Leading for the Greater Good

These four new research-based insights show the connection between corporate purpose and business achievement.

The more fair everyone’s workload is, the higher the level of engagement.

Psychology research in the lab and in the workplace is constantly uncovering new insights that can help leaders. These insights can give every leader—from middle managers to top executives—an edge over their competitors.

THE FINDING: Supporting corporate purpose through human resources (HR) operations can improve employee performance.

Research(opens in a new tab) supports the idea that organizations that have a clear purpose and spend time on activities to further that purpose attract new talent and motivate employees. New research also indicates that when organizations provide individual training and support for corporate purpose, and consider employee contributions to corporate purpose goals in hiring and promotion, organizations may reap the reward of better job performance overall. Tying HR efforts into corporate purpose also results in employees feeling stronger identification with the organization.  

The leadership lessons:

  • Use the idea that corporate purpose matters for all employees and having a clear purpose fosters better job performance.
  • Demonstrate your organization’s commitment to its purpose by providing employees with HR training and support for activities related to corporate purpose.
  • Reward employees for contributing to their communities or society when those contributions align with your corporate values.

THE FINDING: When managers act boldly to promote ethical behavior, they can help create a stronger ethical culture.

Employees watch what their managers do. When managers act ethically, they model the right behaviors for others in the organization. But managers can accomplish even more when they challenge the status quo in the name of ethical behavior. A 2019 study(opens in a new tab) in the Journal of Management suggests that when managers stand up to their bosses to advocate for ethics, the team members they lead are more likely to see that behavior as an expected part of their job. This expectation could, in turn, promote a culture of zero tolerance for unsafe, unlawful, bad or questionable behaviors.  

The leadership lessons:

  • Recognize and reward managers who take professional risks to advocate for ethics.
  • Build processes to enable all employees to report questionable activity without repercussions.
  • Ensure that you and your fellow leaders react appropriately when managers act strongly to support ethical behavior.

THE FINDING: Having the right people in the right jobs is a top driver of employee engagement.

The BB&T Leadership Institute has studied employee engagement in hundreds of organizations, divisions and teams. For nearly every group, job fit is among the two or three drivers that are most strongly correlated with engagement. Job fit is, essentially, having the right people in the right roles. When employees are able to do what they love and what they do best, they can be more motivated and engaged in their work.

The leadership lessons:

  • Understand the tasks and demands of each job in your organization. (If you have not reviewed them recently, you may not fully understand them.)
  • Learn your employees’ skills and passions, and ensure they get to apply them.
  • As practical, allow flexibility in daily tasks and movement between roles, so employees can find their best fit in your organization.

THE FINDING: Leaders’ poor time management can have negative consequences—for their employees.

A 2019 study(opens in a new tab) published in the Journal of Applied Psychology suggests that as a project deadline draws closer, leaders are more likely to delegate tasks to their subordinates less evenly. This might seem to be a justifiable response to urgent circumstances, but it could have team effects that linger after the project is finished. The Leadership Institute’s research shows that employees’ perceptions of fairness in their workload is correlated with their work engagement: The more fair everyone’s workload is, the higher the engagement is.    

The leadership lessons:

  • Manage your time not just to ensure getting projects finished but also to maintain fairness to your team.
  • Plan how to assign or delegate project tasks at the beginning of a project and hold followers accountable for their progress.
  • When working on an urgent project or reacting to a setback, pay special attention to how you delegate tasks. 

Debbie Garcia-Gratacos

"When managers act boldly to promote ethical behavior, they can help create a stronger ethical culture," Patrick Gallagher, Ph.D., The BB&T Leadership Institute

By Patrick Gallagher, Ph.D.

Photography by Westend61, Getty Images

4 Conscious Leadership Tips

Tip 1

Highlight corporate social responsibility activities in your hiring and HR practices. Doing so attracts better candidates and improves employee performance.

Tip 2

Encourage all employees to act ethically. It helps create a strong ethical culture in your organization.

Tip 3

Put the right people in the right jobs. Doing so fosters employee engagement.

Tip 4

Delegate tasks evenly to subordinates. It helps maintain their engagement at work.

Branch Banking and Trust Company is now Truist Bank. Learn more(opens in a new tab)