An old leadership song


An old familiar song from The Gallup Organization that has been around for over three decades that plays in the workplace (United States) says only about 30 percent of employees are genuinely engaged in their work. A line echoes loudly among the many verses in this somber melody – “People leave managers, not companies.” It is a stark reminder of a problem we’ve long recognized but struggled to address.

In my leadership seminars, I never had a shortage of participants who would raise their hands when I asked: “How many among you in your past employment life had quit your company because you could not stand your former boss?” The truth is many still are today.

There is a plethora of books and articles on leaders and leadership. One simple click on Google Search presents some 2,370,000,000 results in 0.36 seconds. Books on the same subject matter are always in supply. Here are five reasons why, according to Cairnway Coaching Consultancy Company:

1. Many people feel free to offer opinions on leadership.

2. Readers have many different tastes in leadership books.

3. Anyone can publish a leadership book.

4. The practice of leadership is constantly evolving.

5. There is no limit to the way leadership can be described.

What adds to this is the social media platforms that have produced self-acclaimed, self-proclaimed leadership “gurus.” The prevalence of “leadership wannabees” on social media platforms exacerbates this issue. These individuals churn out recycled quotes and thoughts on leadership, often confusing young managers with their reliance on motherhood statements, platitudes, and clichés. In contrast, seasoned leaders who grasp the intricacies and complexities of leadership can’t help but shake their heads in disbelief at how such simplistic and foolish content gains traction.

When you dig deep, the core issue lies in a fundamental misunderstanding of the essence of leadership: It’s not about managing people but rather about leading them and managing their work.

Here is the hard truth about leadership. Leadership is an art that demands introspection and a willingness to confront harsh realities. To become a leader who motivates and inspires others on a profound level, you must first acknowledge a simple yet profound truth: Fear has no place in the workplace.

In traditional hierarchies, fear is often the primary motivator, enforced through positional power and control. However, successful leaders prioritize creating psychological safety in today’s interconnected and socially conscious world. By banishing fear, they liberate their teams to collaborate, innovate, and engage freely, unleashing their full potential.

I have had the privilege to give talks and provide training to companies consistently ranked as “best places to work.” There is an observable feature I see. These companies have mastered the art of eliminating fear from their culture. They foster an environment where employees see themselves as stewards of the company and its culture, nurturing a sense of belonging. Attrition is low, and productivity is high.

To gauge whether fear has taken root in your company, department, or team, reflect on these questions:

“How important is politicking within our organization?”

“Who advances in our organization, and why?”

“Are differing opinions welcomed by managers and senior leaders?”

“Do our employees feel safe taking risks?”

“Can you recall the last groundbreaking idea that didn’t originate from an executive?”

Remember, fear doesn’t discriminate; it can permeate every level of an organization, from the frontlines to the C-suite.

And then there is the Trust Factor. Fear is a formidable obstacle to a company’s growth and potential. It stifles engagement and innovation. While some argue that fear can motivate, it ultimately erodes trust, which is the bedrock of motivation.

Leaders who prioritize trust and care about their employees’ well-being witness improved performance and higher team morale. In such an environment, employees feel safe, not fearful.

Research by Amy Edmondson at Harvard Business School highlights the significance of psychological safety. Leaders who cultivate a “culture of safety,” where employees can voice their thoughts, experiment, offer feedback, and seek assistance, consistently achieve superior performance outcomes. Long ago, the eminent Warren Bennis insisted that trust is the lubrication that makes it possible for organizations to work. And all because safety doesn’t happen by accident; it’s a culture built on trust and accountability.

Leadership is not about wielding power or instilling fear; it’s about inspiring trust, fostering collaboration, and nurturing a culture where employees feel safe to explore their full potential.

I hope Gallup’s old song on engagement will change and improve, but only if we have leaders who understand these non-negotiable essentials.

Without this, we would have our LSS or Last Song Syndrome ringing in our ears for a long time.



(Francis Kong’s podcast “Inspiring Excellence” is now available on Spotify, Apple, Google, or other podcast streaming platforms).

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