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How leaders affect engagement

November 19, 2018

Despite the fact that there has been limited research on the impact of leadership on employee engagement levels, it seems intuitive that managers and leaders in an organisation would have to provide a positive role model for engagement to fully flourish within a workforce.

It is thought that transformational leadership, as theorised by Bass, may have some impact on employee engagement levels probably due to the fact that it encompasses motivating employees to go beyond the norm and driving values aligned with the organisation, among other things (Bass, 2005). According to Shamir, House & Arthur (1993) transformational leadership centres on inspiring others which results in enhanced commitment, cohesiveness and performance, similar to the key findings from employee engagement research more generally.

Accordingly, Bakker et al (2011) suggest that ‘an employee who receives support, inspiration and quality coaching…is likely to experience work as more challenging…satisfying and, consequently, to become highly engaged with the job tasks’ (p13). In a diary study, Tims, Bakker & Xanthopolou (in press) found that optimism mediated between transformational leadership and work engagement.

So, there is a clear link between leadership and engagement but the findings appear to be in their infancy; more research needs to be conducted to fully understand to what extent this has an impact and how it can be harnessed. It would be useful to look at alternative leadership models, such as empowerment leadership, to develop a further working understanding. However, we know from the literature that employee engagement affects the bottom line in business. If we can understand the link with leadership further it may be possible to focus on this factor, in an employee engagement survey for example, to highlight where to inject resources to enhance the potential leadership drivers further to ultimately further improve bottom line results.

Key Reference: Bakker, A. Albrecht, S. Leiter, M. (2011). Key questions regarding work engagement. European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, 20(1), pp4-28.

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