Customer and Employee Engagement

There is a great article in the Gallup Business Journal today on The Business Impact of Human Emotions. It’s an easy read so do read it. The most amazing part of it is the statistic at the end that says “that when organizations engage their customers and their employees, they experience a 240% boost in performance-related business outcomes compared with an organization with neither engaged employees nor engaged customers.”

I thought they needed an infographic to make them think further about this issue so here are my thoughts on the subject of engagement:


The growth of the knowledge economy has resulted in fundamental changes in the nature of business. As we moved from a manufacturing economy we have moved away from its foundation of rationality, order, and predictability towards an economy that values change, innovation and creativity.

This has been accompanied by marked increase in conditions of ambiguity. When is an idea right or wrong? When is it  complete? How much knowledge on a subject is enough?

The nature of leadership has changed with the changing economy as one of the prime requirements for leaders today is to be able to resolve ambiguity.

David Wilkinson, a lecturer at a number of UK universities has identified four different leadership styles for dealing with ambiguity and complexity.

  1. Technical Leadership. These leaders usually deal with ambiguity by denial or creating their own certainty. They are also more dictatorial and are very risk averse by nature.
  2. Cooperative Leadership. The aim of these leaders is to disambiguate uncertainty and to build teams around them to mitigate risk.
  3. Collaborative Leadership. Collaborative leaders have a tendency towards consensual methods of leadership. They prefer to work towards aligning team members values and getting agreement. Their approach to ambiguity is for the group to examine it.
  4. Generative Leadership. These leaders use ambiguity to find opportunity. They tend to be inveterate learners and innovators.


Participative Leadership

Finally, following the last post in a series of four, we’re looking Participative Leadership, the third type of leadership studied by Kurt Lewin in 1939. This study of schoolchildren assigned to complete an arts and craft project, worked under three different types of leaders, an Authoritative Leader, a Delegative Leader and a Participative Leader.

Lewin’s research found that in general, participative leadership, or democratic leadership as it is often called, was the most effective style. These leaders encourage others in the group to participate but in most cases, maintain control over the final decision. Participative leadership results in followers who are engaged in the process of decision making, better able to support the decision and are more motivated and creative.

Participative leaders encourage group members to participate, but retain the final say over the decision-making process. Group members feel engaged in the process and are more motivated and creative. In his study, Lewin found that children in this group were less productive than those in the authoritarian group but their contributions were of higher quality.

What does all this research mean?

Some people believe that the best leadership style is a mix of the three styles. You may have seen the following venn diagram to represent leadership.

But this diagram is wrong. The best style isn’t a mix of all three styles.

If you go back to the first equation postulated by Lewin, he states that behaviour is a function of the person in the environment. Ultimately, the best style is the one that gets the best results in the particular environment and you may have to exhibit different styles of leadership to be effective in different types of situations.

Delegative Leadership

Following up on yesterday’s post on Authoritarian Leadership, we continue on Kurt Lewin’s study of leadership to look at Delegative Leadership, sometimes known as Laissez-Faire Leadership.

The second group of children in his study of leadership worked under a delegative leader to complete an arts and crafts project. Lewin’s research found that these kids were the least productive of all groups. They made more demands on the leader, showed little cooperation among each other and were unable to work independently.

These abysmal results are a function of delegative leadership wherein the leader gives little or no guidance to group members. It is perhaps unfair to have looked at this research using children as it doesn’t take into account some work situations where delegative leadership is essential. If you lead a team of very accomplished and productive people, then you had better get out of their way and let them do their thing. This is especially true where they all have some sort of technical expertise in which you lack.

Unfortunately though, in many cases, this style of leadership can lead to people having poorly defined roles and little motivation.

Float and Dive leadership

While Lewin didn’t study this type of leadership, Float and Dive Leadership is a style where a leader is sometimes authoritative and sometimes delegative. Where the subject interests the leader, he or she can be authoritative and where the subject matter is of no interest, the leader abdicates. This is sometimes floating above the surface and sometimes taking a deep dive.

The style is the worst of both worlds, especially when a team member doesn’t know the issues upon which the leader will float and the issues upon which he or she will dive. A follower is left with managerial whiplash, sometimes micromanaged and sometimes left to wander in the wilderness.

Authoritarian Leadership

Yesterday’s post looked at some of the implications of Kurt Lewin’s psychological research. Another study he did in 1939 set out to identify different styles of leadership. To look at different styles he studied a group of schoolchildren. The kids were broken up into three groups, each with a different type of leader, one being authoritarian, another democratic, and the last, delegative. To conduct the research, he assigned each of the groups an arts and crafts project and he observed the results.

The first group operated at the hands of an authoritative leader, one who provided clear expectations of who, what, where, when, why, and how a task needed to be performed. This type of leader typically dictates policies and procedures as well as goals. Acting often as a micromanager, this type of boss directs and controls all activities without meaningful participation by other members of the team.

Lewin’s research found that decision making was much less creative under authoritarian leadership.

This isn’t all bad. If you look back at Lewin’s earlier work that postulated that behaviour was a function of the person in the environment. There are a few environments where this type of leadership is sorely needed. Where there is little time for decision making, as in a crisis situation, an authoritarian leader will thrive. If as well, there is an inexperienced team, this type of leadership is a requisite function for success.

But in the long run, in a stable and experienced environment, an authoritarian leader will fail to deliver upon the potential of the organization.


Kurt Lewin on Behaviour

Kurt Lewin, who died in 1947, was one of the pioneers of social, organizational and applied psychology. He was one of the first people to study group dynamics and organizational development. What is most interesting about his work is his study of leadership. If you’ve ever worked for a mercurial leader, one whose mood you couldn’t predict, then Kurt’s work goes a long way to explain that person’s behaviour.

According to Lewin, behaviour is a function of the person in their environment. What this means to say is that if you take one person in one environment it is likely that he or she will behave differently in a different environment. This has a few implications at work:

  • A boss you like at one workplace isn’t necessarily going to be the same boss at the next workplace and that following him or her to a new workplace might be an error.
  • If also means that a person who is successful in one environment isn’t necessarily going to be successful in another.
  • In addition, if an environment changes, you may have to look for a different leader, one who can function more effectively in the new environment.

If you’re finding that your behaviour at work is changing (for the worse) then you may be better off finding a new environment that fits your behaviour style better. Ask yourself; In which environments are you successful and in which ones do you fail? Don’t just search for the right job, search as well for the right environment.