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Leadership: What Your Employees Really Want

Published August 27, 2020 (last updated February 24, 2021) -

manager shows what employers want leadership

The way we define leadership is changing. The O.C. Tanner Institute’s 2020 Global Culture Report outlines its findings on what employees want out of a leader, and what it means to be a boss – if anything. The report boldly proclaims that “traditional leadership is dead. Today’s leaders must learn to mentor, inspire, and connect people to things that matter”.

The report presents some alarming statistics about how traditional leadership models are harming businesses. Traditional boss vs employer hierarchies often stifle employees’ growth, engagement and productivity which, in turn, contributes to higher burnout, lower revenue and higher staff turnover.

The report found that 89% of employers think employees leave because of money, when only 12% actually do. Often, dissatisfaction at work is due to other factors, like a lack of connection or sense of value. A staggering 66% of employees reported that their leader does not know what they do.

As Millennials and Gen Z-ers become more numerous in the workplace, they are rejecting traditional modes of leadership and asking for more. As an employer, you’re probably left asking what it is that they want?

In a nutshell, the O.C. Tanner Institute has found that great leaders connect employees to three essential things: purpose, accomplishment, and one another. This article aims to break down the report’s findings of what employees want from their leaders, and how this can be implemented into your business.

1. Connection to Purpose

Leaders should strive to “clearly articulate the meaning of each employee’s work and communicate how it impacts the organization, its customers, and the world”.

While this may seem simple, every employee wants to feel a sense of purpose in their organisation, and for their leaders to know and articulate what purpose they serve. Employees want their leaders to be involved in what their day-to-day job looks like, what they struggle with, what they succeed at, etc.

One way this can be achieved is to clearly articulate how your employee’s role contributes to the company’s success at large. Further, demonstrating how your employee’s work affects the end customer, user, client, or community is a great way to promote a culture of working toward a common goal.

In reality, employees don’t come to work to make their organization money. They “invest effort to make a difference to the world.” If you can show them how their work affects the experience of the customer, then they will have a greater sense of connection to purpose.

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2. Connection to Accomplishment

As a leader, you should “show you believe in your people, be involved in the entire process of accomplishment, and allow employees to lead out on their own”.

By showing that you believe in your employees and trusting them to take-on tasks of their own, you are empowering them to succeed. Once employees have this connection to accomplishment, they are much more likely to feel that they have opportunities for growth, that they’re on a “winning” team, and that they belong to their organisation.

One way to achieve this is to stay involved during the life of a project, not just at the beginning and end. There is a difference between micro-managing and being there to act as a guide, or breaking down barriers to innovation. Employees who have this kind of leadership are 27% more likely to believe their leader will connect them to opportunities, and 86% more likely to feel that they’re learning something new or valuable in their current role.

As mentioned above, micro-managing is not popular with employees. What employees do appreciate is leaders who know how to share leadership. When you inspire employees to take the lead on something they’re great at, or challenge them by giving them ownership, they are much more likely to engage more with a project and feel inspired by their leader.

Another way to connect your employees to accomplishment is to celebrate the small wins. By recognizing achievements and good work by your employees along the way – not just at the completion of a project – you are providing extra motivation and encouragement to succeed. A simple conversation or email in recognition of great work can go a long way.

3. Connection to One Another

Great leaders “mentor, encourage collaboration, and help employees build their own social networks within teams and with others in the organization.”

Connection to one another can often be overlooked in a workplace. It is becoming especially challenging in environments of hot desking and working remotely. However, it is extremely important that employees feel a sense of belonging and an ability to collaborate.

The first point of connection that is vitally important is within a team. If team members feel connected to one another, they are more likely to reach out for mentorship and collaboration, and 91% more likely to feel like they belong in their organisation.

The second point of connection is between employees and members outside of their team. This thinking goes against traditional hierarchical models, but it has many benefits. Being able to collaborate with people outside of their team decreases exclusion, increases promoters on the net promoter score, and decreases moderate to severe burnout.

In summary, building a team where people care about each other and celebrate each other’s successes helps employees thrive.

In conclusion, the O.C. Tanner Institute 2020 Global Culture Report found that the impact of reinventing leadership is powerful.

“When companies adopt a more connected, collaborative, and mentoring approach to leadership, they see massive improvements in the employee experience, all six essential elements of workplace culture, engagement, great work, and the likelihood to recommend the company. There’s also less burnout, fewer layoffs, and increased revenue.”

The key takeaway is that great leaders now act like mentors or coaches, rather than supervisors or bosses. When leaders connect people to purpose, accomplishment, and one another, there are 250% greater odds an employee will be a promoter, and 405% greater odds an employee will highly rate their employee experience.

About Employsure

Employsure is one of New Zealand’s largest workplace relations advisers to small and medium businesses, with over 5,500 clients. We take the complexity out of workplace legislation to help small business employers protect their business and their people.

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