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Women Leaders: Leadership Styles that Play Against Us

With an ever increasing focus on promoting more women leaders, it’s worth recognizing that certain styles are less effective in building the leadership brand for women in general.  Part of effecting change is having courageous conversations. Read on!

From the beginning of the Red Shoe Movement, we made sure our motto focused on “women supporting women for career success” so that we would take some of the narrative regarding women not supporting each other off the table. By keeping our eyes on mutual mentoring and mutual support, we hope to encourage many more women leaders in our organizations. This helps avoid any distractions caused by the ongoing social discourse that women don’t support each other as the reason for the dearth of women leaders.

Powerful leaders inspire with their vision

Powerful leaders inspire with their vision

For a long time, I thought my colleagues exaggerated when they talked about some of the women leaders they had the misfortune of working under. They described abrasive leadership styles that,  instead of  eliciting cooperation and loyalty, turned employees off. Then I ran into a person who fit every stereotype of the woman leader that I  fight so hard against and I decided we had to talk about this issue openly. Because, whether we like it or not, women leaders are still a minority, and, as such, the missteps of one tend to affect the brand of the entire group. And what I mean by brand is the brand “women leaders” or “female leaders” as a whole. Just ask African Americans, Latinos or Jews about the ripple effect that a bad apple has on the reputation of the group as a whole.

Women leaders with ineffective leadership styles

Although the styles I discuss on this post apply both to men and women, today I focus on the impact they have on my female colleagues.

Here’s what happened to convince me to talk about this issue. After weeks of volunteering my time to help a friend (let’s call her Mary) organize a fundraiser to benefit an organization she supports, we were getting nowhere. Every time we got a leading professional to donate his or her services  for an auction, the CEO of the organization (let’s call her Jen) would change things around without notifying anyone involved.  As the date of the event approached, my friend Mary and I started to receive daily calls and emails from our professional colleagues who so generously had accepted our plea for their free services. They didn’t understand why their services were not listed on the event’s website, why the amount of consulting hours being auctioned was different from what they had committed to, or why they had been taken out of the event altogether despite having confirmed their participation.

After one too many unilateral changes, I emailed Jen expressing how unprofessional this back and forth made us all look in the eyes of our contacts, only to receive in return a scolding letter on which she copied six other people from her organization. Needless to say, I was flabbergasted. I admit I should have called her to begin with, but my note to her was private. Her email to me was not.

The incident left me wondering, why some women leaders exhibit leadership styles that are obviously unproductive? Leadership styles that, rather than project power, play to the stereotype of “the woman who undermines the power of other women.”

Together we build the brand "women leaders"

Together we build the brand “women leaders”

But the better question might be: Should we confront these women leaders with their misbehavior, or should we avoid them and move on?

It’s no easy task to approach any powerful leader for a conversation about their leadership style shortcomings, but, in cases like the one in my example, not doing so carries an even greater risk –  The perpetuation of the undeserved stereotype that women are not suited to lead. That all women leaders miss the mark.

Just as Jen’s style was ineffective and was eventually responsible for her losing her job and her organization closing down, here are a few other leadership styles that leave everyone wanting:

  • Micromanagers. Women leaders who can’t step out of their manager role and are constantly micromanaging their team rather than providing a vision and allowing their teams to carry it out.
  • Queen Bee. These are the women leaders who feel there ‘s only room for one woman to shine in the organization and they systematically undermine other women, refuse to help them succeed, or are over critical of other women in the company.
  • Emulators of male leaders. Women who rather than leverage their female traits alongside their experience, knowledge and skills, lose all femininity on the way to their powerful position in order to fit in. By emulating a masculine style, they play well in the boys club but tend to leave the culture of their organizations  unchanged for women coming behind them.
Women leaders stand on the shoulders of previous leaders

Women leaders stand on the shoulders of previous leaders

How to approach women leaders for an honest conversation

This is certainly one of those million dollar questions. It’s never easy to approach someone to provide this type of feedback. So here are a two suggestions on how to set up a productive conversation.

