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5 Pillars of Great Leadership

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Employee engagement, according to Aon, Deloitte, Gallup, and thousands of scholarly articles,  is one of the greatest game-changing mechanisms for companies looking to accelerate performance, exceed desired results and outperform their competitors.

Engagement and Quality Leadership

The potential for managers to impact employee engagement is massive; Gallup estimates that managers account for at least 70 percent of the variance in employee engagement scores across business units. However, my own research in human services and experience in corporate environments confirms that only the managers who provide a quality leadership experience are the ones that have the most positive impact on employee engagement.

Having spoken with over 20 000 people from more than 250 companies, I have learned that it is “Great Leaders” and “Great Leadership,” not merely managers who are the primary factor in maximizing employee satisfaction, motivation, engagement, organizational commitment, performance, and desirable business outcomes.

My experience from listening to thousands of stories about managers is this: The 5 Pillars of Great Leadership. The 5 Pillars (outlined below), when put into effective operation, separate great leaders from those that are merely managers.

What We Know About Great Leadership

I have asked a great many corporate and human service employees and managers in [North America, Europe, Asia and Australia] to reflect on their own experiences with past managers. Everyone was asked to recount stories of when they had experienced “the greatest leadership ever,” and to identify the actions, interactions and qualities that made their experience so great.

Despite the vast diversity of effective leadership experiences recounted, there were certain common threads in how people define great leadership that were repeated time and again. These themes are foundational to all the stories I heard, across all business sectors worldwide. Because the stories are validated by research regarding effective leadership, I refer to them as pillars.

I have outlined the 5 Pillars of Great Leadership below:


Yes, love! Whether you refer to it as “care and concern” or love, every single interviewee stated that they felt genuinely cared for by their leader. It is not uncommon for people to characterize great leadership as exuding high levels of trust, respect, empathy, caring, compassion, tolerance, and patience.

Great leaders understand and prioritize maintaining strong interpersonal relationships as a major component of leader/member interaction. Great leaders protect their people, advocate for them, develop them, and place the needs of their teammates before their own. Great leaders consistently honor and validate the dignity, integrity, and worth of their employees.


100% of the people who described a great leadership experience identified listening as one of the behaviors that had the most positive and meaningful impact on them.

Genuine listening, as opposed to waiting to speak, is a critical skill in ensuring that people feel truly heard. Listening is also the most significant skill for understanding employee’s experiences. When great leaders listen with the purpose of understanding, their members feel valued and cared for (or loved).

Listening can have profound implications for all members of a team, because it strengthens relationships, and reinforces important values in operation. Listening conveys caring, compassion, patience, and tolerance. It also builds trust, demonstrates respect, integrity and paves the way for empathy.

Great leaders understand the power of listening, which is why they listen more than they speak. They also know that when they are talking, they are likely not learning!


Research confirms what millions of employees already know: great leaders work hard to learn about the unique needs, values, goals and strengths of the members of their team. These qualities (which I refer to as CORE 4) are key sources of internal and external motivation for optimal engagement and performance.

Managers try to get people to do what the “boss” wants. Great leaders encourage employees to do what they are passionate about. This is only possible when leaders are in tune with what their employees desire, value, and hope to accomplish as they carry out their work.

Great leaders understand and respond to the needs of their people and help them to attain their goals. They view their team members as experts and place great value in the knowledge, experiences, and opinions they possess.

Great leaders also learn about, build on, and leverage employee strengths. This is done in pursuit of working toward a shared vision in how to most efficiently meet key business objectives.


Great leadership isn’t easy, nor does it come without a certain amount of stress and a variety of challenges. However, great leaders are those that can maintain a positive disposition in the face of stress and still know how to have fun and show a good sense of humor.

Such leadership qualities are important at all times even more so when leaders work to alleviate the stress inherent in trying working situations. Great leaders know that positivity, laughter and fun make good days great and the worst days better.


Great leaders inspire their team members. To inspire others is to lead! People who recount their greatest leadership experiences talk (with smiles and energy of course) about being excited, stimulated, “on fire,” and moved. They talk about times they would come in early, stay late, and help with almost anything (even projects outside of their job description) for anyone. What is otherwise known as engagement.

It is important to note that some of the people who remember being inspired were working in very challenging situations. For many employees, despite great adversity, it was their leader and the leader’s behaviors that contributed to what they would later refer to as the greatest time in their career!

Love, Listen, Learn, Laugh and You Will Lead…and Engage!

When people feel valued and cared for; when they experience important values such as respect, empathy, trust and integrity in operation; when they work in positive and fun environments; when they feel safe to make mistakes and take meaningful risks and; when they feel listened to, understood and known, they experience their direct supervisor as not just a manager, but as a “Great Leader.”

A Simple Conclusion

Thousands of stories about greatest leadership, when combined with formal research, solidify what we all know and have experienced about the unequivocal and inextricable link between great leaders and the positive and profound impact they have on employees and employee engagement.

Employee Development

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