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Posted: 2013-09-16 / Author: L C Diedericks

Who Are The Best Leaders ? Drivers Or Enhancers?

"Neither approach is sufficient in itself. Rather, both are needed to make real headway in increasing employee engagement,"

Most leaders say that it's better to be the "nice guy" than a tough, abrasive boss, but data suggest that charm and empathy alone aren't enough to drive worker engagement. A study found that bosses who combined "nice" traits with a tough, even slightly mean streak tended to do a much better job of keeping employees on track, write Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman. "Neither approach is sufficient in itself. Rather, both are needed to make real headway in increasing employee engagement," they write. Harvard Business Review online/HBR Blog Network

It’s probably no news to most people who work that poor leaders produce disgruntled, unengaged employees. Their research also shows convincingly that great leaders do the opposite — that is, that they produce highly committed, engaged, and productive employees.

And the difference is cavernous —simply put; the people working for the really bad leaders were more unhappy than three quarters of the group; the ones working for the really excellent leaders were more committed than eight out of ten of their counterparts.

What exactly fosters this engagement? During their time in the training and development industry they’ve observed two common — and very different — approaches. On the one hand are leaders they call “drivers”; on the other, those we call “enhancers.”

Drivers are very good at establishing high standards of excellence, getting people to stretch for goals that go beyond what they originally thought possible, keeping people focused on the highest priority goals and objectives, doing everything possible to achieve those goals, and continually improving.

Enhancers, by contrast, are very good at staying in touch with the issues and concerns of others, acting as role models, giving honest feedback in a helpful way, developing people, and maintaining trust.

Which approach works best? When they asked people in an informal survey which was most likely to increase engagement, the vast majority opted for the enhancer approach. In fact, most leaders they’ve coached have told them that they believe the way to increase employee commitment was to be the “nice guy or gal.”

But the numbers tell a more complicated story. In their survey, they asked the employees not only about their level of engagement but also explicitly, on a scale of one to five, to what degree they felt their leaders fit their profiles for enhances and drivers. they judged those leaders “effective” as enhancers or drivers who scored in the 75th percentile (that is, higher than three out of four of their peers) on those questions.

Putting the two sets of data together, what we found was this: Only 8.9% of employees working for leaders they judged effective at driving but not at enhancing also rated themselves in the 10% in terms of engagement. That wasn’t very surprising to many people who assume that most employees don’t respond well to pushy or demanding leaders. But those working for those they judged as effective enhancers were even less engaged (well, slightly less). Only 6.7% of those scored in the top 10% in their levels of engagement.

Essentially, their analysis suggests, that neither approach is sufficient in itself. Rather, both are needed to make real headway in increasing employee engagement. In fact, fully 68% of the employees working for leaders they rated as both effective enhancers and drivers scored in the top 10% on overall satisfaction and engagement with the organization.

Clearly, we were asking the wrong question, when we set out to determine which approach was best. Leaders need to think in terms of “and” not “or.” Leaders with highly engaged employees know how to demand a great deal from employees, but are also seen as considerate, trusting, collaborative, and great developers of people.

In their view, the lesson then is that those of you who consider yourself to be drivers should not be afraid to be the “nice guy.” And all of you aspiring nice guys should not view that as incompatible with setting demanding goals. The two approaches are like the oars of a boat. Both need to be used with equal force to maximize the engagement of direct reports.




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