to step back and think— before acting. These are all behaviors worth practicing and perfecting.

Leaders who rely on their proven abilities and strengths respond to trials with more confidence. They trust their skills and are not overly concerned about how others judge them. Do you find yourself worrying more about your reputation than fixing your organization’s problems? You might be under-confident, anticipating the worst, or taking the trial as a personal incrimination. Enduring under stress is enhanced by making your focus less about your personal welfare and more about the company’s.

Thinking Positively

Do you see assignments as opportunities, or burdens? Are you typically optimistic, or cynical? Do you forgive people, or hold onto grudges? Do you spend your time seeking solutions, or blame? The detrimental side of these questions is prompted by unhealthy emotions, caused by a negative mindset.

Develop a more positive outlook. Making unjustified assumptions or judgements leads to unfortunate decisions. Leaders who rely more on facts and past experiences find healthier solutions. A positive outlook is the key to the most positive results. It also inspires positivity in others.

Learning to filter negative emotions brings forth more positive, helpful ones. This creates a more inviting and engaging culture, where people and their perspectives are valued. Become an expert in your emotional state. A leader who is emotionally healthy has the most opportunity to head a healthy organization.

Employee Engagement: Your Secret Weapon

Surveys and studies indicate global job dissatisfaction is at a two-decade high. Disengaged employees account for nearly 70 percent of the workforce, which significantly affects the bottom line, according to data from Towers Watson. They cause corporate income, earnings and profits to suffer to the tune of $500 billion each year.

Comparative surveys also indicate that leaders believe engagement is higher than it actually is. Appearances never tell the full story, contributing to this disconnect in perspective. Busy people are not necessarily engaged but may be overworked. Leaders struggling in a dysfunctional culture may not discern low performance levels.

When leaders focus more on managing tasks than on people, the disconnect widens. Staff attitudes and performance trend downward. Disengaged leaders beget indifferent employees. When an organization’s culture fosters disengagement, it’s ultimately up to leaders to take corrective action.

The Basic Engagement Mindset

Leaders must focus on people, understand what they need, and motivate them to enhance engagement and productivity, notes leadership consultant Clint Swindall in Engaged Leadership: Building a Culture to Overcome Employee Disengagement (Wiley, 2011).

Many leaders fail to understand disengagement’s impact. They may not associate staff disengagement with overall inefficiencies, low productivity or reduced profits. Studies show these factors have a greater influence on corporate performance than the economy, market trends or competitive forces. In other words, an organization’s strengths and weaknesses hinge more on internal than external issues, most importantly the staff’s emotional health.

Dissatisfied workers simply don’t care as much as their satisfied colleagues. Their performance, efforts and concerns about company or customer well-being are marginal. When too many employees fall into the “disengaged” category, the outcomes we experience are predictable.

Many leaders believe transferring or dismissing troublesome employees is the most effective way to conquer disengagement. They see killing the problem as the simplest, quickest way of eliminating it. This may occasionally hold true, but it should never be one’s de facto approach. A culture known for high turnover will never inspire morale. Strong relationships are the key to overall organizational wellness and employee satisfaction. Enhancing relationships—not cutting them out—is the answer, and it takes hard work.

Leaders must start by adjusting their mindset and focusing on two main engagement ingredients: caring about others and knowing how to reach them. You can cultivate significant improvements by being mindful of basic human needs and doing what you can to meet them. Start with the culture, recognizing that the traditional focus on programs and processes no longer works.

Engagement Through the Organization

Leaders who recognize engagement’s importance have a greater advantage. Enthusiasm skyrockets when they create a positive environment, promote helpfulness, value their staff and provide the resources necessary for success.

Adopting a philosophy that puts people first strengthens engagement, provided it’s backed by actions. Your people need to see signs that you value them. Convey this by giving them the tools they need to do their best work. Do they need additional manpower or funding? Are better supplies or equipment required?

Do your people have the direction and plans they need to ensure projects are completed successfully? Are procedures and policies thoroughly communicated, and is training adequate? Do people know exactly what to do—and why they’re doing it? Without these baseline provisions, people feel lost, frustration builds and disengagement flourishes. Frustration leads to resentment and low morale when leaders fail to implement solutions.

Never forget that people need adequate skills to accomplish the tasks you’ve assigned. Only then can they be confident in their abilities and enjoy success. Doing good work compels people to continue on the right path. As they reap the rewards of a job well done, they continue to grow and can make greater contributions to the organization. They’ll look forward to new challenges and opportunities. It’s your job to provide them with the tools they need to advance.

A culture that fosters empowerment and accountability motivates people to find their own solutions and make a difference. Enhance this by giving people as much authority as their abilities allow. Let them suggest improvements to their processes, and authorize them to implement as many as feasible. This gives your people a greater sense of ownership—one of the greatest professional motivators.

