Are Your Executives Engaged?

By Erin Wilson Burns | March 23, 2018

Key Takeaways:

  • It is no secret that leadership requires great effort.
  • Leaders must achieve the level of problem solving and problem sharing that allows their people and organizations to further develop.

I recently shared seven personality traits that differentiate executive leaders from leaders at other levels in the organization and can be used to help identify and develop high-potential future executive leaders. These seven traits are: Objectivity in the WorkplaceHaving a Positive OutlookBeing EngagedInnovativeTeam Builder, Quick Learner, and Trusting. This article focuses on the third trait, being engaged

Why does being engaged matter?

Leadership is hard work, and top-level leadership is arguably the most demanding due to its complexity, uncertainty, and the potential costs of mistakes. Without reasonably strong engagement, few leaders succeed. Leaders, who are engaged by ambiguous situations, have the stamina and drive to tackle complex problems and see these challenges as exciting and energizing. They are often seen as being passionate about their work. They value being a leader and are motivated to overcome the challenges, assert themselves, and influence others. That energy and enthusiasm influences others, inspiring passion and commitment in others. They tend to both believe they are and be seen by others as effective, as someone who gets things done. Executives tend to be more successful when they are engaged by solving challenging problems, finding new solutions, navigating through ambiguous situations, and motivating others. 

Can a leader be too engaged?

It is possible to over-value leadership roles. Leaders who enjoy being in the center of things are typically energetic, gregarious, and fast-moving. At an extreme, strongly engaged leaders may unknowingly dominate meetings, control (instead of share) the decision process, and suppress the development of direct reports by limiting their autonomy and independence. Their quickness to act may also cause inadequate due diligence at critical times. This action-oriented behavior can even negatively impact results because leaders may push their own ideas without taking the time to gain the support and ‘buy-in’ of others. By dominating "center stage," strongly engaged leaders also may dull the enthusiasm and ambition of their direct reports by making them feel their participation is irrelevant. 

What happens if a leader is un-engaged?

Leaders who either do not value leadership roles or feel uncomfortable in those roles create different kinds of problems. In some cases, individuals, such as technical experts who have taken on managerial roles, have pursued a leadership path despite a lack of interest because there was no other meaningful way to advance in status and compensation. Without an engaged and motivated leader that engages actively in the tasks that only a leader can do the entire organization suffers.  At mid and upper organizational levels, people depends greatly on a strong leader for their own career development and advancement, for resources and information to do their jobs, and for active and effective sponsorship of important initiatives. Without the leader's broader perspective and influence, high potential direct reports are likely to feel at a disadvantage and seek better opportunities elsewhere. 

In sum, leaders who are both engaged by the challenges of leadership and are willing to share those challenges with others are in fact the leaders who help their organizations and their people grow.

Find out whether you have the profile of a successful executive. Learn more about the MENTOR® Leadership Battery.

Erin is a principal at The RBL Group with 25 years of experience in leadership and strategic HR consulting.

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