CEOs must Evolve as Chief Engagement Officers


By Professor M.S. Rao, Ph.D.

This article unveils tools and techniques to engage employees effectively. It outlines the role of CEOs in leadership development programs. It implores CEOs to wear the hat of Chief Engagement Officers. It introduces soft leadership and equates it with engaged leadership. It unfolds that employee engagement is a two-way street. It is a win-win for both the employees and employers. It concludes that employers and employees must take ownership of their roles and responsibilities to achieve organizational excellence and effectiveness.


“There are only three measurements that tell you nearly everything you need to know about your organization’s overall performance: employee engagement, customer satisfaction, and cash flow. It goes without saying that no company, small or large, can win over the long run without energized employees who believe in the mission and understand how to achieve it.” —Jack Welch, former CEO of GE

Employee engagement has become a major challenge globally. Everyone accepts that human resources is the key to economic growth and prosperity. The leaders at all levels find it challenging to engage their employees effectively in the workplace. Currently, employees are either overly engaged or poorly engaged in global organizations. Engaging employees effectively as per the organizational goals and objectives improves the bottom lines.

Employee engagement is about connecting the hands, heads, and hearts of the employees with the vision and mission of their organizations. It is very challenging to engage employees as they have different expectations and aspirations. Additionally, cultural and generational factors matter a lot to engage them effectively. Engaged employees are effective and are passionate about adding value to all stakeholders especially customers.

Engaged Leadership

Currently, employees are not engaged effectively. As the war for talent is rising globally, the emphasis on employee engagement is gaining momentum. Everyone admits that employees are assets, and human resources are more precious than machines. When leaders want to get the tasks executed by their employees, they find it challenging. Hence, it calls for engaged leadership.

Engaged leadership is about empowering and engaging the employees to increase organizational performance and productivity. It can be defined as the seven-step process of selecting the right talent, building trust and loyalty, managing work, driving performance, influencing through personal and referent power, partnering within and across teams, and training and grooming employees as leaders. It is to ensure the alignment of all stakeholders to accomplish organizational goals and objectives.

Tools and Techniques to Engage Employees Effectively

Some global companies have actively engaged their employees including Cummins, DHL Express, Southwest Airlines,, Google, and Virgin because they emphasized the idea of ‘employees first and customers second’. Here are some tools and techniques to engage your employees effectively:

  • Lead by example and be transparent to build trust.
  • Ensure that employees feel positive at work and that they can clearly see how their work can contribute directly to the organization’s goals and vision.
  • Listen from all sources to get ideas and insights to engage your employees effectively.
  • Find out employees’ aspirations and expectations and assign them tasks accordingly. Identifying whether they are attracted by financial or non-financial motivational incentives helps ensure effective employee engagement.      
  • Allocate roles and responsibilities based on their strengths. Give them challenging tasks to enable them to come out of their comfort zones to execute their tasks effectively.  
  • Emphasize stretch goals. When employees stretch, they unlock their hidden potential. For instance, Jack Welch emphasized stretch goals and succeeded in GE.
  • Encourage job rotation. Job rotation helps employees learn something of everything about other areas to make them more competent and grow as leaders. Job rotation is divided into vertical and horizontal where vertical job rotation helps grow a higher level within the organization while the horizontal job rotation helps understand the functions of other areas at the same level.
  • Improve employees’ attitude as it helps improve their behavior and performance to deliver goods effectively. It ultimately paves the way to serving customers and clients proactively resulting in increased shareholder value.
  • Create a healthy organizational culture and climate for employees to contribute their best. Ensure that the organizational culture is free from organizational politics.
  • Ensure that every employee feels heard, valued, and appreciated for their achievements.
  • Empower your employees. Give them the freedom to make decisions. Respect their failures. Let them learn lessons from their failures to grow as successful leaders.
  • Ensure that employees have enough time to interact with one another to enable them to draw ideas and learn from each other.
  • Encourage creativity. When employees come to you with their innovative ideas, listen to them attentively, and provide your wholehearted support irrespective of the outcome.
  • Don’t micromanage. It helps them discover their hidden potential. You will be amazed to see them coming out with creative solutions. Offer them assignments and adequate time to breathe to execute their tasks.
  • Deal people differently. Apply different strokes to different people as people are different with unique egos, emotions, and feelings.
  • Take the initiative to inspire your employees as they prefer to work with good leaders than under bad bosses.
  • Provide wellness programs to your employees to ensure emotional wellbeing resulting in employee engagement.
  • Encourage your employees if they enjoy performing community service by giving them time off from work. It helps them grow holistically as persons and builds the image of your organization.
  • Provide them with feedback to enable them to assess their strengths and concerns. It helps them overcome their concerns to grow as better performers and leaders.
  • Value your employees as people, not as workers. Additionally, respect them as valuable people with skills rather than people with valuable skills.

Both disengaged and over engaged employees are liabilities as disengaged employees lose focus on organizational objectives and over engaged employees get stressed out. Hence, strike the right balance between them to keep employees excited to contribute their best.

Some employees join companies purely for monetary reasons and ultimately end up with disengagement and disenchantment. Hence, before joining any organization, the employees must understand themselves, find out the organizational culture whether it suits them to enable them to enjoy their work, and deliver their goods effectively. Additionally, it is the role of leaders to connect employees emotionally with the organizational roles and responsibilities. Remember that increased employee engagement leads to increased organizational bottom lines. Hence, it is essential to emphasize engaging employees effectively in their tasks.  

