5 Ways to Build Leadership Capacity | Leadership Strategies

How Leaders Can Prioritize Relationships to Improve Employee Engagement


Understanding Employee Engagement

Employee engagement thrives when leaders prioritize relationships. Unfortunately, in many task-driven organizational cultures, the significance of these connections often takes a backseat. Even after two decades of training leaders in the coach approach to leadership, it remains evident that many organizations struggle to recognize the correlation between nurturing strong human connections and achieving bottom-line success. However, deep down, everyone intuitively understands just how crucial relationships are in the workplace.

The Significance of Workplace Relationships

As co-active trainers, our objective is to help leaders understand the significance of relationships. Armed with facts, studies, and real-life examples, we set out to bridge the gap between the bottom line and the power of human connection. When we present leaders with findings from Gallup surveys, Harvard studies, or insights from world-renowned relationship experts, we notice a shift in their attention. Suddenly, they lean forward, eager to listen and learn. 

Shifting the Focus: From Productivity to Connection

To truly drive home the importance of relationships, the experiential exercises in our training are also key. These exercises allow leaders to momentarily disconnect from the constant demands of productivity and immerse themselves in the experience of human connection. It’s during these moments that they reconnect with their natural truth and realize the key role relationships play in raising engagement levels. 

However, we understand that when leaders leave the training room, they face challenges in prioritizing relationships within their organizations. Organizational cultures often encourage a “head down, get the job done” mentality, leaving little room for building meaningful connections. There is a prevailing false belief that there simply isn’t enough time to invest in relationships. This limiting belief needs to be debunked.

Empirical Evidence: Studies that Make a Difference

Dr. John Gottman’s work on the magic ratio of positive to negative interactions in relationships provides a compelling argument for investing time in building strong connections. When leaders start contemplating this ratio and reflect on their own relationships, both at work and at home, they become genuinely interested. Suddenly, they realize that there is a formula for long-term success, and it’s not as complicated or time-consuming as they once thought. For example, Gottman talks about the importance of developing “Colleague Maps” which help you discover how well you know your colleague’s current world, both professional (e.g., interests, technical expertise, stresses, victories) and personal (e.g., significant people in their lives, where they live, hobbies).

Having this knowledge about colleagues allows leaders to engage with them more effectively. It helps them understand their strengths, interests, and areas where they may need support. With this information, leaders can tailor their interactions, communication, and collaboration to better align with employees’ needs and preferences and build strong relationships.

Reflecting on Bonnie Ware’s Findings

Another eye-opening perspective on the importance of relationships comes from palliative nurse, Bonnie Ware’s exploration of the top five regrets of the dying.

One of the most poignant regrets, as proven by Ware’s book, is the failure to prioritize relationships. This realization often triggers a profound silence in the room, as everyone contemplates the weight of this regret. Just as Gottman’s colleague map provides leaders with practical tools to understand and engage with their colleagues effectively, Ware’s findings serve as a powerful reminder of the importance of nurturing meaningful connections. This wake-up call prompts leaders to reevaluate their priorities and make a conscious effort to invest the time and effort that relationships deserve. By sharing these insights, we hope to inspire a shift in mindset.

The Power of Gallup’s Research

Of course, we can’t overlook Gallup’s research. When it comes to understanding employee engagement, there is no one more knowledgeable than Gallup. With their extensive experience in conducting employee engagement surveys, they have become the experts in the field. And what do they say? Relationships must be put first if you want to engage your employees effectively. Many leaders in the room nod their heads, acknowledging that they are aware of this information. However, there is often a gap between knowledge and practice. Leaders may feel that the culture is not conducive to relationship building or lack the skills and tools to build relationships effectively. This is why leadership training in the coach approach to leadership has gained popularity worldwide. Once leaders recognize the importance of relationships, the next step is to become masterful at building them.

 The core of our work revolves around training individuals in social intelligence, relationship intelligence, and the keys to engagement. What excites us the most is that everyone is hungry to connect. We all have an innate desire to build meaningful relationships. This hunger makes it easier for us to guide leaders back to this deep truth that resides within each of us.

Harvard’s Research on Happiness and Relationships

If leaders require further evidence, Harvard University provides compelling research on the significance of relationships in happiness. One of their most notable studies, spanning over 85 years, meticulously tracked the lives of 724 men. This comprehensive study examined their physical and mental health, career achievements, and personal relationships. The results unequivocally demonstrated that relationships are the primary determinant of happiness and overall well-being.

 The study found that individuals who had strong, supportive relationships with family, friends, and romantic partners were not only happier but also healthier. They had lower rates of mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety, and were more likely to live longer lives. On the other hand, those who lacked close relationships or experienced conflict in their relationships had higher rates of physical and mental health problems. 

These findings have significant implications for the workplace. When employees have positive relationships with their colleagues and feel supported by their leaders, they are more engaged, productive, and fulfilled with their jobs. They are also more likely to stay with the organization long-term, reducing turnover and associated costs. 

Improve Employee Engagement with Relationships

Putting relationships first is the key to improving employee engagement and driving overall success. While organizational cultures may prioritize productivity, it is crucial for leaders to recognize the immense undeniable value of creating strong human connections. Ultimately, it is only through these connections that employees thrive, engagement soars, we are happy and success becomes attainable.

Michelle Kempton

Michelle Kempton

Certified Professional Co-Active Coach (CPCC), Master Certified Coach by the International Coaching Federation & founder of Kempton Coaching & Training. Michelle is passionate about leadership development and organizational change.


Sign up for our newsletter to stay connected to our content and latest insights.

This site is registered on wpml.org as a development site. Switch to a production site key to remove this banner.