Leadership Integrity, Value Congruence, and Employee Engagement

July 24, 2010

I blogged recently about new credible evidence that employee engagement might indeed affect employee performance. This is the best evidence we have so far that employee engagement produces tangible results, which is important because the hype surrounding engagement far exceeds the evidence. This new research also gave us a very specific definition of engagement, a new and better measure of engagement, and an evidence-based suggestion for three things that might enhance employee engagement.

One of the things this new research suggests enhances engagement is value congruence. Value congruence is the extent to which the individual can behave at work consistent with their own self-image. It’s very difficult to experience meaningfulness in our work if we are expected to behave in ways that are inconsistent with the highest values we espouse to ourselves and others.

When individuals find that their role expectations pull for behaviors that they feel are inappropriate for their preferred self-images, they feel devalued, taken advantage of, and less willing to give themselves to their work roles. (Rich, et al., 2010, p. 621).

This is where leadership integrity comes in. Leaders with integrity in the eyes of their employees speak and act in ways consistent with what employees value. The leader’s personal behavior reflects values congruent with employee values. As leaders inspire others to enact their best selves and stretch for higher and higher levels of performance, they never expect values to be compromised, and they never accept compromise in their own behavior or in the behavior of others they have been given the privilege to lead.

Find a disengaged employee and I’ll bet you will also find a leader lacking integrity.

Model the way for your employees by being open and clear about your values.  Then behave at work consistent with your values, and help your employees behave consistent with their values. Try not to hire and never promote people that are either void of or unwilling to make a public commitment to meaningful personal values. Partner with your employees to continuously improve the crappy systems that rob people of their pride of workmanship.

Don’t expect the engagement that flows from meaningful work to magically appear in others until you have the wisdom and courage to first do the right thing yourself.

Related Posts:

I Am Responsible For Adhering To The Highest Values That I Can Envision

Leadership: There Is No Substitute For Caring

Leadership Development: The Foundation

About the Author:

Comments (10)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. working girl says:

    Clash with preferred self-image is a good way to describe how engagement suffers that I haven’t seen before. Just out of curiosity, are there any companies you personally feel walk this walk? Or do you find it’s more case-by-case, depending on particular leaders and managers within a given company?

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    That is pretty cool. I think there are a lot of companies that say they are doing well with engagement, but I question how they have measured engagement. And I think its more about the relationship between the supervisor and the employee than it is the company. Thanks! Bret

  2. Frode H says:

    Employee Engagement Rocks!
    The importance of values is heavily underestimated. If you are “green” and enviromental friendly, working for a polluting company will make you suffer. A lot of people take a job because it is a job. (Some problably has no choice) but if you are lucky enough to work for a company with the same values as you, you will experience another level of energy.

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Welcome, Frode. I concur that values is a new and interesting way to think about facilitating engagement. Thanks! Bret

  3. davidburkus says:

    How connected do you think this is to Schein’s theories about Leader behavior and organizational culture. Culture seems to be an important factor in engagement.

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Sorry for the VERY slow reply, David. I’ve read Schein, but a long time ago so I am cold on his thinking. I do know he was a systems thinker, so I bet points he makes about culture and engagement are good. Are you going to blog about that sometime? 🙂 Thanks! Bret

  4. davidburkus says:

    I’m fairly knew to Schein. I’m writing an article now about how leader’s shape cultures, but in the contexts of ethics (contrasting Enron with Zappos). Not sure if that’ll translate to a blog post, but if I get it published I’ll definitely post a link.

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Anything can be translated into a blog post! 🙂 Bret

  5. Employee loyalty and leaders with integrity. Business and the public sector are into a phase of creative disassembly where reinvention and adjustments are constant. Hundreds of thousands of jobs are being shed by United Technologies, GE, Chevron, Sam’s Club, Wells Fargo Bank, HP, Starbucks etc. and the state, counties and cities. Even solid world class institutions like the University of California Berkeley under the leadership of Chancellor Birgeneau & Provost Breslauer are firing staff, faculty and part-time lecturers. Yet many employees, professionals and faculty cling to old assumptions about one of the most critical relationship of all: the implied, unwritten contract between employer and employee.
    Until recently, loyalty was the cornerstone of that relationship. Employers promised job security and a steady progress up the hierarchy in return for employees fitting in, performing in prescribed ways and sticking around. Longevity was a sign of employeer-employee relations; turnover was a sign of dysfunction. None of these assumptions apply today. Organizations can no longer guarantee employment and lifetime careers, even if they want to.
    Organizations that paralyzed themselves with an attachment to “success brings success’ rather than “success brings failure’ are now forced to break the implied contract with employees – a contract nurtured by management that the future can be controlled.
    Jettisoned employees are finding that the hard won knowledge, skills and capabilities earned while being loyal are no longer valuable in the employment market place.
    What kind of a contract can employers and employees make with each other? The central idea is both simple and powerful: the job or position is a shared situation. Employers and employees face market and financial conditions together, and the longevity of the partnership depends on how well the for-profit or not-for-profit continues to meet the needs of customers and constituencies. Neither employer nor employee has a future obligation to the other. Organizations train people. Employees develop the kind of security they really need – skills, knowledge and capabilities that enhance future employability.
    The partnership can be dissolved without either party considering the other a traitor..

  6. Heinz says:

    Excellent articulation of the value of Value Congruence. I am blessed in that I work for a Local Government Council in England where value congruence is very high. I can concur that it really makes a difference, I feel very motivated and empowered.