I was speaking recently to the CEO of a mid-sized company about the importance of leadership development, employee engagement and developing the psychological capabilities of employees.  He asked why this was necessary as there were so many other pressing needs that influenced levels of productivity, sales, and profitability. He said: “This ‘fluffy’ stuff may be good and well and a ‘nice to have’, but it’s not going to change the numbers at the end of the day. I’ve got to report to a board and, through them, to the shareholders – how will all this stuff help me perform to be able to give a good report and account for the business appropriately?”

I said: “I am sure that there are many issues that affect productivity and outputs, and I am not discounting those issues.”

“How long have you been married to your wife?” I asked.

He replied: “Over twenty years now.”

I asked: “How can you be sure that you love your wife, even after these twenty or more years?”

“I do love her,” he answered.

“But how do you know for sure?” I asked.

“Well, I willingly do the dishes. I take her out. I even cook at home a few times a month,” he noted.

“I answered: “Those are actions, those are activities. Show me the numbers that indicate that you love your wife.”

“Well, I can’t really put numbers to it, I guess,” he answered.

“So, how do you know that you love your wife and that you are expressing it appropriately?” I asked again.

“Well, I see it in her responses to me,” he answered, perhaps frustrated by all my questions.

“Good leaders see the value and impact of their leadership in the responses of employees to them, just like you see your love for your wife in her responses to you reaching out to her,” I said emphatically.

“Let’s do a quick evaluation,” I suggested. “If you think of the members of your leadership team that manage the various divisions in the business, which managers get favourable responses from their employees (like participation, commitment, loyalty, contribution, ownership, and innovation) and which managers get less than favourable responses from their respective leadership styles (like mistrust, frustration, indifference, shoddy work, and so on)?”

“I have just one manager that gets above-average responses from employees – somehow his staff do what is expected and they do it well. The other managers need to nag to get the job done and they are always complaining about the average quality of our employees to me,” he answered.

I asked: “Did not all employees come through the same recruitment process, were fished out of the same talent pool, were given the same training and development opportunities, and get paid according to the same salary structure?”

“Yes, I guess so,” answered the CEO.

“So, only one manager seems to be focused on the ‘fluffy’ stuff,” I answered. “His demonstration of authentic care for and appreciation of his people can be seen in his staff’s response to his leadership style. The employees respond positively to his genuine approach and produce much better results than their colleagues in other divisions.”

I left the CEO to mull over the numbers. I hope that he realised that only authentic leadership really produces positive responses from employees. The so-called ‘fluffy stuff’ is what life is about – even in business.

Free To Grow offers the workshop Engaging Leadership to provide managers with the skills and tools to engage authentically with employees.

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