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Why Connections Beat Charisma Every Time

How employees feel about their leaders is less important — in terms of productivity and engagement — than how they feel about, and work with, one another.
CEO charisma is irrelevant
photo by flickr user alykat

“Whether your employees love or just barely like your company doesn’t make that much difference to their performance.”

Does that mean employees of culture-rich Patagonia (which “fills [its] payroll with people who are passionate,” according to Workforce.com) are just as productive as the most ambivalent among us? Yup, you got it, according to a recent Corporate Executive Board study of 1,000 employees.

“Getting employees to be proud of the organization… versus just pretty much barely liking the company has exactly the same impact in performance terms,” writes senior research analyst Marika Krausova in the CEB blog post “Who Really Has the Biggest Impact on Employees’ Performance?” “However, the way employees connect with their peers and their networks within the organization has a big impact on how they perform and support others within the organization.”

Krausova goes on to say that leadership which “enables employees to connect with others and encourages information sharing — and empowers decision-making at lower levels — has 1.6 times the impact on employee’s performance compared to an ‘authentic, open, and inspiring’ one.”

Is your CEO charisma suddenly irrelevant? Well, not exactly. But it may be far less important than your willingness to embrace Twitter and Facebook to engage people.

According to a 2012 IBM study of 1,700 CEOs, the most critical leadership skill today is fostering employee collaboration. What’s more, notes Forbes.com contributor Mark Fidelman (@markfidelman), “companies that outperform their peers are 30 percent more likely to identify openness — often characterized by a greater use of social media as a key enabler of collaboration and innovation — as a key influence on their organization.”

So why are only 16 percent of CEOs active on social media when a vast majority of employees believe that encouraging its use from the top results in better communication, improved brand image, and greater transparency?

The bottom line is that the most productive employees are the ones who are most connected to one another. And a powerful way to foster those connections is through social media.

“Social media is becoming the ‘universal university’ that allows all of us to learn from each other through comments, feedback, and spirited dialogues . . . ,” write David K. Williams and Mary Michelle Scott (@MaryMichelleS) in the post “New Research on Why CEOs Should Use Social Media” for the HBR Blog Network. “But the biggest rewards are available for companies whose commitment to social media comes from the top.”



In 2002, executive search firm Towers Perrin — now Towers Watson — studied the relationship between employee emotion and company performance. It found that (surprise, surprise) “negative emotion about work is not only associated with higher turnover rates, but also contributes to the kind of workplace malaise that can materially diminish productivity and performance.” Granted, the connection between hating a job and performing poorly isn’t stunning. What is interesting: Managers routinely misjudged the source of employee disdain, the study showed. Most leaders assumed that happiness hinges on people’s feelings toward management, but employees are far more influenced by professional development opportunities, rewards and recognition, and connections to one another.

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