Leaders who establish an excellence-oriented mindset provide these basic organizational benefits so their people feel valued and achieve short- and long-term success. Caring for your people raises their level of engagement by building strong bonds of trust, thankfulness and respect.

Engagement Through Partnering

Nothing extinguishes engagement more than feeling controlled, used or disrespected. When leaders treat their employees as a lower class or as props for personal gain, resentment and disillusionment set in.

Leaders who create a culture of unity, where everyone is on the same team and equally important, inspire the highest levels of engagement. If employees are regarded as partners rather than subjects, they have the highest sense of value. Their performance matches their engagement, and they can accomplish amazing feats.

True partners are included in all decisions, plans and discussions. They are stakeholders and will more readily buy in when there’s a personal investment. They should be familiar with the organization’s vision, mission and strategy. Allow them to contribute and understand how they fit into big-picture growth and improvement. Inclusion is a great motivator. Many employees lack access to company business plans—sometimes inadvertently, often intentionally.

Inform people about situations related to their specific roles and duties. Open communication on matters big and small promotes inclusion and value. Share important decisions with them, and explain the reasons or rationale. Give them the supportive data or validation you were given so they can better appreciate the organization’s methods and values. This improves their trust, comfort and engagement.

With any decision or change, allow people to understand how they’re affected ¾ collectively and individually. Leaders should set the example of embracing the progressive aspects of new policies or practices. Part of enhancing engagement is creating a more positive environment, where people feel cared for, their interests are considered and their futures are secure. They don’t need propaganda or fluff—just truthful, trustworthy and timely information.

Your people will feel more unified and engaged when they understand how they’ll contribute to upcoming changes, meet the new challenges and make their environment better ¾ together.

Everyone benefits when leaders share their personal progress or status. Such communication conveys value and unity. Find the best ways to impart information, and allow people to offer input or feedback. Meetings, reports or messages can be used in different ways, with varying effectiveness. Creating a way for people to raise concerns and get answers enhances their interest in their roles. Keeping people connected and informed pays many dividends.

Engagement Through Personal Connection

While providing resources and information enhances relationships, it takes more to strengthen them: a personal connection with people and an investment in their lives. The most successful leaders demonstrate a genuine caring. Employee engagement reaches only moderate levels without it.

As Swindall states, both leaders and employees contribute to workplace disengagement. Employees generally start their jobs with enthusiasm but lose it over time after chalking up negative experiences. Employees cannot be expected to make the initial efforts to correct problems. Leaders must initiate improvements and oversee organizational health.

Relationships drive engagement, which, in turn, drives productivity and success. Leaders must therefore be the relationship initiators and encouragers. If you care about people, your natural inclination will be relationship driven. In fact, personal connection is so critical that it takes the top spot among the 10 key factors influencing employee engagement, as listed by organizational behavior experts Dan Crim and Gerard Seijts in "What Engages Employees the Most OR, the Ten Cs of Employee Engagement" (Ivey Business Journal, March/April 2006).

Connecting with employees and getting to know them have powerful benefits, conveying value and appreciation. Your staff senses your support and understanding as the relationship grows. They respond with trust, loyalty and effort. The employee gets to know your character, forging a tighter bond. A leader conveys caring by being interested in an employee’s life, family and aspirations.

Strong relationships permit the frank sharing of concerns and ideas, leading to joint ownership. Both parties better grasp the other’s world. Greater accountability and transparency lead to higher engagement for both parties, and a greater sense of unity. Following up on your commitments is the final step in showing people you can be trusted to take care of them.

Effective leaders don’t show bias or partiality among employees. All people should be treated equally, under the same set of rules, with equal considerations, consequences and rewards. Favoritism destroys unity, while fairness is a great trust-builder, enhancing employees’ perspective and engagement. Employees also look for a leader’s flexibility when their personal lives are challenging. Offer it if you can. Working from home, taking time to attend to a family situation or being left alone while on vacation are important considerations that greatly enhance attitudes and engagement.

Leaders who accentuate positive results build a powerful culture. Find tasks your employees are doing well and point them out. Two of your most powerful words are “thank you.” Use them frequently.

Encourage and motivate people to learn, grow and take on more. Your support through their seasons of growth is essential. Recognizing and celebrating their accomplishments will greatly raise their engagement. A leader’s success is the compilation of their people’s many achievements. Everyone benefits.

The leadership mindset needed to build employee engagement involves a number of natural steps, all of which can be learned and executed. The basic premise is to make underperforming employees better and good employees great, building on who they are and what they’re truly capable of doing. Start with those who will best spread their positive attitudes to their coworkers, assisting your efforts to raise the bar. The goal is to bring out the best in everyone.

Raising Your Trust Quotient

A consistent outcome from many large employee surveys tells us that business leaders are among the least trusted professions in today’s culture. Overall, trust in leadership is the main employee concern in the workplace.

