It’s called attachment theory, and it’s been going on since we lived in caves: Humans attaching themselves to a family member, parent or clan leader who proves competent and trustworthy; a person who is available both physically and emotionally and who creates a safe, secure haven in which to live and thrive.
This kind of attachment to a leader applies to modern organizations, too. Just as a tribe member who was emotionally connected to a great chief was a better hunter, gatherer or cave painter, an employee who has emotional bonds with a caring, nurturing boss is far more productive in his job.
Engagement yields results. In fact, research shows that actively engaged employees are three times as productive as those who are actively disengaged. That means that while a disengaged worker might give you a half-day of productivity, an engaged worker will give you a day-and-a-half’s production in that same period of time.
So, if you want to get that kind of high engagement from your people, you’ll want to avoid The Four Triggers that weaken the bonds of attachment:
Trigger #1: Low commitment to the leadership role. Employees easily pick up on just how committed their leader is. To feel secure, employees need to know that the person in charge is for real. If you’re insecure and anxious, they will be, too. A real leader enjoys making tough decisions, likes transferring knowledge to others, and knows that full commitment drives the attachment that leads to productivity.
Trigger #2: Emotional Unavailability. Leaders who don’t communicate, engage in normal pleasantries and “small talk,” and institute a “closed door policy,” signal that they are unavailable. The results are usually as bad as those of a parent who doesn’t talk to a child. It’s a formula for creating acute insecurity. People can’t produce if they’re spending too much time wondering what the boss is thinking and if things are okay. Real leaders keep things open, their office door included. They take an interest not only in their people’s work, but also in their lives and families. They know that it’s this kind of bond that’s the key to engagement, productivity and retention.
Trigger #3: Magnifying instead on insulating. We’ve all seen it: the boss who magnifies stress whenever things don’t go his way. No matter who might be at fault, he makes a big deal of the problem, dressing down his team. While this might make him feel better, it just tells his team that their boss, their projects and their lives are in chaos. A great leader insulates his people from stress and drama. He’s honest about difficult situations and seeks help, not fear, from his people. As a result his team is confident and empowered, knowing that the boss believes in their abilities.
Trigger #4: Lack of predictability and consistency. People need these two qualities. Leaders who are always surprising their teams and constantly shifting goals and plans can cause massive anxiety. And while these managers might see their behavior as “flexibility,” their employees see it as flakiness and poor planning. Such behavior creates stress and cynicism and ultimately, disengagement. A real leader knows constant shifts are disruptive and seeks input and collaboration with team members. This gives them a sense of ownership of the process and control over their working lives. The result: a stronger bond with the leader, better engagement and higher productivity.
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