How Exemplary Leadership Leads to Employee Engagement

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August 3, 2017 | James M. Kouzes & Barry Z. Posner | HCI

The Leadership Challenge® is a global campaign to liberate the leader in everyone. Approaching leadership as a measurable, learnable, and teachable set of behaviors, our framework grew out of rigorous research that first began in 1982, when we set out to understand those times when leaders performed at their personal best. We conducted hundreds of interviews and reviewed hundreds of cases studies and survey questionnaires. What emerged were five fundamental practices common to extraordinary leadership achievements. Over three decades later, The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership® model continues to prove its effectiveness as a clear, evidence-based path to achieving the extraordinary. It turns the abstract concept of leadership into easy-to-grasp practices and behaviors that can be taught and learned by anyone willing to step up and accept the challenge to lead.

These five leadership practices (right) provide an operating system for what people are doing as leaders when they are at their best. There’s abundant empirical evidence that these leadership practices matter, making a profound positive difference in people’s commitment, motivation, and work performance. This definitive conclusion emerged from analyzing responses from nearly three million people. In these studies, direct reports reported how frequently they observe their leader engaging in specific behaviors associated with The Five Practices, indicated their feelings about their workplace, and assessed their leader’s trustworthiness and overall effectiveness. There is an unambiguous relationship between people’s engagement and how frequently they observe their leaders using The Five Practices, as shown below.

Nearly 96% of direct reports who are most highly engaged (in the top third of the distribution) indicated that their leaders very frequently or almost always use The Five Practices. The differential impact compared to the less than 5% who are highly engaged when their leader seldom uses The Five Practices is huge. In addition, respondents provided information about who they are and their organizational context. Multivariate analyses show that individual characteristics and organizational context combined explain less than 1% of the distribution connected with engagement levels, while The Five Practices account for nearly 40% of the variance. How leaders behave significantly influences engagement, as is independent of the demographics of their direct reports, or the circumstances of their position.

While The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership® don’t completely explain why leaders and their organizations are successful, it’s clear that engaging in them makes a difference regardless of who you are or where you are located. The more you use The Five Practices, the more likely it is that you’ll have a positive influence on other people and the organization. That’s what all the data adds up to.