Bringing The Five Practices to Life Feb13

Employee Engagement Powered by The Leadership Challenge

“Great leaders make great workplaces.”  I heard Barry Posner say this last year in a session in Glendale, CA. Now, I’m fortunate to be watching it happen in real time with The Leadership Challenge® helping to make engagement a reality in my organization.

I know that in this post-“great recession” world, we are all working harder with fewer resources. But here, our people truly work hard. The industries in which we operate (trade shows and hospitality) demand long days, nights, weekends and holidays to get the job done.  In order to maintain our competitive position and continue to be successful as an organization, employee engagement is critical. And that’s why the vision of our human resources team is to build an engaged and fully effective workforce—and to accomplish that in an environment where stress is high, schedules are tight, and work life balance sometimes seems like myth. 

While we know it is a challenge, we also know there are quantifiable benefits to creating a work environment where people are highly engaged.  According to the Towers Watson 2012 Global Workforce Study, companies with an engaged workforce experience:

  • 6.5 fewer days absent
  • 41% lower retention risk
  • 3X higher operating margins

These are huge bottom line business benefits.  But engagement isn’t just good for companies. It’s also good for employees. People who are engaged are just happier at work. For us, the profile of an engaged employee that we use is the one described by Paul Marciano, Ph.D., in his book Carrots and Sticks Don’t Work.  He writes that an engaged employee:

  • Brings new ideas to work
  • Is passionate and enthusiastic about work
  • Takes initiative
  • Actively seeks to improve self, others and the business
  • Consistently exceeds goals and expectations
  • Is curious and interested; asks questions
  • Encourages and supports team members
  • Is optimistic and positive; smiles
  • Overcomes obstacles and stays focused on tasks; is persistent
  • Is committed to the organization

This is the type of workforce we are working hard to create. Unfortunately, according to the Towers Watson data, only 37% of employees are actively engaged which means we all have a lot of work to do, in my own company as well as in many, many others around the world.

As we journey to create an environment where everyone is engaged, we are fortunate to have the CEO, who from the outset was heavily influenced by the data, as our biggest supporter. Like many CEOs, he needed to see the evidence. And that’s one of the many reasons we selected The Leadership Challenge as our primary approach to developing leaders, using the Leadership Practices Inventory (LPI) assessment as the foundation for the course. Since its inception, the LPI has been used to obtain feedback from over 3 million individuals. And the evidence from 30 years of research continues to make it clear that when leaders increase the frequency of the LPI behaviors, they are more effective.   

But, what about the link between leadership and engagement?  Going back to the Towers Watson research, it identifies specific focus areas that help enable and energize employees. Interestingly, the top drivers of sustainable engagement are not big paychecks or luxury corporate campuses. Rather, leader behaviors are the key to an engaged workforce. And there is a clear link between many of the leader behaviors identified by the research that help engagement and The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership®.  For example:

  • Good understanding of organization’s business goals and steps needed to reach those goals (Inspire a Shared Vision)
  • Understanding of how job contributes to the organization achieving its business goals (Inspire a Shared Vision)
  • Treats me with respect (Model the Way)
  • Encourages new ideas and new ways of doing things (Challenge the Process)
  • Acts in ways consistent with his or her own words (Model the Way)
  • Effective career development discussions (Enable Others to Act)

Our senior leaders have completed The Leadership Challenge® Workshop and we are currently working with them to strengthen their understanding of how their learnings from the workshop and their LPI results connect with our corporate goals to increase employee engagement. We are very pleased to be seeing progress: leaders who have completed the workshop and are focused on increasing the frequency of their LPI behaviors already saw an improvement in their 2012 Employee Engagement Survey Scores!

While we still have many leaders to train—and I have many, many more times to talk about the link between leadership and engagement—we’ve already reaped an unexpected benefit. Our entire HR team is truly excited and committed. We believe that anyone can learn to lead an engaged and energized team. And although we know it’s a journey, we are well underway.

Melissa Lanier is a Certified Master-in-Training of The Leadership Challenge® and The Director of Global Talent Management at an S&P Small Cap 600 company. With expertise in leadership development, employee engagement, change leadership, and organizational culture, her corporate career has included positions with Deloitte, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida, and Insight Enterprises. She can be reached at


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