1If you have a good relationship with the leader, you could send a note saying you have a few insights that may help her get more support for her vision/project/etc. Then ask if she’d like to hear your insights. Giving the person a chance to accept or refuse your suggestions is key to avoid overstepping and creating a bad situation for yourself. If she accepts a meeting, prepare your feedback carefully. Focus on objective performance and results rather than personality.

2If you’re not too close to the leader, identify who has her ear. (Who does she provide air cover to? Who does she agree with at important meetings? Etc.) It may be best to speak to that person first and get a sense of the most productive approach to take. That person may even suggest that he/she is the one to bring up the issue with the leader. For this to happen effectively, you have to trust the person who will carry your observations to the leader and make sure they won’t backfire.

Women leaders are joined together to protect brand

Women leaders are joined together to protect brand

Standing up for more great women leaders

The truth is that we are joined together in the guardianship of the brand “woman leader.” The success of one is the hope for all. By the same token, the failure of one impacts us all. So, as painful and difficult as it is, we must have these courageous conversations with our gender-mates when they are called for.

Needless to say these  feedback conversations should be held in private and conducted diplomatically in order to avoid eliciting a negative reaction.  Unfortunately,  avoiding the discomfort of having these conversations will only hold us back on our quest to see more great women leaders at the helms of our organizations.

Being More Assertive: Finding the Sweet Spot

To be successful you must be assertive and confident. Women, however, tend to shy away from being more assertive for fear of being labeled as aggressive.

Assertive women support other women and men

Assertive women follow the 7 Red Shoe Movement Principles

This is similar to the behavior women exhibit when negotiating for themselves. A topic I discussed in the post: 3 Key Negotiating Strategies for Women.

As a result of avoiding being more assertive, women pay a harsh price— they receive negative evaluations, negative attributions and they miss major career opportunities. Watch this video clip “A Man’s a Boss, a Women’s Bossy” for a series of examples of how similar behaviors are perceived as negative in women and celebrated in men.

To avoid being penalized for behaving in ways that are contrary to feminine stereotypes, women hedge their assertiveness and use fewer competitive tactics. Inevitably, these adjustments have a backlash effect that hinders women’s effectiveness in their careers.

What is Assertiveness?

Assertiveness is a communication style in which people put forward their own needs, ideas, and feelings, while respecting the right of others to do the same. Different levels of assertiveness can be applied depending on the situation.

The challenge is that being more assertive goes against the training most women have received from birth – to defer to men and to stay in the background. This passive stand renders women ineffective and denies them of the opportunity to reach their unlimited potential. And even though as women grow these passive behaviors may change, in a professional setting women still tend to defer to men.

Assertive women quote by Lily Benjamin - Assertive women have found the sweet spot in the communication spectrum

Being more assertive offers enormous career advantages for women.

This accommodating behavior is very subtle and mainly communicated via non-verbal messages, which constitutes 93% of any communication (55% body language and 38% tone.) Several specific examples of body-language messages where women miss the chance to be more assertive are: Smiling too much, nodding in agreement even when they are not, little cooing, supportive noises (“mm hmmm, mm hmmm,”) and presenting a tilted head to signal listening, a pose that is recognizable in puppies.

A common example of how tone sends a message that lacks assertiveness is the odd upward lilt that transforms every statement into an insecure-sounding question.

And to briefly touch on the verbal aspect of communication (which only represents 7% of any communication,) a typical example is the use of ego-soothing expressions such as: “Just following up, or piggy backing, on what YOU said….” and so on.

All of these subtle cues, particularly those involved in non-verbal communication, sway women’s communication style to the passive side of the spectrum. As a result of being passive, women get themselves in a position of violating their own rights.

What is the Difference Between Being More Assertive and Being Aggressive?

Assertive quote by Sharon Anthony Bower

It’s critical to avoid confusing being more assertive with being aggressive.

On the other side of the spectrum lays aggressiveness, which is what happens when people (and in the case of this post, women) veer 180 degrees away from a passive style and they come across as forthright and blunt. Aggressive women try to get the upper hand in the conversation and attempt to punish others usually using a lot of “you…” messages and blame. They are often trying to cover their own feelings of inadequacy, frustration, and powerlessness. These women aim to win even if this means disregarding others’ rights, needs, or feelings. As a result of being aggressive, women get themselves in a position of violating the rights of others.

