- Employees want trust, compassion, stability and hope from leaders
- Leaders who display those qualities get better business results
- Effective leadership means putting leadership skills into practice
It's great when followers tell you what they need from you. It's better when you can fulfill it. But you've probably noticed how rarely followers can articulate what inspires their best work, describe their intrinsic motivators or name their aspirations.
It's very likely they don't know what they need from leadership -- making it much harder for leaders to provide it. To be a good leader, you need to know what employees need from you.
So, Gallup asked. In a landmark study of 10,000 employees, we asked about the leadership skills that matter the most to employees and enable them to achieve their best. Our analysis identified four leadership skills at the top of the list:
To be a good leader, you need to know what employees need from you.
We also found that leaders who display those qualities get better business results: Gallup analysis finds that trust, compassion, stability and hope are associated with higher levels of employee engagement, which is correlated with better performance.
It's probably because people who trust you feel cared for and safe, see a bright future, and have more confidence in you and themselves. They can focus better and work harder. They know you have their back and you're building something great together.
However, trust, compassion, stability and hope can't be rolled out like new software. Honoring followers' needs takes skill -- specifically, skilled communication.
Leadership Skills in Practice
Let's start with trust, the foundation of leadership. Certain communication traits make it easier for people to trust you. Communicating with honesty clarifies your motives. Communicating with consistency makes you predictable. Both read as trustworthy because followers know where you stand and what to expect.
That doesn't mean you can't admit uncertainty, concerns or errors. People aren't looking to follow a robot. And communicating your doubts and mistakes invites your followers to admit their own, which alerts you to brewing trouble.
Yet there are greater rewards for trustworthy leaders: When followers strongly agree that they trust their leaders, Gallup analysis shows, one in two are engaged; when followers don't find leaders trustworthy, only one in 12 are engaged. And in high-trust organizations, employees give leaders the benefit of the doubt even when they make mistakes.
Next is compassion. If you care about the work, you must care about the worker; compassionate leaders see followers as whole people. In fact, Gallup's research shows that when employees talk about their leaders' compassion, the words they use most often are "caring," "friendship," "happiness" and "love."
Those are intense words. When your followers use them, they're saying you listen and you care -- and because you care, they care about you and the organization. Compassion reciprocates. That may be why employees who strongly agree that their "supervisor, or someone at work, seems to care about [them] as a person" are likely advocates for their employer and support their coworkers personally and professionally.
If you care about the work, you must care about the worker; compassionate leaders see followers as whole people.
There are a lot of ways to communicate care. Cheer with your followers when things go their way, and sympathize when they don't. Ask questions and tell your own stories -- it shows you're a whole person too -- and listen to what you hear.
And when you respond, communicate stability. Calm, assured leaders feel reliable because when you communicate stability, you show you can be counted on. (A tight grasp on purpose helps.) That keeps people grounded and focused on the present. In fact, followers are nine times more likely to be engaged in their job if they feel that the company's financial future is secure.
Communication is a two-way street, though. So, Gallup recommends asking followers about:
- their priorities, especially what they believe their top priorities are and if they're clear on their responsibilities
- where they think the team -- or even the whole company -- is most and least stable
- what they can't control that they worry about and, more positively, what they can't control that they hope for
- how you can help, be a better partner or clear obstacles
When followers told Gallup what stability feels like to them, they used words like "security," "strength," "support" and "peace." So, assure followers that you're running interference, be as consistently supportive as you can, and take opportunities to address concerns and hear ideas. Employees need to feel that their job is stable for them to do their best work.
While stability addresses today, hope imagines the future. You can't underestimate the power of hope. People can only strive, aspire and change if they have hope that the future can be better than the present. That belief has a profound effect: A Gallup study found that 69% of followers who strongly agreed that their leaders made them "feel enthusiastic about the future" were engaged. Only 1% of those who disagreed were engaged.
But that future needs your direction. So, detail the bright future you're working toward, outline your strategies to bring that future to life and describe how it will affect your followers. Acknowledge difficulties while communicating the best possible outcomes.
Give hope. It's shockingly effective.
How to Be a Good Leader
If that sounds a little performative, well, OK. Followers rarely have the time and proximity they need to receive low-key messaging. But walking the walk does more good than talking the talk, and leadership development is a practical, sustainable way to gain the leadership skills followers need most -- which is a particularly low-skill area for most leaders. Just over one in 10 employees strongly agree that leadership communicates effectively or makes them enthusiastic about the future, and only one in three strongly agree they trust their leaders.
Walking the walk does more good than talking the talk, and leadership development is a practical, sustainable way to gain the leadership skills followers need most.
And there are more opportunities for it than you might think. All those quick chats before meetings, emails, texts, one-on-ones, speeches and even your holiday cards offer ways to show followers that they can depend on you, that you care about them, that they're secure, that the future can be better than the present -- and that you're making it so.
Then again, the present may also improve a good bit. Followers take their cues from you, so your skills may come to be their trustworthy, compassionate, stable and hopeful behavior at work.
Your organization can get there, but it requires fulfilling your followers' needs. That starts with great leadership. And that starts with you.