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Authentic leadership creates engaged employees

Authentic leadership creates engaged employees

Employees will tighten their belts to help a business through tough times as long as they see authenticity from their leaders, according to a new podcast by recruitment specialists Robert Half.

In the Robert Half podcast on employee engagement, Naomi Simson, chief executive of Australasian gift business Red Balloon, says employees are prepared to tighten their belts if they know where they are going and why.

“So if we see the leader of an organisation getting a brand new car and being all very flashy, well then, why is the employee being asked to cut back?” she asks.

But when business leaders act in a way that supports their calls for efficiencies, they are more likely to maintain employee morale even during cut backs.

She also suggests that if cuts have to be made at work, employers should ask staff to suggest possibilities.

“You know, if you tell somebody, ‘No more Tim Tams in the kitchen’, they’re going to go, ‘Geez, they’re getting tough and tight’.

“If you go to them and say, ‘What could we cut out of our budget? We want to conserve X amount, where could it come from?’ they’re likely to come back and say ‘I wanted to go on a diet anyway, so you can cut the Tim Tams’.”

Authentic leadership doesn’t necessarily mean being nice to people all the time, but it does mean having a clear vision and sense of purpose, says Ms Simson.

“You want to be able to trust and believe in your leadership – that they know where they’re going and that you’re going to sign up to that programme.”

She gives the example of Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple, which she used to work for. “Steve Jobs clearly has a sense of purpose. The whole organisation has an unbelievable sense of purpose, but you know he’s not necessarily that affable and easy to get along with. He’s very committed to his purpose and everyone has an unbelievable respect for the man.”

On the Robert Half podcast Ms Simson says creating a real sense of employee engagement occurs in three stages. The first, or logical, connection to the organisation requires employers to deliver on the “table stakes”, or basic employment conditions, they promise – salary, health and safety, performance plans, training and development and so on.

The next level is an emotional connection, which means employees believe in the organisation and trust the people leading it, and this is where authenticity is vital.

“That’s the thing that will keep people long term – ‘I believe in this organisation, I believe in its products and I believe in its leadership’.”

If leaders and managers get these two aspects of employee engagement right, they are more likely to get “brand connection”, which motivates employees to go out and actively tell the world what a great place your organisation is to work at, and what a fabulous brand it is.

“Now you can’t ask people to do that authentically. You can’t ask them to blog or to put Facebook pages up or to tweet how great it is, but that’s what they give back if we get the other pieces right.”

Employers who want to create that level of connection and retain their staff no matter what the economic circumstances should ensure they get the first steps right now.

“Now’s the time to get the logical connection,” she says. “Do all the things, don’t give up on your training – don’t give up on investing in people …

“You need to consider rewards now. Who knows when the upturn is coming? For some, an upturn might be years away … and there’s others who’ve never been in a downturn.

“There has never been a better time to recognise people … we have so much research to say ‘look after your people and they’ll look after you’.”

The Robert Half podcast on employee engagement is now available for download at


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