Take the RSM Communication Style Quiz and see where you are in the spectrum.

Key Distinction Between an Aggressive vs. Assertive Woman

There is a misconception that for women to effectively climb the corporate ladder they have to be like men. They need to dress, speak, gesture, use cursing words, have a masculine style of commanding others, etc. Those who give into that stereotype can be easily spotted when they overdo it and end up “eating their own” – being catty and stepping over other women. These individuals can be their worst enemies, sabotaging and undermining their own authority and effectiveness due to their inability of being assertive.

A good way to distinguish aggressive vs assertive women is that assertive women do not “eat their own;” they are actually very supportive of other women, as well as very supportive of men.

Check out the 7 Principles of the Red Shoe Movement

Assertive women don’t blame others, they own their viewpoints by using “I” statements (“I like,” “I want,” “I don’t want,”) they use cooperative phrases (“What are your thoughts on this?”) they make distinctions between facts and opinions (“My experience is different,” “In my opinion…”) rather than using “should” they make suggestions (“How about”, “Would you like to…”), and they seek others’ ideas (“How does this fit with your ideas?”) Assertive women have found the sweet spot in the communication spectrum.

The Sweet Spot: Being More Assertive and Improving Your Effectiveness

Assertive women are keenly aware of the gender-based effect whereas women are often misunderstood and penalized for behaviors accepted in men. They understand the importance of reading their audience, environment, and circumstances. They are like chameleons able to assess the social situation and adapt accordingly, oscillating within the communication spectrum to be more or less assertive. Notice that I didn’t say, “becoming more or less passive, or even more or less aggressive.” Those are never good options. Effectiveness resides on balancing the degree of assertiveness based on the circumstances.

Assertive definition Merriam Webster dictionary - Confident in behavior and style

Find the sweet spot in the communication spectrum to find your assertive style

Strategies to Find the Sweet Spot

Being assertive is not necessarily easy, but it is a skill that can be learned.

Don’t miss this Harvard Business Review article, How to Be Assertive (without loosing yourself).

Developing your assertiveness style starts with a good understanding of who you are and a belief in the value you bring.

1First, “know thyself”

Awareness is 50% of the change. Clarity of your strengths and opportunities always raise your confidence level, giving you a specific direction on what to work on. Here is an assertiveness assessment you can try.

2Learn assertive communication skills

Communicating assertively will give you confidence, strengthen your relationships, and help you be more effective. When done well, you gain the support and respect of others. Don’t be afraid to say ‘no’ or ‘yes’, just do both taking others into account.

  • Reflect confidence: stand up straight, look people in the eye, and relax
  • Use a firm, but pleasant, tone
  • Check and validate your assumptions; avoid jumping to conclusions
  • Seek to understand other people’s point of views
  • Think in win-win terms and seek win-win situations

3Debunk myths about assertiveness

The Centre for Clinical Intervention trains on three myths that can be used as a tool to help you know the differences between assertiveness and aggressiveness.

Myths about Assertiveness
Myth Reasoning Fact
“Assertiveness is basically the same as being aggressive.” Some people who are aggressive think they are being assertive because they are stating what their needs are. Yes, both assertive and aggressive communication involves stating your needs. There are very important differences, however, in the words, the tone and in the body language used.
“If I am assertive I will get what I want.” Being assertive does not mean that you always get what you want. There is no guaranteed outcome. Being assertive is about expressing yourself in a way that shows respect for your needs and the needs of others. Sometimes this means you get what you want, sometimes you won’t get what you want, and sometimes you will come to a mutually satisfactory compromise.
“If I am assertive I have to be equally assertive in every situation” Understanding how to be assertive, gives you the choice to critically judge the circumstances and appropriately balance your degree of assertiveness. Sometimes, you may realize that you need to adjust the degree of assertiveness in order to be effective. Learning to be assertive is about providing yourself with a choice!

 

Everyone has the ability to learn how to be assertive, or effective when being more assertive than they currently are. The key is to self-monitor and adjust according to the situation, remaining fair and empathetic. Your power comes from your self-assurance and not from intimidation or bullying. When you treat others with such fairness and respect, you get that same treatment in return, you are appreciated, and sought out as a thought leader.