Gallup’s research further confirms this by showing that leaders who don’t focus on their people have the trust of only 9% of their staff. Leaders who make people their priority foster a 73% trust level from their employees. This is a stunning statistic that exposes a marked difference in leadership mindsets.

Trust has long been considered a powerful trait that enables leaders to succeed. People who trust their leader are willing to follow them. They are more willing to engage their duties, make strong efforts to benefit their organization, prize the quality of their work, and feel like their efforts have value. Conversely, a leader who is not trusted can never overcome large, inevitable pitfalls.

Trust is a decisive difference maker in personal and collective prosperity, so it makes sense for leaders to raise their trust quotient as high as possible. You may ask where you should start. Gallup’s work indicates that the primary leadership mindset needed to establish and build trust is a genuine focus on people. Why don’t more leaders pursue this? They may not grasp its gravity or they may not understand the four basic elements.

A Helping Hand

Employees generally want to succeed by doing good work. They want to know what’s expected of them, how to complete their tasks, and have the ability to get them done well. Due to many complexities and volatilities, your people almost always need help from you.

People simply want to be provided what they need to succeed. Being in the trenches, most people accurately know what it takes to get their work done, and often better than their leader.

As a leader, you have the responsibility to provide the resources your people need to complete assignments. Adequate funding, supplies, or equipment may be required. More manpower and/or time might be necessary. Effective decision-making is a resource people also feel they need.

Sometimes the softer management skills meet the biggest needs. Your people may require further training or coaching. They may hope to be mentored to grow and develop their skills. Sometimes a positive attitude is what people want most when times get tough. Being observant and engaging will allow you to see the needs.

All of these are ways you can help. Remember that if your people fail, so do you. Helping them is thus one of your top imperatives. People will know they’re being taken care of when they are consistently helped. This fosters security and confidence, which builds their trust in you.

A Spirit of Appreciation

Everyone needs to know they matter somehow, that their work has value to someone. Each of your people seeks purpose, whether they recognize it or not.

Being valued for who they are and what they do is critical to self-worth and self-esteem. Without these no one is motivated about his or her duties, let alone succeeding at them.

If you show your people that you appreciate them, you are telling them they are worth valuing. You show them they are important to the organization, and they’re important to you as their leader. Your employees will respond by valuing their relationship with you, and in turn offer you their trust.

You can demonstrate that you value someone simply by showing an interest in them and their lives. Most people generally respond well to this, but only if it’s sincere. Faking it will be spotted eventually, and the outcome will be worse than not attempting at all.

Get to know your employees, their interests and aspirations. You can value people by understanding what they need, and caring enough to provide it if possible. You’re telling them that they are important enough to step up and offer the kind of help only someone at your level can provide.

Another important way to value people is to acknowledge their successes and celebrate with them. In the Entrepreneur Magazine article 9 Tests Every Leader Must Pass, Alan Zimmerman describes the importance of not only highlighting your peoples’ success but also rewarding it appropriately. These are powerful ways to value people that help them feel needed. Their trust in you will grow.

A Life of Integrity

Trustworthiness is strongly portrayed when a leader behaves, speaks, and responds with integrity. Leaders who act honestly and genuinely are trusted to do the right thing. When you are beyond reproach, people know your actions and decisions are not selfishly motivated and thus don’t need to be suspected. If you live out truth and transparency, holding yourself accountable to everyone, your people offer you their trust.

Integrity also means giving of yourself for the benefit of your people. Trustworthy leaders place a higher priority on the welfare of those they lead. People know they are in good hands, with a noble cause underlying their efforts. Often that requires courage, and this is another trustworthy trait.

A Heart of Humility

Leaders who treat their people as more important than themselves earn much trust. They give credit for successes rather than take it. They bear the heat for the disappointments rather than blame their staff. Humble leaders also praise their people for their accomplishments, and allow them their chance in the spotlight.

If you seek feedback and ideas from your staff, and allow them to partner with you rather than be ruled by you, you will earn their trust. Your people will feel they contribute, and have the freedom to use their skills. This practice builds teamwork and unity; two themes people yearn for, yet statistically, rarely experience.

Leaders who admit they can always learn from others show their openness to value and trust their people. This generates trust in return. In the American Management Association article 5 Ways A Leader can Build A Culture Of Trust, Rich Eich points out that a leader who admits their mistakes displays humility. Employees are further encouraged to trust you if you also show how you’re learning from your mistakes. Your genuineness is displayed, and people sense a greater connection with you.

In essence, the level of trust you earn from your people is a measure of the connection they feel they have with you. By making your people top priority, you’ll build higher levels of trust in your organization and find more ways to succeed, over and over. Best of all, implementing them costs you very little, yet gains you very much. It’s the best ROI you’ll ever have!