Stuck and Not Getting Results? 5 Solutions to Employee Engagement


I’m amazed at how often I get asked by young people, “How does a leader gain influence?” or “How can I influence others?” This skill seems to be an important question for many people, and it came up in the novel The Shack which just debuted as a movie.

Power and Authority Versus Relationships

Characters from “The Shack Movie”

The main character Mackenzie is having a conversation about power and authority with the Trinity. He proposes that power and authority are the most critical way to influence others. In this discussion the Trinity explains that the role of relationships is far more important for influencing others as well as being fundamental to their Divine roles.

The crucial role of influence in relationships matches our leadership consulting and training experience.

We have surveyed thousands of very strong and powerful leaders to identify the characteristic of their best leader. More than 70% of the time, they come up with a relationship attribute and not a results-oriented behavior, power, or authority attribute.

When we look at the list shared by people in the room, often these highly results-oriented leaders are surprised when realizing that relationships—not power—drew them to their best leaders.

Millennials and the Power Tactic

This idea is on my mind right now because I recently spent considerable time with young people at one of our nation’s military academies, and I’m working on a Tedx-type presentation related to leading and developing Millennials.

You may have noticed, as I have, that younger generations are not so impressed with power, position, or prestige of their leaders. And we should not be surprised. They grew up being treated much more like equals than any generation in our history and most likely the history of the world. Having spent much of my adult life in the military,

I’ve typically noticed that deference to power generally does not seem to be in the younger generations’ repertoire. On the other hand, they seem hungry for genuine relationships where they feel valued and important. But they are not alone in this need.

A Major Stumbling Block to Success

“Relationship connections are a need of human nature in every generation, and it’s a real stumbling block for strong leaders that don’t understand this fact.” [Tweet This]

I believe that it’s one of the biggest issues in the workplace today. Consider the following statistics:

  • 70% of Americans are not arriving at work committed to delivering their best performance.
  • 52% are not engaged in their work and
  • 18% are actively disengaged.

(Watch the video clip showing these statistics.)

What’s the big problem with a lack of employee engagement? Consider this short list – a loss of energy, not taking full ownership and responsibility, missing accountability, customers not well served, teams not running on all cylinders, workplace dissatisfaction, and high turnover.

The missing ingredient is a relationship with their immediate supervisor. When people don’t feel engaged, it’s about relationships.

Building a New Culture of Engagement

So what are some things honorable leaders can do to build relationships and increase employee engagement?

  1. View every person as special and with the talents to make unique and needed contributions to the workplace.
  2. Communicate your belief in others and help them see their potential to make significant contributions by using their talents.
  3. Help them develop their talents and navigate to roles where they can be even more successful.
  4. Connect with their heart by affirming their efforts and contributions. Everyone wants to feel needed, valued, and like they are making an important contribution.
  5. Listen to their ideas and implement them where possible. Every person wants to be heard. For many of us listening is a sacrifice. We have to suffer to stay in the moment and truly hear what the other person is sharing. But the payoff is huge in building a relationship.

My Relational Leader Example

As a 23 year old lieutenant and member of youngest generation in the Vietnam era, I often flew combat missions with Col. Bob Maloy USAF (1924-1995), a crusty veteran of World War II. He could be tough, but he always treated me like I was an important person.

I always prepared and performed at my best when I was around him—first because he believed in me and treated me with respect and then because he was our wing commander, a colonel on his way to general and twenty years my senior.

I was chosen to fly the 3,000th combat mission of the 366th Tactical Fighter Wing at Danang with our commander Col. Bob Maloy (left).

He naturally practiced the wisdom that Lao Tzu described centuries ago.

“Treat your men as you would your own beloved sons. And they will follow you into the deepest valley.” — Lao Tzu [Tweet This]

In more recent times leadership guru Ken Blanchard expressed it very simply, “The key to successful leadership today is influence, not authority.”

So what has been your experience with leading with power versus leading through relationships? Which is best and why? Please share your comments in this post.


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Read Lee’s Latest Book on Employee Engagement

From his early experiences as an Air Force jet fighter pilot and POW in the prison camps of Vietnam to an award-winning author, presenter, and leadership consultant, Lee Ellis shares his concerns about the lack of accountability in our culture and how you can apply a positive, proven accountability model to get better results as a leader.

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