Leadership Style Quiz: What’s Yours?

You know it’s uncomfortable, so give up trying to emulate the leadership styles of the men in your organization. This leadership style quiz is the first step to freedom!

Yes, it’s as simple as that. Take this leadership style quiz and enter the land of the free. Freedom from imitating leadership styles that do not match who you are. Freedom from continuing to take leadership training or leadership development programs that focus on fitting you into a box. A box that basically erases what makes you different. A box that takes away the unique value you bring to your workplace.

The power of a leadership style quiz

Take this leadership style quiz and discover yours!! Stop trying to emulate the style of the men in your organization! Be you! Amplified!

Take this leadership style quiz and discover yours!! Stop trying to emulate the style of the men in your organization! Be you! Amplified!

Actually, the power of not just any leadership style quiz, but the Red Shoe Movement’s leadership style quiz, is that it was created with women in mind! We want to offer a glimpse into your style that you probably won’t get in traditional leadership training. The quiz will reveal something about your dominant style and also something about other leadership styles that intrigue you. Once you pinpoint your own style, you can easily incorporate elements of other leadership styles when the situation calls for it. Sometimes you can benefit from leadership development or leadership training and at other times, observation alone is enough. The key is to always respect your own style.

Definitions of leadership styles

Women Leaders: Leadership Styles that Play Against Us

Here are the basic definitions of the most commonly identified leadership styles.

Autocratic: This manager makes decisions unilaterally without much input from employees, reflecting the opinions and personality of the manager.

Chaotic: This manager gives employees total control over the decision making process.

Consultative: An autocratic style in which the manager listens to feedback from employees and adjusts when necessary.

Democratic: The manager allows decisions to be made by the majority of employees. Decision-making is slow, but there is more employee buy-in.

Laissez-faire: The manager is a mentor and stimulator, and employees manage their own areas of the business.

Persuasive: An autocratic style in which the manager spends time working with employees to convince them of the benefits of the decision that has been made.

Persuasive leadership style definition. Find out what your style is with this leadership style quiz!

Persuasive leadership style definition

When is leadership development or leadership training useful?

Leadership development can help you recognize and respect your leadership style while remaining flexible enough to adopt certain traits from other styles depending on circumstances. Although successful leaders tend to have a trademark style, they know how to adjust to different situations by applying characteristics of other styles seamlessly. What you want to keep in mind is the difference between this behavior and completely adopting a style that does not fit your personality and core values.

Take the leadership quiz as well to complement the results of this one!

After you take this leadership style quiz and you have a good idea of what your natural leadership style is, it’s time to think about the following:

  • How comfortable do you feel with your style?
  • Are there elements of other leadership styles that you could adopt on an “as needed” basis to be a more effective leader?
  • Is your organization open to different leadership styles or does it favor leadership development or leadership training for future leaders to ensure that they all maintain a similar style?

So let’s get to it. Take the leadership style quiz and share your style via social media to inspire others to assert their own style. (Don’t forget to tag us #RedShoeMove) Nothing will help you grow faster in your career than being true to yourself.

The Leadership Style Quiz

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Management styles most suited for female leaders

Shopping for management styles? Most successful female leaders have advanced in their careers by adapting their leadership style. Read on and discover how they did it without compromising their feminine side!

So often, women who wish to reach leadership positions find themselves wondering if they should adopt certain management styles. Or if there are particular leadership styles that are more effective than others. When they start looking around, they often find that the favored management styles within their organizations tend to be a good fit for men but not so much for women. What to do in this case? Adapt to the masculine ways of making decisions and relating to subordinates that seem to work well in your organization’s culture, or figure out what works best with your own personality?

Read Leadership Styles: Identify your Own
As a Leader is it important to have the flexibility to adjust your style to the audience you are leading - Management Styles quote by Carla Dodds

Management Styles quote by Carla Dodds

As I was thinking about how difficult it is for many of us to advance in our careers without giving up our personal style, I decided to ask three very successful women about their own management and conflict-resolution styles. I wanted to know if they thought there were supervisory styles better suited for women or for a particular industry. As part of the mini-interview, we presented them with the generally accepted definitions of six basic management styles, which you can read below.

