Managers: Want To Increase Employee Engagement? Model the Right Behavior.

Managers often feel responsible for telling employees what’s expected of them in their day-to-day work and how they interact with teammates. It comes with the territory, managers reason. It’s part of my job.

While that’s true to a degree (during onboarding and performance reviews, for example), there’s a better way to drive desired employee performance. Managers should show employees what’s expected through their own behavior.

Modeling ideal employee behavior is certainly not a new concept. But it continues to be underutilized as a management strategy—and as a way to enhance employee engagement. A May 12 post on the Harvard Business Review blog, “The Best Leaders Are Humble Leaders,” cited recent Catalyst research illustrating that employees who observe altruistic or selfless behavior in their managers are more likely to report feeling included and engaged in their work and their teams. This is important because, as we’ve all been reading, engagement is the key to greater productivity, innovation and profitability.

According to the Catalyst researchers, an altruistic or selfless management style is characterized by: 1) acts of humility, such as learning from criticism and admitting mistakes); 2) empowering followers to learn and develop; 3) acts of courage, such as taking personal risks for the greater good; and 4) holding employees responsible for results.

The Catalyst report goes on to state: “Employees who perceived altruistic behavior from their managers also reported being more innovative, suggesting new product ideas and ways of doing work better. Moreover, they were more likely to report engaging in team citizenship behavior, going beyond the call of duty, picking up the slack for an absent colleague—all indirect effects of feeling more included in their workgroups.”

Whether or not your organization defines its ideal management style as “humble,” “altruistic” or “selfless,” there’s no denying that these behaviors are precisely what we want from our managers—and from employees throughout our organizations.

For effective performance management, telling employees what’s expected of them has its place. But showing them how to succeed is even better expected through their own behavior.