Engagement Leadership is More than a Tautology
A response to the Hogan’s view on Abstracting Leadership
Senior Professional Practice Fellow, Valtera Corporation
Hogan’s summary “When good leaders are in place organizations and their incumbents prosper; when bad leaders are in place, bad consequences follow” uses the logic of “Either it will rain tomorrow or it will not rain tomorrow”. While you can’t argue with this, there is much that is missing from the Hogans’ attempt to jump on the Engagement Bandwagon.
Space does not permit me to respond to the Hogans’ familiar arguments about leadership that are repeated in this paper. I do want to focus on their views of engagement. While they note that “engagement is the central factor underlying employee performance in modern business”, they fail to define what engagement is.
Recent writings by several of my colleagues, Macey, Schneider, Barbera and Young (2009) point out that employee engagement has two major components. First, there are the feelings of engagement or the heightened state of energy and enthusiasm associated with work and the organization. Second, there are engagement behaviors demonstrated in the service of accomplishing organizational goals—behaviors such as persistence at tasks, being proactive and taking on responsibilities when the need arises. Understanding these employee feelings and behaviors are most important for leaders when they face critical defining moments. These defining moments occur when leaders encounter stress, ambiguity, or difficulties in making choices involving complex trade-offs. It is in these defining moments when the loyalty and trust of employees make a critical difference in business outcomes. And loyalty and trust emerge in employees when they encounter leader behavior that focuses on specific outcomes such as providing challenging work, inspiring others, managing conflict and attending to basic management tasks that are the keys to employee engagement.
In summary, there is much more to the concept of engagement leadership than provided in the Hogan paper. For example, at Valtera, we have developed concrete measures that tap the expectations that employees have concerning how their leaders will act during these defining moments. Simply stating that good leaders will cause good results is not enough. Rather, it is far more useful to specify the specific leadership behaviors that will result in positive engagement outcomes while at the same time helping leaders apply these insights. In this way we can apply the lessons of engagement.
Macey, W.H,, Schneider, B. Barbera, K. and Young, S.A (2009) Employee Engagement: Tools for analysis, practice and competitive advantage, Wiley-Blackwell.