The 6 Management Styles Defined

1Autocratic: This manager makes decisions unilaterally without much input from employees, reflecting the opinions and personality of the manager.

2Chaotic: This manager gives employees total control over the decision making process.

3Consultative: An autocratic style in which the manager listens to feedback from employees and adjusts when necessary.

4Democratic: The manager allows decisions to be made by the majority of employees. Decision-making is slow, but there is more employee buy-in.

5Laissez-faire: The manager is a mentor and stimulator, and employees manage their own areas of the business.

6Persuasive: An autocratic style in which the manager spends time working with employees to convince them of the benefits of the decision that has been made.

Belisa de las Casas

Director, Latin America, WEConnect International, an international organization created by a consortium of large corporations to identify, train, and certify small, women-owned businesses to increase supplier diversity.  www.weconnectinternational.org- Twitter handle: @weconnection

If you speak Spanish, don’t miss the amazing interview with Belisa de las Casas on Oportunidades de Negocios para Mujeres Emprendedoras
Would you like to know what is Belisa de las Casas, director Latin America, WEConnect International management style?

Belisa de las Casas, director Latin America, WEConnect International

  1. Out of the 6 management styles which one fits your style more closely?

Consultative.

  1. Why does this management style work for you?

I like my ideas to be challenged so that they improve. I like to work in a team environment and use all the team members’ talents. I believe that ideas can always be improved with the input of professionals with different backgrounds.

  1. All leadership styles have pros and cons. What are the weaknesses you would warn people about this particular style?

You have to be open to constructive criticism. If you ask for an opinion, you will get one. So, be ready. On the same note, when you ask for an opinion, you are generating an expectation. The expectation is that you will take it into consideration and if you don’t, the collaborator might not take it nicely. In order for this style to work, you have to know who to consult with, and be very clear about the “ask.” You choose who to ask. It’s not democratic.

  1. Does each one of these styles work better in a specific industry? If so, please write the industry next to the style.

Consultative – Good for any industry.

Democratic – Good for the legal industry.

Laissez-faire – Good for creative industries.

Persuasive – Good for sales, and for financial industries.

  1. Do you feel that one of these management styles is particularly well suited for women? Which ones?

Democratic – By nature, women try to be democratic.

Lily Benjamin

VP, Global Talent Management and I&D, PVH Corp., one of the largest branded apparel companies in the world, owners of Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger and other major brands.

What is the management style of Lily Benjamin, VP and Global Talent Management and I&D, PVH Corp

Lily Benjamin, VP and Global Talent Management and I&D, PVH Corp

  1. Out of the 6 management styles which one fits your style more closely?

Consultative, persuasive

  1. Why do these management styles work for you

I do not believe that Consultative and Persuasive are autocratic styles. For me, they both fall under the umbrella of Collaborative styles, as the intention is to gain input, leverage the collective intelligence, and at the end make a final decision that is best for all. I believe that as a leader my responsibility is to set direction, seek alignment, and motivate people into action, which I do through Consultation and Persuasion. My #1 is Consultative, as I believe in shared leadership, because all perspectives count. Though at the end of the day, when I have to make a final decision and when the input calls for agreeing to disagree, I like to persuasively draw people towards the outcome. (Rather than forcing them, so that they can support the new direction.) Sometimes persuasion is not even necessary, as the input provided does not deviate from the direction or alignment established.

  1. All leadership styles have pros and cons. What are the weaknesses you would warn people about this particular style?

With the Consultative style, people could get the wrong expectations, as they might think that because you are asking for opinions, that means that they all will be implemented.   This could lead to disappointment, sabotage, and disengagement. So setting clear expectations, and managing them up front, is essential to be effective. In addition, the Persuasive style requires transparency up front. Otherwise, it could come across as disingenuous, leading to mistrust which in turn can lead to dysfunctional and ineffective team dynamics. In general, consistently setting clear expectations up front and being transparent is essential for these two styles to be effective.

