By John Langhorne / Guest Editorial

In a previous article ((, I reviewed the typical expectations of an employee in a high-performance organization committed to engagement. But what are the more general effects of such an organizational culture?

Warren Bennis, who has written lucidly about organizations for several decades, believes there are four primary effects:

  • People feel significant
  • Learning and competence matter
  • People are part of a community
  • Work life is exciting


These thought-provoking insights result from his many years of studying organizations, and are worthy of conversation and consideration. It is clear that such a work environment would satisfy the needs of most of us, although there would be a few who wouldn’t care much for such a workplace. And while the insights of senior organizational psychologists are valuable, a more compelling case could be made if there were data to support such conclusions.

I have written extensively about the survey research of the Gallup Organization since it was purchased and refocused by Don Clifton, particularly the company’s Strengths Finder and the Q12 employee engagement survey. For an in-depth review of Gallup’s website, visit, and click on the Gallup link on the right column.

Authors Tom Rath and Barry Conchie also present an interesting empirical study of the effects of leadership on individual performance in their book, “Strengths Based Leadership.”

Gallup began by asking a representative sample of 10,000 working Americans to reflect on a person they believe to be a leader. They then asked a single, simple question: “Please use three words that describe what the person contributes to your life.” This open-ended question allowed persons to respond without introducing any bias.

Gallup pollsters were surprised to find that “the usual suspects such as purpose, humor, wisdom and humility were nowhere near the top of the list,” according to Rath and Conchie. They then began an analytical process that allowed the grouping of response words by synonym and frequency. These analyses produced a clear picture of what people want and need from the most influential leaders in their lives:

  • Trust: honesty, integrity and respect
  • Compassion: caring, friendship, happiness
  • Stability: security, strength, support
  • Hope: direction, faith and guidance


The main descriptor is followed by the most frequent synonyms. Gallup refers to these as a follower’s needs.

Trust is anchored deeply in ethics and values, and also driven by a predictable interpersonal style. A trustworthy person is the same person everyday. This means their spoken, written and enacted behaviors are highly correlated – they walk the talk. Try the mental experiment of thinking of a few people you trust deeply. You will immediately notice this core characteristic.

Trust-building leaders also have a well-thought out set of core ethics or values that helps them to behave in an ethical manner. After visiting with people in organizations for more than 30 years, I have observed that almost all people seem to share a single attribute: They want to be treated with respect.

In a very explicit and visible way, leaders care about people. This, I believe, is the attribute that precludes many from being leaders. It appears to me that people learn this attribute very early and little can be done to personally address its absence. People seem to be caring or they do not. I have a colleague and friend who I consider to be a poor-to-mediocre manager at best. However, he engenders high regard in his organization because of his deep commitment to the organization’s mission, and his day-to-day interactions with employees and customers.

Courage is the ability to identify and do what is right. Courage means that the leader is always there for you, regardless of the situation. People often refer to this as “minding my back.”

One example of how a lack of courage can damage an organization arose at a client company when an employee was badly injured and hospitalized by an industrial accident, and never visited by his manager. When the employee returned to work, the manager never spoke of the incident. This was an omission of compassion. The manager was widely believed to be responsible for the accident, but he chose to avoid rather than address the issue. His credibility never recovered in the time I worked with the company.

Some time ago, I saw a documentary, “Waiting for Superman,” about children and parents living in poverty and waiting for the admission process to gain entry into a charter school. The film was deeply moving, but I never quite got the title. Later that same year, a researcher from Gallup, sharing more findings from their leadership research, noted that, more than anything else, such children need hope. They were waiting for Superman.

Stability is about today, but hope is about the future. I believe that in our rapidly changing and unpredictable world, perhaps a leader’s key responsibility is to provide hope.



John Langhorne is owner and principal of Langhorne Associates His most recent book, Beyond IQ: Practical Steps to Find the Best You, is available digitally at Amazon.