Are We Focusing on Employee Engagement Metrics (And Missing the Point)?


By Linda Fisher Thornton

Employee engagement is a metric that companies are closely watching. Using surveys, levels of participation in programs, and satisfaction reports, companies measure how well they engage those they lead. Butcould this heightened level of watching be part of the problem?

Gallup’s article “The Worldwide Employee Engagement Crisis” explains that “when companies focus exclusively on measuring engagement rather than on improving engagement, they often fail to make necessary changes that will engage employees or meet employees’ workplace needs.”

As companies move to real-time employee engagement dashboards, there is a lot of data to look at, and it changes daily. Have we become fascinated by the data, and not the level of engagement of employees? When we make a change and engagement goes up, it is easy to assume that the change caused the improvement, but organizational cultures don’t operate by cause-and-effect because they are complex systems. Many other things could have changed engagement besides that “one new program or policy” that we (the measurers) are thinking about at the moment. 

“Studies have shown that committed and engaged employees who trust their leaders perform 20 percent better and are 87 percent less likely to leave the organization, and that high-trust organizations experience 50 percent less turnover than low-trust organizations.”

Drea Zigarmi and Randy Conley, Focus on Employee Work Passion, Not Employee Work Engagement,

Taking a high level view, what “moves the needle” on engagement is really systemic changes in the culture, trust building and improving performance management. Since those connected systems are harder to get right every day than program and policy changes, they are sometimes overlooked for small changes that seem like “easy wins.”

According to Paul J. Zak in HBR’s The Neuroscience of Trust, some of the changes that really matter in employee engagement include job crafting, working together to make progress on goals, having discretion at work, information sharing, leader vulnerability and facilitating whole-person growth.

“Today, more than twice as many employees are motivated by work passion than career ambition (12 percent vs. 5 percent), indicating a need for leadership to focus on making the work environment compelling and enjoyable for everyone.”

Brown, Melian, Solow, Chheng & Parker, The Naked Organization, Deloitte Insights

While measuring employee engagement is important, in the end the metrics are not the point. The ultimate goal is to create compelling workplaces where people flourish and grow, supported by highly competent ethical leaders.  These ethics-rich cultures generate high levels of trust (through authentic leadership, respect and care) and attract and retain talented people who want to make a difference.

The most engaging leaders can simultaneously meet organizational goals, enrich employee’s lives and meet the needs of multiple constituents using a careful balancing act based on mutual benefit. 

Click the cover to read a free preview!  

©2020 Leading in Context LLC

TAP Into Trust With These 12 Principles

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Every organization needs to pay attention to trust. Trust improves metrics including productivity, employee satisfaction and ethical brand value. It makes organizations better places to work, places where people want to invest time and plan careers. 

After months of discussions, writing, sorting and voting, a small group of Trust Across America Trust Alliance members (I am honored to be among them) created a tool to stimulate conversations about organizational trust – The 12 Principles for TAPping Into Trust. If you are ready to invest in building trust, this tool will help you generate discussions within your organization.


Click the button to TAP INTO Trust and access the 12 Principles (in English, Spanish, French and Arabic). 

How will you use the 12 Principles?

Here are questions you might ask your teams:

  • Which of the 12 Principles For TAPping Into Trust are our strengths?
  • Which represent areas where we need to do better?
  • What would it look like if we improved how we follow each principle on our “do better” list? What is our plan for closing those gaps?

In other Trust Across America news, Barbara Kimmel has announced that “the 10th anniversary issue of TRUST! Magazine explores the role good governance plays in building trustworthy organizations through interviews with lead directors, board chairs and CEOs.” Check out the full issue Here

When we choose to take the trust journey, we are always learning and improving. Let’s keep the conversation open. Share in the comments how these 12 Principles are helping you TAP Into Trust!

Top 100 Leadership Blog

Special 5 Post Series Celebrating the Second Printing of 7 Lenses

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 1)

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 2)

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 3)

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 4)

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 5)


© 2018 Leading in Context LLC

Building Trust: Paradoxical Qualities to Cultivate



By Linda Fisher Thornton

As we progress on the learning journey toward positive leadership, some of the qualities we seek seem to be paradoxical. For example, as leaders we need to be CRYSTAL CLEAR in outwardly communicating what we expect and also OPEN to hearing input from others that might change our plans. We need to be FULLY PRESENT in this moment, and still able to THINK AHEAD to prepare for the future.

The secret that great leaders know is that these qualities (which may seem like polar extremes) are each effective at different levels, in different contexts and at different times. 

Cultivating these qualities in ourselves and our organizations helps us build a high trust workplace where people can do their best work:

Be Dependable and Open to Change

Be Fully Present Right Now and Think Ahead

Be Crystal Clear About What’s Expected and Open to Hearing Input From Others

Be Confident and Humble

Be Decisive and Flexible

Great leaders possess seemingly paradoxical qualities. They know when to use each end of the spectrum, depending on what is most needed to move individuals and groups forward. 

Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, describes Level 5 Leaders (the highest level in his model) as having the paradoxical qualities of personal humility and professional will. This means that they are strong and confident, but choose to use their leadership in a “service-orientated” way that benefits others. They don’t save the power or attention for themselves.

Great leaders learn to identify when a group needs clarification, and when people want to be heard. They respond with just what people need at that moment. That careful dance builds trust.

We can be decisive when we need to be, but also keep our teams involved in deciding our future path.

We can be confident in our leadership and also humble enough to step aside to let others take the lead so they can grow.

Cultivating these paradoxical qualities (and learning when to apply them for the most positive impact) takes our leadership to a higher level. 

Top 100 Leadership Blog




Prepare Your Leaders For Ethical Leadership Future – Help Them Learn To See Through The 7 Lenses®. 