  1. Does each one of these styles work better in a specific industry? If so, please write the industry next to the style.

Having worked in multiple industries, I have not had to change leadership styles. To be effective, what I have had to do is learn the ‘political landscape’ and know how to manage the power structure. Some industries are more knowledge based, while others are more relationship based. Those are the dynamics that I have had to be sensitive to, and have had to develop emotional intelligence around, in order to be effective and make meaningful contributions.

  1. Do you feel that one of these management styles is particularly well suited for women? Which ones?

I personally feel that, though there are stereotypes attributed to women’s management styles, in essence it depends on the woman’s ability to be effective in her own style. It is all about being effective. But if I were to choose a style for women, based on stereotypes, I would say: democratic, laissez-faire, and persuasive.

Carla Dodds

Regional VP for New Business Development, Retailers Latin America & Caribbean, Mastercard WorldWide. (Don’t miss a full interview with Carla Dodds on, How Women Can Succeed in Corporate America.) www.mastercard.com

Carla Dodds, Regional VP for New Business Development, Retailers Latin America and Caribbean, Mastercard reveals her leadership style!

Carla Dodds, Regional VP for New Business Development, Retailers Latin America and Caribbean, Mastercard reveals her leadership style!

  1. Out of the 6 management styles which one fits your style more closely?

Consultative.

  1. Why does this management style work for you

While I have chosen “consultative” as the one that most closely fits, the truth is that my “consultative” approach has a bit of “Democratic” and “Laissez-faire” to it as well. As a leader, it is important to take your place in “leading with a plan” or having a vision, as well as staying on course of such plan or vision. Yet it is equally important to listen closely to those you are managing and get their feedback for many reasons. The primary two reasons being:

  1. Leaders are not omniscient. While we may have a clear vision, feedback from individuals with diverse experiences and backgrounds can enrich the outcome of that vision. Whether it is changing or adding to the original vision, all feedback and elements contributed by the team are important to making a vision a reality. Feedback also allows the team to anticipate any potential barriers to be removed along the way and yields to my second point.
  2. Empowerment & Ownership. Upon receiving feedback and having a voice in the vision or outcome of such vision, team members feel empowered and a sense of ownership of what they are doing when they are a part of the creation process and have input into their journey.

    Shopping for management styles? Read on and discover how most successful female leaders elected theirs without compromising their feminine side!

    Management Styles
    Photo Credit: iospp.org

I don’t believe I have just one management style. As a leader it is important to have the flexibility to adjust your style to the audience you are leading. Some situations will require a more Autocratic while others Chaotic. In today’s working environment, flexibility and adaptability are key to advancement and success! My style is more one of “know your audience and their needs and adapt accordingly.”

  1. All leadership styles have pros and cons. What are the weaknesses you would warn people about this particular style?

I think that with any style, the main weakness is to be overly set in one given leadership style to the point you are seen as a rigid leader.

Leaders must be flexible and not fully committed to a specific style, rather focused on adapting their leadership styles to the circumstances. That will enable a leader to maximize performance across the organization at any given time. In the case of consultative leadership, a potential weakness could be the inability to strike a balance between making unilateral decisions across the board and allowing feedback to outweigh rationale.

  1. Do you feel that one of these styles is particularly well suited for women? Which ones?

I think women can be well suited for any of these styles, given that women tend to be much more flexible and better listeners in general. It really depends more on the individual personalities of the women we are referring to, as no two women or people are created the same. The Autocratic, Consultative, Laissez-faire, and Persuasive require listening and teaching, which are two skillsets women tend to be recognized for (of course not all, just a majority.)   Chaotic and Democratic are styles that seem to be more passive leadership styles and may be more typical of passive cultures. Most of the women I know don’t wait around for others to make a decision, rather they are solution driven and work with a sense of urgency.

Engaging, retaining and promoting talent

Engaging, retaining and promoting talent

What Is Employee Engagement, Really

What is employee engagement? It is the alliteration du jour among business circles. It has been lauded as the solution to talent management and profitability challenges all in one. Why? The equation goes like this: Engaged employees equal higher corporate metrics.

So, what is employee engagement, anyway? Although there are several descriptions that point to the same idea, this is my preferred definition of employee engagement (courtesy of Aon/Hewitt): “Engaged employees invest their discretionary effort in the right behaviors to achieve future business results.”

