If we want engaged teams, we need to support team leaders

December 2, 2021



Staff Engagement in Non-Profit Work

Research has shown leaders are responsible for 70% of variance in employee engagement (Gallup, 2015). This makes sense when considering it is through leaders that many other influential factors of employee engagement are actualised (i.e. feeling valued, getting positive feedback, having control over work etc.).

Investing in the creation of assertive leaders may be one of the most effective strategies to boost employee engagement. Leadership theories, models and techniques are proliferous in literature. Less frequently mentioned is one of the key ingredients for effective leadership: supporting leaders to lead.

Leaders deal with the, sometimes difficult to reconcile, tension between meeting organisational targets and caring for their team members. Both of these are time and resource consuming tasks. When unsupported, leadership techniques and models may even add to the multiple tasks and pressures that leaders face. 

Community and voluntary organisations may not be able to make this tension go away but they can support leaders to learn how to manage it and support them along the way. Caring for leaders means providing them with the tools and guidance needed to reach their targets while maintaining a healthy and motivating communication with their team. It also means making them feel supported when required.

How can organisations can support leaders?

The following strategies are supported by research:

  • Ensuring there is a good fit between the person’s talents and the leadership role: when talents do not match leadership-associated skills (i.e. people skills), both managers and team can burn out [i](Gallup, 2015). Gallup estimates that organisations miss high managerial talent in 82% of their hiring decisions even though one in every ten people have high leadership talent [ii] (Gallup, 2015).
  • Encouraging self-compassion practice [iii]: we may use with others the same measuring stick that we use with ourselves. Self-compassion practice does not mean being permissive, remaining stagnant, letting mistakes pass unnoticed or justifying them. Self-compassion is about not using  mistakes to attack and devalue ourselves. It rather allows a wise inner observer to come into the space to witness, listen, understand, learn and move on without letting this diminish one’s self-worth. Wasylyshyn &Masterpaqua (2018) claim that “research suggests that leaders who maintain high standards and aspirations accompanied by self-compassion rather than self-criticism will be: (1) less likely to avoid or deny difficulties; (2) more likely to be creative and rational when confronting problems; and (3) more likely to engage others when resolving those problems.” [iv] (p. 24). Self-compassion is like an ability. It needs training and perseverance. After all it requires to change the way we perceive and react to situations. To see some good self-compassion exercises, click here.
  • Ensuring leaders have trusting, strong sources of support such as mentorship programmes and/or peer support: the same factors that should be in place to maintain engagement in the workforce should be in place for leaders including a supportive environment. There is research showing mentorship programmes can enhance the development of leaders’ efficacy and performance even to a greater extent than group setting leadership education programmes[v] (Lester et al., 2012) and that peer support can make leaders “more prone to engage in transformational leadership behaviours that reduce follower burnout” [vi] (Tafvelin, S. et al., 2019, p.166)
  • Ask leaders what they need [vii] and gather feedback from their team, always in a curious rather than judgemental way to help them identify what they are doing well and what they need to work on [viii]. Importantly, do this in an environment that welcomes mistakes. This means seeing these as key resources for further learning rather than pointers of value or sources of guilt and blame. The engagement tool is one way to do. It can provide an organisation with the data it needs to uncover whether manages are feeling supported and engaged and whether their staff are too.

If we want engaged teams we also need engaged leaders. This means ensuring they have support and mentoring especially when managing teams through the challenges of working through Covid. If we support our leaders then they will have the reserves and competencies to ensure their team is also supported, focused and engaged. How is everyone doing? Now more than ever asking our staff and our leaders how they are doing needs to be key priority for organisations.

Find out more about our Engagement Insight Tool and the useful benchmarked information it provides, click here. If you would like to find out how your organisation would like to use the tool please email engagement @qualitymatters.ie for more information.


[i] Beck & Harter (2015) “Managers account for 70%of Variance in Employee Engagement”. Available at: https://news.gallup.com/businessjournal/182792/managers-account-variance-employee-engagement.aspx

[ii] Beck & Harter (2015) “Managers account for 70%of Variance in Employee Engagement”. Available at: https://news.gallup.com/businessjournal/182792/managers-account-variance-employee-engagement.aspx

[iii] Center for Compassionate Leadership (2019) “The Heart of the Center for Compassionate Leadership’s Model: Self-compassion”. Available at: https://www.centerforcompassionateleadership.org/blog/the-heart-of-the-center-for-compassionate-leaderships-model-self-compassion

[iv] Wasylyshyn, K & Masterpasqua, F (2018) “Developing self-compassion in leadership development coaching: A practice model and case study analysis” Available at: https://organisationalpsychology.nz/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/Volume_13_No_1_Spring_2018.pdf#page=23  

[v] Lester, P et al., (2012) “Mentoring Impact n Leader Efficacy Development : A field Experiment” Available at: https://journals.aom.org/doi/abs/10.5465/amle.2010.0047

[vi] Tafvelin, S et al., (2019) “Leading well is a matter of resources: Leader vigour and peer support augments the relationship between transformational leadership and burnout, Work & Stress”, 33:2, 156-172, DOI: 10.1080/02678373.2018.1513961

[vii] Test, L “6 Ways to Support and Acknowledge Strong Managers” Available at:  https://www.cultureamp.com/blog/6-ways-to-support-and-acknowledge-strong-managers

[viii] Gallo, A (2016) “How to manage mangers” Available at: https://hbr.org/2016/08/how-to-manage-managers

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *