Employee Engagement – How Authentic Leadership Contributes to Managing Change

There is a growing understanding of the need for Authentic Leadership in organizations, and not just at senior levels. ‘Authenticity’ has been described as the unobstructed operation of one’s true, or core, self in one’s daily enterprise. It therefore supports Employee Engagement and Motivation by increasing identification with a task. This article reviews essential Success Factors that contribute to high performance at work.

Understanding Authentic Leadership

For a manager, Authentic Leadership starts with Personal Conviction about overall requirements. This clarity concerning future direction, goals and possibilities is essential in helping employees develop a sense of shared purpose.

Closer scrutiny of Authentic Leadership reveals two separate elements. The first centres on personal conviction and the ability to identify strongly with an activity, or future objectives. However, it is also about developing a sense of shared purpose and Authenticity in others. This vital ‘second element’ contributing to Authentic Leadership is often overlooked – and this oversight significantly undermines the potential benefits associated with increases in Motivation and Engagement.

The principles of Authentic Leadership can be contrasted with Transformational Leadership, which emphasizes use of Charisma and a Compelling Vision to overcome ‘self interest’ in order to gain commitment to organizational goals. Whilst this approach is an improvement on Transactional Leadership characterized by reward and punishment (frequently accompanied by either a hands-off approach or excessive micro-management), it has also been criticized for being vague about the specific steps that contribute to increases in employees’ Motivation and Commitment.

Authentic Leadership – Success Factors at Work

Studies relating to Authentic Leadership clarify the essential elements in the process, making it a useful model for developing leadership skills in managers. There are four Success Factors that support the Authenticity associated with more-effective leaders. These include increased Self-Awareness, Balanced Processing of Information (making allowance for personal subjectivity and bias), Relational Authenticity (in dealing with others), and Authentic Behaviour and Action.

Authentic Leadership involves demonstrating conviction and consistency, but also requires managing (and strengthening) role relationships. Increasingly, a leader needs to be aware of the key relationships affecting outcomes. This network may involve dealing with the expectations and demands of both Internal and External contacts, depending on the specific requirements of the manager’s role. Authenticity is particularly relevant when we consider the expectations of Generations X, Y and Z, with their greater concern for dialogue, consultation and involvement in decision-making.

Many organizations now use 360 degree feedback to raise manager’s self-awareness, encourage responsiveness to feedback, and improve the overall management of Role Relationships. It can be viewed as an essential tool in the development of Authentic Leadership.

Managing Change

Increasingly, managers need to be outward looking and receptive to feedback, looking at how best to enhance systems and improve employee performance. The drivers behind these changes may be competitive pressure, customer expectations or stakeholder demands. However, the key point is that managers need capability in four key areas in order to respond effectively. These include:

• Cognitive Ability: the capacity to deal with complexity and make connections
• People Skills: conviction about needs and requirements whilst developing capability
• Change Focus: tolerance of ambiguity and willingness to explore & develop opportunities
• Results Focus: the delivery of outcomes, achieving personal impact and motivating others

In addition to setting clear direction and maintaining standards, managers need to do everything possible to help employees feel that they are achieving progress in their work. A sense of Making Progress is central to motivation and particularly important in Managing Change. Effective communication also has a key role, and this includes regular, two-way discussion. For activities to be meaningful, they should be valued by other people – and this contributes to a real sense of shared purpose. Achieving excellence is not an easy task, and any problems relating to employee attitudes, or a failure to achieve standards, must be addressed as soon as possible.

Training is often required to help managers understand how best to deal with operational problems, present a clear vision, and take a firm stand on key issues. Most importantly, they need to be aware of the steps required to build the motivation and commitment of people in their team. The final article in this series looks more closely at Management Leadership Skills and the new science of Employee Engagement Profiling. This is a more focused version of the traditional employee satisfaction survey and can be run within a specific Division or Business Unit, usually with groups of 30+ employees.

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