Leadership style: what works best for employee engagement

If you’re a leader in your workplace, you’ll generally give a lot of directions. Whether by email or by direct verbal instruction, you may say things like “I want that report on my desk by Friday”.

Even worse is the so-called “micromanager”  who not only explains what they want done but how to do it in minute detail. In fact, these very direction heavy leadership styles are very common in many industries.

The military, for example, is based on a culture of direction following to the finest detail. Even in the cult television classic M*A*S*H was comprised of the medical stereotype of “scalpel nurse, scalpel doctor” for the series.

But is this the most effective leadership style for a cohesive work environment?

The term micromanager probably calls to mind the worst boss you ever had and makes you cringe involuntarily. These are probably not the most engaged memories you have of your time at work, so how can we as leaders engage our employees more effectively?


Leadership by intent

Intent-based leadership was developed by former naval Captain David Marquet, who developed this leadership style in the extremely regimented environment of the navy. The fact that it’s survived and proliferated so far is a testament to how effective it is.
He recognised that as a Captain trained to give orders, and his soldiers trained to follow them unequivocally, he could potentially lead his soldiers into a disastrous situation due to him giving the wrong order.

If everyone followed him off a cliff, are they soldiers or lemmings? Marquet vowed to stop giving orders and instead allowed his officers to tell him what their intent was, having been given the environment or the overarching goals that the team was to achieve. The effect was to change the psychological ownership of an action from himself to that of his subordinates, both giving them a sense of meaning at work and allowing for a reduction in delay time between orders given and actions achieved.


Giving control

It is important in any company to ensure the technical competence of your staff and that staff actions are in line with the overarching goals of the company. By providing clarity of goals that your company wishes to achieve, actions that employees undertake will be done to as high a degree as possible.

If the execution of the action to achieve these goals aren’t exactly the same what was done in the past,  they’re likely to be better, as the authority rests where the information does, i.e. those who make the decisions have the most understanding.

This makes sense in industries where the goals are straightforward, such as in healthcare where care of patients is the common goal. Contrary to the stereotype discussed earlier, army doctors often formulate plans to present to their supervisors, who then provide approval. In this instance, the knowledge and understanding of the situation is ensured between both parties.

Ultimately, you can achieve this leadership style in your workplace by having a strong sense of company values, then shifting the locus of control to your employees, keeping them engaged and giving them a sense of meaning.

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