Nov 28, 2018 | 3
Minute Read

The Leadership/Employee Engagement Dilemma

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In the song For What It’s Worth, Buffalo Springfield once sang, “There's something happening here, what it is ain't exactly clear.” There’s an interesting narrative going on currently in the workplace, and the message is becoming quite clear. Worker engagement relies on good leadership, and the workforce may be headed for a shortage of good leaders.

The millennial impact

While millennials have been everything from misaligned to misunderstood, there are some interesting trends about millennials that will impact the workforce in a profound new way. According to, millennials will make up 48% of the workforce by 2020. Meanwhile, 67% of millennials are currently looking for a new job. Add to that the fact that 91% plan to stay at their current job for fewer than three years.

Traditionally, leaders have been groomed and developed by companies over time. Employees work their way up the ranks, gain valuable experience, learn from mentors and, eventually, gain the necessary skills to become a leader. In today’s workplace model, people just aren’t sticking around long enough to learn the skills necessary to become effective leaders.

Interestingly, the world’s previously most populous generation, the baby boomers, are giving way to members of the new largest generation, the millennials. As boomer leaders retire, many of these vacated positions are being filled by millennials.

Many in the boomer generation spent their entire careers working within the same industry, many with just one company. With this philosophy becoming a thing of the past, the shift to the job-hopping micro-career concept is revolutionizing the workplace. While having many work experiences may provide a well-rounded resume, it lacks the valuable commodity of time and experience spent with a single organization.

The value of leadership

According to, 58% of organizations’ top priority is closing leadership skills gaps. Only 18% of organizations say their leaders are very effective at meeting business goals and just 19% say they are very effective at developing leaders.

Take it a step further. The same study reveals that 83% of organizations say it’s important to develop leaders at all levels while only 5% have fully implemented development at all levels. If it’s so important, why isn’t development a higher priority? And, can someone be trained to become a great leader if they continually move from employer to employer?

Engaging a workforce

A positive trend in the workforce is the rising number of engaged workers. However, even with the number being on the rise, the number of “not engaged” workers still remains higher, 53% to 34%, according to a recent Gallup Poll.

Reason would dictate that a person can’t become an effective leader until they have been a consistently engaged employee. If you buy into that logic, then accepting the “34% engaged” number as fact means companies really only have one third of the workforce from which to choose the next series of leaders.

With unemployment levels being extremely low, workers have more control of their workplace destiny. They can take more chances and be more choosy about accepting jobs. They know if one particular position doesn’t work out, there will be plenty more available opportunities waiting for them. The employment pendulum has switched from being under the control of the organization to being under the control of the employee.

What makes a good leader?

According to an article in the Harvard Business Review, 195 global leaders were asked to rate 74 qualities of being a leader. The leaders cited these as the top-five most important ones a leader can possess:

  • High ethical and moral standards

  • Provides goals and objectives without micromanaging

  • Clearly communicates expectations

  • Flexible to change opinions

  • Committed to ongoing training

If these are the competencies that define a good leader, what can organizations do to ensure these important things are being taught to the new generation of leaders?


Communication is a hot-button topic in any conversation about good employee/manager relationships. And it was found in the two of the five key competencies listed above. Yet, reports that 69% of managers are uncomfortable communicating with employees. If there are communication gaps between leaders and employees, how can we expect engagement to rise?

The report claims that 37% are uncomfortable giving direct feedback to employees about their performance, another huge disconnect. How can an employee improve without proper feedback? 20% of managers find it difficult to show vulnerability by admitting to making mistakes and 20% find it difficult to recognize employee achievements. 16% would rather communicate with their employees through email, finding it more difficult to communicate face-to-face. What does that say about those particular leaders?

To an employee, a company is only as good as the person’s direct manager. If the employee views the manager as a problem, the employee often loses interest in the job and the company because of it. According to a Gallup study, where 7,272 U.S. adults were interviewed, one in two had left their job to get away from their manager to improve their overall life at some point in their career.

Think about that: half of working people have left what may have otherwise been a completely fine work experience due to having a less than pleasant experience with their boss. That clearly demonstrates the importance of developing leaders that have both the technical and the people skills needed to excel at their position.


For businesses to thrive, employees need to be engaged. For employees to be engaged, they need to have a good working relationship with their leaders. Today’s business landscape shows a dearth of leadership and of those who seek leadership positions, many don’t plan to stay long at their current job. It seems one of the biggest challenges to organizations will be developing good leaders who remain engaged and want to stay. Making sure you hire the right people to start with is the first step in building a team of future leaders.


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Dave Clark