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July Question of the Month: What is the most effective leadership style to motivate junior employees?

by LAURA AITKEN-BURT September 26, 2017
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​Junior staff are equally eager to learn, enthusiastic and full of potential, but also notoriously difficult for businesses to retain [see our article onretaining graduate employees]. So knowing an effective type of leadership style to motivate entry employees is something that is going to be a hot topic for companies.

With responses from all levels of business, from junior employees to owners, the results showed an overwhelming favour in democratic and transformational styles of leadership across the board.

Transformational leadership is considered to be the most important for junior employees due to the trend that the millennial generation enjoy early responsibility and problem solving, as well as working for companies with visions that they can be a part of. These types of leadership therefore allow millennials to feel part of the decision making process and inspired to be creative and instigate change.

The junior and associate levels themselves placed importance on democratic and transformational leadership at 39% and 38% while senior managers placed an even higher emphasis on transformational leadership at 49%. This interesting disparity might reflect the awareness of senior managers that their millennial employees have different drivers. Alternatively, this group may have even thought themselves as the inspirational and 'transformational' driving force behind the junior levels, especially due to their more direct contact with junior employees perhaps through mentoring schemes or management in team projects.

For directors and executives, transformational leadership was still top of the poll at 38%. However, there was a marked increase in answers of autocratic leadership at 20% compared to 2% with senior managers and 8% with entry level professionals. We can account for this perhaps in the fact that the average age of a director is 57-59, therefore coming from a generation of leaders who, when as juniors themselves, experienced a clearly defined chain of command which now places the decision making power firmly in their hands. As they did not have input when they were at a junior level, they see no reason for junior employees to be involved in decision making now.

However, this autocratic style of management does not work well in the modern workplace which is fast-paced and where change is seen not as a threat but as an opportunity, especially with the additional skills younger employees can bring to a company in the technology sector. Perhaps this is why transformational leadership is currently favoured in the business world due to the disruptive technologies that are changing the way lots of businesses run, as we analysed in last month's article on artificial intelligence [read the articlehere]. This requires leaders to bring about change for the betterment of the company, to drive it forward into the future.

Interestingly though, in the owner category, autocratic leadership decreased to 15% whilst democratic leadership increased to 38.5%. Perhaps this shows that owners are keen to be open to new ideas from their employees on the ground to help their business grow in new directions. These owners could indeed be the transformational leaders that are at the forefront of the latest disruptive technologies.

The least effective forms of employee motivation were judged markedly lower at under 10% in every category. These leadership styles were transactional (promoting employees through rewards or reprimands) and laissez-faire (allowing employees to set their own milestones and deadlines). We found this interesting considering the rise of the gig economy and flexible work from home options rising, as well as the emphasis that trendy start-ups often put on fun workplaces.

It seems that, at the end of the day, junior employees still want to be working towards an inspirational vision, no matter what the other perks of the job may be. This result also demonstrated that although employees enjoy having a say, they still require some leadership in order for effective performance. This aligns with our previous survey that showed that those who thought their line manager was effective were ones that regularly checked in with them rather than ignoring them or expecting too much without any direction [read the articlehere].

If leaders can adopt more transformational and democratic practices into their businesses, they will, not only have more engaged employees, but will also more likely retain them for the future, whilst hopefully creating new growth for their company. This will enable leaders to transform junior employees from the entry level to directors of the future who will in turn continue to transform the business, and people who work for it. 

Read the more from the Question of the Month series HERE

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