CEOs still failing to see connection between engagement and the bottom line, Ashridge research reveals

CEOs still failing to see connection between engagement and the bottom line, Ashridge research reveals


By Tom Newcombe –

A lack of belief and connection to the bottom line are two of the barriers stopping some CEOs “engaging with engagement”, according to research, published today by Ashridge business school.

Limited “emotional connections”, such as being open to feedback and sharing power, were also cited as reasons.

The research, Engagement through CEO eyes, explored this topic with in-depth analysis from 16 UK CEOs.

It revealed there might be a lack of leadership capability, particularly around emotional intelligence and authenticity as well as a lack of trust in leadership.

The culture and system in which UK business operates was also seen as one of the main barriers.

It found organisational hierarchy and a drive for short-term results are some of the issues buried in our business culture which are seen as “antithetical” to engagement.

Out-dated leadership models were also identified. The report found many leaders talk about how command and control models of leadership are flawed, as is the all-knowing, all-powerful ‘hero’ leader.

Some CEOs talked about how the future of leadership needs to have engagement at its core, particularly given the differing expectations of a multi-generational workforce.

One CEO said: “I think big corporations have got a massive challenge if they think they’re going to retain talented people through command and control and not including them into decision-making and creative processes early on.”

Other barriers identified in the report were: Shortcomings in leadership capability, such as poor self-awareness and certain traits such as ‘leader pride’, which may lead to disengaging behaviours.

The report revealed within leadership capability there was a fear of feedback among CEOs. They appreciated that it is part of their job to deliver bad news, however some talked about avoiding difficult conversations in order to protect staff. One CEO said: “Sometimes you avoid those conflicts because of the negative impact they have on you personally.”

Another CEO said: “There’s a whole set of worries that goes on with people, most of us like to be popular and actually you can’t.”

The report revealed some leaders believe the economic crisis is being used as an excuse for poor leadership behaviours. As one CEO explained: “It is very easy when companies or countries are in crisis to have command and control and a belief that it needs a hero leader who is telling people what to do to actually get the thing moving forward.”

Several CEOs believe the economic climate makes it easier to ignore engagement: “When you get under a lot of pressure, it’s easy to say we’ll just stay in our bunker for a couple of years and wait for things to pass.”

The report states it hopes that the leadership development community will explore new approaches to leadership development with engagement at its heart.

And it believes through engagement, there is a better way to work that releases the full capabilities and potential of people at work, while at the same time enabling organisational growth and ultimately economic growth for the UK.

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