Employee Engagement and Leadership Development Training Programs

Imparting leadership development training programs helps engage employees effectively. There are several advantages associated with leadership development training programs. They update the knowledge, skills, and abilities of employees. They enhance employees’ performance and productivity to achieve organizational excellence and effectiveness. They improve the image and brand of the organizations. They keep the leadership pipeline ready to enable the second rung of leaders to take over senior leadership positions in case of any organizational eventuality.

Role of CEOs in Leadership Development Programs

When CEOs are actively involved in training and grooming their employees as leaders, the employees become more engaged and loyal to their organizations. It also conveys a strong message to the senior management that the organization is committed to developing its employees as leaders. The brand image of the company goes north direction. Hence, CEOs must involve in leadership development training programs actively as it indicates the company’s commitment to learning and development. Jack Welch walked his talk. He had a vision and was passionate about sharing his knowledge and building leaders. Hence, CEOs must demonstrate their vision, passion, and commitment to leadership development training programs.

Soft Leadership is Engaged Leadership

Soft leadership helps engage employees effectively. Most employees crave for partnership rather than leadership. They crave to work with partners rather than under bosses and leaders. They crave for importance and recognition. They appreciate being part of the decision-making and love to be empowered. They are career-oriented and thrive working under challenging conditions. Hence, soft leadership helps engage employees effectively and deliver goods effectively. Hence, soft leadership is engaged leadership. 

Active Involvement of CEOs in Employee Engagement

Senior leaders especially CEOs have an important role to play in engaging their employees effectively. They are strategic thinkers, visionaries, and decision-makers who understand the organizational ground realities very well. When they are involved it demonstrates the organization’s commitment to employee engagement. Hence, they must walk their talk and involve actively in employee engagement.

Although it is the responsibility of every executive to ensure employee engagement, it is the senior leaders and CEOs who must take more responsibility to drive the process of employee engagement. They must ensure opportunities for their employees and impart leadership development training programs to them. It helps their employees build their knowledge, skills, and abilities and enable them to deliver their goods effectively. It minimizes stress and ensures job satisfaction and employee engagement.

CEOs must adopt both financial and non-financial incentives to motivate their employees. Mostly it is the non-financial incentives rather than the financial incentives work for employees.

CEOs must be mindful of the employees in their organizations as they need to feel a sense of well-being to run the race well. They must ensure the career advancement of their employees.

CEOs must Evolve as Chief Engagement Officers

CEOs must align their employees with strategy. They must groom line managers who have the biggest impact on the engagement of their team members. They must know how to communicate the organization’s stories.

CEOs must build leaders, not bosses because employees prefer working with leaders, not under bosses. They must adopt the best practices from others to engage their employees. They must give their employees a flexible and supportive environment.

CEOs must communicate well with their employees. They must walk their talk. They must lead by example to win trust and confidence from their employees. They must evolve as transformational, authentic, participative, and soft leaders to engage their employees effectively. Precisely, they must become Chief Engagement Officers.

There is a myth that employees succeed due to their educational background, experience, and expertise. However, the fact is that they succeed because of their behaviors and traits. Hence, CEOs must develop soft skills in employees to improve behavioral skills, engage in the work, and succeed professionally.

Emphasizing organizational culture helps enhance employee engagement. Hence, instead of giving high salaries, the CEOs must provide a healthy organizational culture and climate to ensure career advancement for their employees.

CEOs must engage their employees’ heads and hearts to accomplish their organizational goals and objectives. Instead of emulating other companies, CEOs must draw their own blueprint to engage their employees with a long-term strategy. It must be based on organizational culture, vision, value system, and the availability of resources. They must note that what worked for other organizations might not work for their own organizations.


“I am convinced that nothing we do is more important than hiring and developing people. At the end of the day, you bet on people, not on strategies.” —Larry Bossidy CEO, Allied Signal

As parents engage their children effectively in personality development, organizations must engage their employees effectively in professional development and career advancement.

Employee engagement either makes or breaks an organization. Some companies are chosen as the best places to work because their employees are engaged effectively and are emotionally integrated with their organizations. Research indicates that workers have three prime needs: interesting work, recognition for doing a good job, and being let in on things that are going on in the company. Therefore, all stakeholders including CEOs must strive to engage their employees effectively to improve organizational bottom lines. To summarize, employee engagement is a two-way street. It is a win-win for both the employees and employers. Hence, both employers and employees must take ownership of their roles and responsibilities to achieve organizational excellence and effectiveness.

About the Author

Professor M.S. Rao, Ph.D.

Professor M.S. Rao, Ph.D. is the Father of “Soft Leadership” and the Founder of MSR Leadership Consultants, India. He is an International Leadership Guru with forty years of experience and the author of fifty books including the award-winning See the Light in You’ URL: He is a C-Suite advisor and global keynote speaker. He brings a strategic eye and long-range vision given his multifaceted professional experience including military, teaching, training, research, consultancy, and philosophy. He is passionate about serving and making a difference in the lives of others. He is a regular contributor to Entrepreneur Magazine. He trains a new generation of leaders through leadership education and publications. 



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