Includes how ethical expectations are increasing, and what you can do to stay ahead of the curve.

Click the cover to read a free preview!  

Unleash the Positive Power of Ethical Leadership®

©2016 Leading in Context LLC



Trust-Building Requires Trust-Giving

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Good leaders intentionally build trust. They build it through everyday words and actions. They build it by demonstrating that they can be trusted. They also build it when they extend trust to others. Some leaders wait for people to prove themselves before they trust them, but trust is reciprocal.

 Trust-building requires trust-giving. 

Are you reaching out? Or are you waiting for your employees to have a “perfect” record before trusting them? Today I am sharing a fictional letter from an employee who doesn’t feel trusted by her manager. As you read this “Dear Manager” letter, see if you can empathize with the employee who doesn’t feel that she is being trusted enough.

Dear Manager Letter

We are the beacons of trust in our organizations. If we want to create productive high-trust workplaces, we must start with ourselves, remembering that what we do, others will follow. The longer we wait to trust, the longer we’ll have to wait to be trusted in return.


Follow the Leading in Context Blog for weekly posts that help you Unleash the Positive Power of Ethical Leadership™ 


For more, see 7 Lenses (foreword by Stephen M. R. Covey) and the related 21 Question Assessment: How Current is My Message About Ethics?

7 Lenses is a Bronze Axiom Business Book Award Winner in Business Ethics41cEVx-Tu4L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_
2014  Bronze Axiom Business Book Award Winner 
About 7 Lenses  @leadingincontxt  @7Lenses

© 2014 Leading in Context LLC 

Ethics and Trust are Reciprocal

20140323_173426By Linda Fisher Thornton

I was asked recently to explain in simple terms how ethics and trust are related. It is a great question, because we define trust and ethics in so many different ways.

Here are some observations about how trust and ethics are related, and what their relationship means for us as organizational leaders.

What is the Relationship Between Ethics and Trust?

Proactive ethics is part of what it takes to build trust.

Building trust is part of what is required to maintain good ethics.

Ethical behavior and choices help build trust.

High trust environments encourage better ethics.

When trust is lost, people are less likely to uphold the organization’s ethics.

When ethics is absent, trust is elusive.

The Positive Balance

What does all of this mean to us as leaders? It means that ethics and trust are reciprocal and mutually reinforcing. Improving one improves the other. Damaging one damages the other.

Ethics and trust are reciprocal. They are mutually reinforcing. 

If we lead in ways that are trustworthy, we are fulfilling an important part of our responsibility as ethical leaders. When it comes to leading ethically, trust is not a nice-to-have,  it’s a “must have.” If we lead ethically, that lets people know they can count on us, and being able to count on us builds trust with individuals and within the group.

Ethics and trust are inseparable. They travel together.

Trust and ethics travel together, as if tethered with a bungee cord. One will not travel far without pulling the other with it. For example, if I intentionally improve my ethics, that will also begin to improve trust. If I work on improving trust, that will also increase the chances that my team is watching out for ethics and would alert me if something happened that would put us as risk.

Exercising Ethics and Trust 

Ethics and trust act in tandem. Think of them as the respiratory system and heart of the organization. If one fails, the other follows. Keeping them in good shape requires constant attention and daily practice.

Ethics and trust are improved through intentional practice. 

The good news is that just as the human respiratory system and the heart are improved through exercise, organizational ethics and trust can be strengthened through intentional daily practice.



For more, see new book 7 Lenses and the 21 Question Assessment: How Current is My Message About Ethics?

7 Lenses is a Bronze Axiom Business Book Award Winner in Business Ethics41cEVx-Tu4L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_
2014  Bronze Axiom Business Book Award Winner 
About 7 Lenses  @leadingincontxt  @7Lenses

© 2014 Leading in Context LLC 


Top 12 Reader Favorites 2012

By Linda Fisher Thornton

These Top Twelve Posts published in 2012 were the favorites of Leading in Context Blog readers. They all provide a context for thinking about how to make ethical choices in a complex world.


1.   What is Creativity?

2.   Top 100 Thinkers in Management, Leadership and Business 

3.   100 Trends to Watch For 2013

4.   Developing Globally Responsible Leaders

5.   What is Unethical Leadership?

6.   10 Thinking Traps (That Ethical Leaders Avoid)

7.   Leadership and… Human Rights

8.   Developing the Ethical Leader of the Future

9.    The Learning Paradox: How Too Much Homework Harms

10.  Business Leader Future: A Sketch

11.  “Ethics” Means Acting Beyond Self-Interest

12.  13 Leadership Temptations (to Conquer in 2013

Classic Posts – Honorable Mention

 These posts are Honorable Mentions – These posts were not published in 2012, but were still in the top 12 most popular posts overall in 2012:

Planned Obsolescence: Is it Ethical? No. Can We Still Have the Newest Gadgets? Yes!

Ethical Grey Areas: Our Choices Define Us

Case Study: Is Withholding Information From Other Leaders Unethical?

“Leadership Ethics Training: Why is it So Hard To Get it Right?”

Ethical Interpersonal Behavior Graphic: Red, Yellow and Green Zones

What questions about responsible leadership are on your mind as we head into 2013? Feel free to suggest topics for future posts.


For more, see Linda’s book 7 Lenses and the 21 Question Assessment: How Current is My Message About Ethics?

7 Lenses is a Bronze Axiom Business Book Award Winner in Business Ethics41cEVx-Tu4L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_
2014  Bronze Axiom Business Book Award Winner 
About 7 Lenses  @leadingincontxt  @7Lenses

© 2013 Leading in Context LLC 

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