Leading by Lending a Hand to Others

by | Jan 25, 2024 | Human Resources Management, I-O Psychology, Leadership | 0 comments

Strong manager-employee relationships through great leadership leads to positive outcomes

After hearing so many people talking about the Apple TV show Ted Lasso and using it in the context of business leadership, I had to see what caused all the buzz. This comedy series features an American football coach with no pedigree but a winning record in the United States who, without any experience or knowledge of the game, becomes the head coach of an elite and beloved British soccer team. Without giving away the plot, the protagonist’s unorthodox style of genuinely caring for his team — from the executives to the players down to the support staff — becomes a highly effective style of leadership. The show has captured my attention and a little of my heart. Bravo!

Additionally, I began a mentee relationship with Alan Landers, from whom I learned much about organizational development and change leadership through a certification course offered by The Drucker School of Management at Claremont Graduate University. In our first meeting, Alan recommended the book The Leadership Challenge by Kouzes & Posner. I read this book in 2004 or so during my MBA studies and picked it up again to refresh my knowledge of The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership® (2012).

Effective leadership remains a cornerstone in the evolving landscape of organizational success. Merging insights from leading consulting firm McKinsey, academic journals, and contemporary cultural references like Ted Lasso, this blog explores the multifaceted nature of leadership to which many, if not most, organizations may wish to aspire. The evidence-based information plus real-world examples should illustrate how leaders can cultivate engaged, satisfied, and high-performing teams to attain organizational objectives.

Consulting Research Insight on Employee Engagement

McKinsey published an article based on research that illuminates the pivotal role of manager-employee relationships in fostering employee engagement and job satisfaction​​. The authors state, “Because of the connection between happiness at work and overall life satisfaction, improving employee happiness could make a material difference to the world’s 2.1 billion workers” (Allas & Schaninger, 2020). They go on to highlight that bosses and managers primarily affect their happiness, whereby 75 percent of workers report that their relationship with management causes the most stress. Workers with great managers tend to perform well and experience higher positive affect.

Gallup’s research corroborates this finding, reporting that 80% of employees who receive meaningful feedback weekly feel fully engaged​​. These insights underscore the need for leaders to maintain regular, constructive communication with their teams. The relationship between workers and their leaders can make or break the way organizations operate.

Leadership in Context: The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership®

I read The Leadership Challenge as a textbook during my MBA studies in leadership. The authors created a rigorously validated model called the Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership® (Kouzes & Posner, 2012). These practices include:

  • Model the Way — Create standards and set the example.
  • Inspire a Shared Vision — Envision the future state of what an organization can become.
  • Challenge the Process — Innovate, take risks, and remove roadblocks to successful change.
  • Enable Others to Act — Build teams, develop others, and make future leaders.
  • Encourage the Heart — Motivate others by recognizing their contributions and celebrating accomplishments.

When we integrate the findings of McKinsey and Gallup with Kouzes and Posner’s The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership® model, we observe a congruence between effective leadership and employee satisfaction. This model’s emphasis on enabling others to act and encouraging the heart particularly resonates with the importance of nurturing positive manager-employee relationships​​.

Ted Lasso: An Empathetic Leadership Paradigm

The Apple TV series Ted Lasso exemplifies empathetic leadership, contrasting with traditional coercive methods in sports. This approach — which emphasizes understanding and support — aligns with the principles of servant leadership, which prioritizes the growth and well-being of people and communities​​.

In my experiences, I’ve observed leadership styles from aggressive sports often replicated in corporate settings. For instance, in a previous role, a former football coach played the part of a VP for a construction firm. The CEO lauded the approach of encouraging others with cursing, anger, and putdowns, often referring to the VP as “coach” when addressing the staff. However, the behavior of the team told a different story. People felt threatened. The company experienced a high turnover rate, a lack of quality in workmanship, and a high level of aggression among the team. While effective in certain sports contexts, these methods frequently fall short in a corporate environment, where a more nuanced, empathetic approach tends to lead to more successful results​​, as supported by research.

Servant Leadership: The Road to Positive Outcomes

As detailed in “A Systematic Literature Review of Servant Leadership Theory in Organizational Contexts” (Parris & Peachey, 2013), servant leadership can positively affect work groups. The researchers state that servant leadership may not have a clear definition across all organizations, but the concepts provide a framework of ethics in leadership from which organizations can derive value. The servant leadership concept — having the drive to serve others before leading those same others — contrasts against other more transactional leadership styles that pervade individualist societies, which seem to value competition and divisiveness over collaboration, empathy, and inclusion.

This approach fosters an environment where leaders serve rather than command, aligning with SIOP and SHRM’s emphasis on open communication and strong manager-employee relationships over rigid performance management systems​​ (Mueller-Hanson & Pulakos, 2015). Some research concludes that when managers respect their employees, welcome the expression of thoughts and feelings, provide clear and direct communication, and use appropriate and motivating reward systems, those relationships can grow strong and lead to organizational citizenship behaviors (OCBs) (EL Nabawy Saleh Dewydar, 2015). Furthermore, workers reporting to their managers must feel they can reciprocate by reviewing their own work product and ethics and remaining open to feedback and learning.

Conclusion: Charting the Future of Leadership

In conclusion, effective leadership grows from a dynamic, multifaceted process. It requires fostering genuine, empathetic relationships with employees, encouraging open communication, and adapting leadership styles to team needs. As the world evolves with internal and external influences, these principles can create environments where employees feel valued and motivated yielding strong manager-employee bonds, organizational commitment, and a motivated workforce dedicated to producing excellent work.

References

Allas, T. & Schaninger, B. (2020). The boss factor: Making the world a better place through workplace relationships. McKinsey & Company. https://www.mckinsey.com/capabilities/people-and-organizational-performance/our-insights/the-boss-factor-making-the-world-a-better-place-through-workplace-relationships

EL Nabawy Saleh Dewydar, W.M. (2015). The Optimum Relationship between Managers and Employees. International Journal of Business and Social Science, Vol. 6(8)

Gallup. (2023). 2024 Employee Engagement Strategies Checklist.https://www.gallup.com/workplace/388685/2024-guide-employee-engagement.aspx

Kouzes, J. M., & Posner, B. Z. (2012). The Leadership Challenge: How to Make Extraordinary Things Happen in Organizations 5th Edition. Jossey-Bass.

Mueller-Hanson, R.A. & Pulakos, E.D. (2015). Putting the “Performance” Back in Performance Management. Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) & Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP). https://www.shrm.org/hr-today/trends-and-forecasting/special-reports-and-expert-views/Documents/SHRM-SIOP%20Performance%20Management.pdf

Parris, D.L. & Peachey, J.W. (2013). A Systematic Literature Review of Servant Leadership Theory in Organizational Contexts. Journal of Business Ethics 113, p. 377–393. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-012-1322-6

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