Leadership Articles: TALKING LEADERSHIP


A Feature Article from Gaynor Consulting Inc.
February 2013   |   By Dan Gaynor

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The Rudder And The Engine Room

In a recent issue of Fast Company writer Mark Crowley cited American Conference Board research to illustrate the reality that over half the U.S. population now hates their job. This problem is estimated to be giving rise to over $300 billion in lost productivity. Recent Towers Watson research has revealed that the Canadian situation is much the same. This is not a revelation. Researchers have been drawing our attention to this problem for decades now, it is just that it appears to be worsening. The bottom line is that relationships matter. Get them wrong, or pay too little attention to them, and it costs real money. Investing in relationships is not only the right thing to do, it builds corporate performance. So let's break leadership into two key responsibilities: decision making and relationships. I call these two the rudder and the engine room.

Every leader needs to point the ship in the right direction, this is all about making the right decisions, like how to finance the business, which markets to enter, or which opportunities and threats to address. Think of this role as turning the rudder. A ship can be pointed in the right direction, but if it does not have a strong engine room, it doesn't matter much. Oh, you may get there eventually but not nearly as efficiently or successfully as you could. Poor leadership can even create resistance to the rudder.

Think of relationships, as the engine room. This is most often described as employee engagement, which is usually measured by an employee's willingness to provide what is described as discretionary effort. This simply means that people are willing to go beyond what they must do, into additional effort they are choosing to provide.

The problem is that many businesses do fairly well without this discretionary effort so there is often little incentive to invest in building engagement. So while we cannot argue that every leader who doesn't pay attention to the engine room will fail, we can make a good argument that these same leaders won't come anywhere close to the business's potential without it. Too many employees are labouring away at jobs they would love to leave. We should ask ourselves, what could these organizations achieve if their employees we enthusiastic participants instead of reluctant survivors?

So what is the answer? We find it in the most basic of leadership lessons, one I continue to revisit: followers care about leaders who care about them. They work harder and care more when they know they matter. This is why practices like good open frequent communication, coaching, feedback, and yes even skillful discipline, matter so much. They all send the message that the leader cares and the follower's work is important enough to pay attention to.

A good friend who works at a large company told me recently that he wonders if his boss would even notice if he was missing. His boss isn't abusive, he is just not paying attention to people. He feels like a meaningless cog in a big machine. I wonder how many of his colleagues feel the same way and how much this limits the organization. His experience is all too common.

I don't mean to diminish the importance of the good strategy that we're calling the rudder, it is just that so many leaders pay so much attention to it and so little to the engine room. The kind of balanced leadership that creates high performance organizations pays careful attention to both.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How much time are you spending on the rudder and the engine room?
  2. What could you change to make it more evident that people, and the work they do, matters to you?

Give your leaders the skills they need to build a powerful engine room with a 1/2 day workshop.

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A Feature Article from Gaynor Consulting Inc.
February 2013   |   By Dan Gaynor


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The Pain Problem, October 2016

The Big Question, September 2016

Risky Business, March 2016

Mentoring in the Moment, January 2016

Sacrificial Leadership, December 2015

5 Tactics For Better Meetings, November 2015

Leader as Follower, October 2015

Dynamic Balance, September 2015

Fearless Humility, August 2015

Fear and Accountability, July 2015

Building a Feedback Culture, June 2015

Fostering Accountability, May 2015

Confront or Avoid?, Apr. 2015

The Heart of Accountability, Mar. 2015

Powerful Ambition, Feb. 2015

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Ralphie and the Strategic Approach, Dec. 2014

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