What is employee engagement? It is the alliteration du jour among business circles. It has been lauded as the solution to talent management and profitability challenges all in one. Why? The equation goes like this: Engaged employees equal higher corporate metrics.

Since the enactment of employee engagement as the secret sauce to organizational nirvana, there has been a rush to implement initiatives to increase the number of engaged employees across industries and regions. Phrases like, “organizational restructuring,” “empowering line employees” and “meeting employees’ core needs” capture the essence of the advice given by gurus in the field.

Employee engagement statistics tell the story

Employee engagement statistics results are mixed. Depending on how and where you look, employee engagement statistics range from 13% to 60%. This wide variance underscores the urgency to pin down the moving target that is grooming and retaining engaged employees.

What is employee engagement? A paradox

It might seem counterintuitive that the short answer to the question what is employee engagement is two words: a paradox. While programs to increase the number of engaged employees in organizations have the best of intentions, a blind spot undermines their efforts: The inconsistency between what is communicated and what is fostered. If this blind spot is not kept in check, the level of engaged employees will stall or even decrease due to toxic competition, mistrust and complacency.

If your organization is looking to strengthen its employee engagement statistics, consider the suggestions below to fine-tune your strategy.

What is employee engagement? Employee engagement statistics show it is a critical way to improve ROI

What is employee engagement? Employee engagement statistics show it is a critical way to improve ROI

Shift from a competitive to a co-opetitive mindset

Co-opetition describes a practice used by companies in similar markets to collaborate in growth-oriented activities such as joint research and development or market research. The end result is the creation of a higher value for all involved rather than the outcomes achieved had they opted to compete in the traditional sense of the word. Let’s look at the rewards and recognition program to test this suggestion.

Currently, this type of program —that aims to acknowledge an employee exemplifying the values of an organization— reinforces an individualistic, win-lose culture. Not only does it recognize one person out of many, but the system might also condition employees to hyper focus on seeking out awards without any regard for the company’s values.

How about restructuring the rewards and recognition program to not only acknowledge the individual employee but also those who nominated her? Expanding the process to include the nominators—and indirectly their supervisors—would add more substance to the process and could jumpstart the shift to a more collective approach to recognizing performance.

A sustainable, measurable way to attract, engage and promote your talent.

A sustainable, measurable way to attract, engage and promote your talent.

Allow accountability and autonomy to coexist

It’s a catch 22: To deploy communication and productivity tools that promote accountability while building trust and employee engagement. Take the concept of flextime. The disconnect happens when managers and supervisors proclaim the benefits of flextime as a way for employees to customize—and own—their work processes and schedule while also asking them to report every single minute spent working remotely. The underlying message becomes, “I don’t trust you and since I still need to be in control, fill out this form and prove to me you are working.” The chances of having a team of engaged employees under this scenario are, frankly, dim.

How about communicating the need for accountability with transparency? Be explicit about the end goal of increasing productivity while allowing for flextime. Acknowledging that the process of remaining accountable while being autonomous could be bumpy strengthens your brand as a trustworthy manager. Soliciting feedback and engaging employees as partners—and not as dependent participants— allows for sharing ownership of the outcome.

Operationalizing an effective initiative to increase the ranks of engaged employees requires grit, patience, flexibility and humility, qualities not generally top of mind for most leaders.

Operationalizing an effective initiative to increase the ranks of engaged employees requires grit, patience, flexibility and humility, qualities not generally top of mind for most leaders.

Patience and humility to step back and consider a more collective, collaborative approach to cultivating engaged employees instead of just conditioning—programming them to perform. Grit and flexibility to review and to apply lessons learned from previous attempts.

Recommended Reading: Solutions to Promote Gender Equality in the Workplace

Producing more consistent employee engagement statistics could become a daunting task. If you are still doubtful about what is employee engagement and why it is so challenging, let’s go back to our working definition: the investment of discretionary effort. The way I see it, there are two ways to persuade employees to channel their discretionary resources –time, creativity, energy—towards organizational goals: The Stepford way (forced conditioning) or The Sustainable way, where transparency, trust, and tenacity prevail. Your choice.