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  • Writer's pictureNeil Keeler

Engaging leadership - a lever to move the world

Updated: Mar 20

Last week we started to define what is leadership, the differences between management and leadership and how, what I've christened ‘uber-management’, can go badly wrong when it’s used instead of leadership.

The statistics and research around poor managers are shocking - you are more likely to live a shorter unhealthier life, with an increased risk of hypertension, heart problems, suffer chronic anxiety, stress and enduring mental health issues - are all proven now to be linked to, having a poor manager.

Managers are sometimes simply unaware what good leadership looks like, if we have been lucky enough to have been lead by an excellent leader I suspect we remember them forever.

Managers in public service now do the most difficult job, with less resourcing and higher demand, the time and funding available for their development is harder than ever to prioritise.

Powerful, focused development is needed when times are toughest and the time to do anything is least available. Bit like that time management course you never seem to get to going on? (No one really 'manages' time btw we only spend it - priorities you can manage)

As Prof. Beverly Alimo-Metcalfe told Southend’s senior leadership team when we enagaged with the Real World Group “If you think development is costly try ignorance!”.

Southend’s constant commitment to exploring learning and development was a major factor in its continued successes.

If you research leadership you find that most theories are built upon American models of corporate success, dominated by male, white, charismatic CEO’s - they reinforced a lot of the trait or innate, heroic leadership models. Pale, male and a little bit stale - even until recently, 'born to lead' as a theory was prevailing.

Two troubling studies I encountered attempted to correlate American CEO’s payments with a numbers of organisational performance factors, share value, sales, productivity, accountancy ratios etc. They found no statistical correlation for any organisational performance factor with the CEO's pay.

Interestingly these two (separate studies) each found two other factors that did correlate with the most highly paid CEO’s, they were: their perceived 'charisma'; or their height!


The academic research that really inspired me came from the Real World Group - I was very impressed by what I read:

  • Their research was based in the UK, within the public sector (originally in mental health crisis teams) later replicated elsewhere in the public sector, and then independently verified, in the private sector too

  • Was inclusive in representing a diverse range of leaders across all the population

  • Aligned specifically to the behaviours of the leaders - what they did

  • Evidencing that these most engaging leadership behaviours generated additional productivity.

  • Was longitudinal - it took place over time i.e. those engaging leaders still had more engaged and higher performing/more productive teams over sustained periods. It wasn’t ‘a fluke’ or ‘a Hawthorne effect’.

This blew me away, it was genuinely win-win-win - for the leader, employee and the organisation.

This model represents four domains of engaging leadership and 14 dimensions, ultimately driven by the leaders behaviours, see below.

Some other compelling findings for me from the research were:

  • Showing ‘genuine’ concern for an individual you line managed positively impacted nearly every aspect of their performance at work, bringing significant organisational, personal and performance benefits.

  • It was the engaging culture of the teams that predicted their higher performance/productivity, not their competency. More able, skilled teams did not match the productivity of the most highly engaged ones. Attitude ‘trumps’ skill in performance outcomes?

  • The engaged teams were also the least stressed, had greatest wellbeing and highest morale.

It comes alive through leaders completing a 360 degree feedback (Transformational Leadership Questionnaire - TLQ 360) process which measured their own self assessment of their behaviours along with a range of others views.

What is also clear, as you ascend the hierarchy of an organisation, you get less and less feedback, and almost no-one offers feedback specifically on the impact of your leadership behaviours. Especially those behaviours that are dis-engaging or causing upset and poor performance. Why would they?!

This is obviously extremely unhelpful and very challenging for even the most extraordinary of open leaders to address, even with their most trusting members of staff, it would be a challenge.

It’s a highly configurable tool, with only their boss’ ratings being (unavoidably) identifiable. The feedback of the people they directly supervise and any of the other groups that they choose to define (customers, peers, suppliers, Members etc. can all be personalised by you during the ‘set up’) are only identifiable as a group, never as the individuals who responded.

The impact of using the tool is powerful as each leader invites around 20+ raters to give them feedback on their behaviours. The other very interesting and challenging factor for us in OD about this model is, no-one else gets to see the leaders report.

It’s solely for their benefit and usage, so they don’t even have to share it with their coach who debriefs them on the gradings.

The spirit we had was ‘the organisation has sponsored it as we believe it will help you grow’, it will certainly serve the organisation if you engage your people more. ‘We trust you to make the best use of this tool’ is the message we sent with it.

I can see in some organisations that that may feel uncomfortable. Look into your motivation to use this tool would be all I say. I’d suspect if you have serious doubts about the integrity and commitment of any leader to this process, you probably already know you have some issues with that leader!

If someone gets very challenging feedback, confidentially, in a way that they can and will accept, with effective coaching and support it can show them a way to move forward. Every person completing has to have to have a debrief from a RWG partner/coach trained to use the model, to help them interpret their results.

The impact of the intervention was excellent, it was very powerful with leaders, teams discussing behaviours that otherwise were never mentioned. Overall interest in coaching and following up on issues raised also increased.

Corporate engagement survey scores increased despited budget reductions, reductions in employee numbers and stretched teams managed to stretch just a little more. The organisation continued to hit key savings goals, sickness absence also decreased during this period which was reassuring.

I am sure that the use of this tool elevated many leaders to an entirely different level of leadership that wouldn’t have been achieved with other less focused interventions.

I know many leaders were moved to tears by the feedback, ‘both ways’ interestingly enough, praise from unexpected quarters, on behaviours they hadn’t recognised they were so good at was common. As well as some slightly unexpected feedback from people they had felt would be entirely happy with their style, but clearly were not comfortable and had made correct use of the opportunity to clarify that.

What cost is your organisation experiencing from the ‘ignorance’ of your leaders of the real impact of their behaviours?

Next blog we will be looking at culture and its impact on when lifting and moving weights!

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Welcome to my blog

Hope you will find something here to really get you thinking. Topics will be on any of my passions: Organisational Development, Leadership, Employee Engagement, Culture Change, Organisational Improvement and Transformation are the key themes.  

If you have a topic or suggestion for a blog, or maybe you'd like to do a guest spot on here (!) drop me a line. I'd also like to share some of my experiences in moving from 32 years of working in the public sector to starting my own business!

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