What Followers Want From Their Leaders

Posted 05.22.2009

Checklist As an executive coach and someone who spends a lot of my time trying to figure out how leaders can be more effective, you can imagine how excited I was to learn that there is all kinds of new data out on employee satisfaction in the federal government. The Partnership for Public Service has released the results of its biannual Best Places to Work in the Federal Government report. Being the total leadership geek that I am, it’s been a lot of fun for me to get online and sort through the 74 employee survey questions that the study is based upon. What’s even more fun for me is the direct comparison between the public and private sectors on 13 benchmark questions from the Best Places to Work studies.

(I know what you’re thinking.  “Wow, he needs to find a hobby or something.”  You may be right, but hang with me as I’m getting to the really good stuff.)

Anyway, the question that generated the biggest gap between the public and private sectors was, “How satisfied are you with the information you receive from management on what’s going on in your organization?”  48% of Federal employees answered that question positively while the favorable rating with private sector employees was 66%.

That started me wondering which items in the Federal study had lower favorability ratings than that one.  It turns out that you can download all the questions from the Office of Personnel Management in an Excel spreadsheet and start sorting to your heart’s content. There are 20 questions with less than a 48% positive rating. (The lowest, with a 9% favorable rating, is “How satisfied are you with child care subsidies?”)  Out of the other 19 lower rated items, I found three that I think can be directly linked back to how leaders spend their personal time and attention.  Those three are:

  • “In my organization, leaders generate high levels of motivation and commitment in the workforce.”  (40% favorable)
  • “Creativity and innovation are rewarded.” (40% favorable)
  • “How satisfied are you with the policies and practices of your senior leaders?”  (42% favorable)

I’d argue that three out of the four items highlighted here (receiving information,  feeling committed and satisfaction with policies and practices) are directly connected to the quality of leadership communications.  You could also argue that the fourth item (rewarding innovation) is at least indirectly related to intentional leadership communication.

So, what’s the lesson that any leader (public or private sector) should take away from the study?  I’d go back to one of my favorite frameworks – Bill Bridges’ Four P’s Model.  Leaders need to be focused on constantly and consistently communicating four things:

  • Purpose:  why are we here and what difference does that make?
  • Picture:  what will things look like when we’re fully successful?
  • Plan:  how will we get to that picture of success?
  • Part to Play:  here’s what you can do to contribute.  What else can you bring to the party?

Think for a moment about how a consistent leadership focus on communicating the Four P’s would move the needle on employee knowledge, commitment, innovation and satisfaction.  If you’re a leader, what can you do this week to communicate the purpose, picture, plan and the part to play?  If you’re a leader of leaders, what do you and your team need to do to cascade the communication throughout your organization?

Given our current state of affairs, it seems like commitment and innovation have never been more important.  What do you want to do about it?  What other tactics or strategies would you share to help leaders move the needle?