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Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast #143: Understanding a Leader’s Role in Employee Wellbeing

July 1, 2021
Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast #143: Understanding a Leader’s Role in Employee Wellbeing

The last 18-months have taught us a lot about leading in times of great change. This has also been a time for leaders to consider the wellbeing of the people on their team. Today Perry and Chris talk about an approach leaders can use, as well as some practical ideas, to help with employee wellbeing.

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Read the Transcript:

Perry Holley:    Welcome to the John Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast, where our goal is to help you increase your reputation as a leader, increase your ability to influence others, and increase your ability to fully engage your team to deliver remarkable results. Hi, I’m Perry Holley, a John Maxwell facilitator and coach.

Chris Goede:     And I’m Chris Goede, vice president at John Maxwell company. Welcome and thank you for joining. As we get started, just a reminder, visit, and you can learn more about The 5 Levels of Leadership, which is the foundation, the methodology, of which everything that Perry and I talk about and teach, and organizations around the world have adopted as their leadership map. You can learn more about that, or if you want a learner’s guide for today’s session, you can download that. Perry also writes a weekly blog. So lots of content for you to be able to access and to grow. We’re grateful that you would be on this journey with us.

Well, today’s topic is titled, understanding a leader’s role in employee wellbeing. The first thing I thought about when I saw this title was, I remember last year, and we all do 2020, where it was, hey, we got to make sure during this pandemic that people feel emotionally and physically safe. What does that look like? Does your culture that you are leading lend to that? Coming out of the challenges of 2020, I love the fact that we’re going, from a leadership standpoint, talk about how can we value people to be able to help them in this area and establish a culture and an environment that positively affects them.

Now, ultimately as leaders, we don’t have complete control of that, but I think we can play a big role in that on what’s going on a day-to-day basis inside your culture of your organization.

Perry Holley:    Right. Employee wellbeing is not something we have talked a lot about as a part of a leader’s role, but I think we should. I think a leader, I know, I’ve seen it in my own leadership that I can heavily influence how someone feels about work and even maybe about life. We’ve talked previously about helping… in our inclusive leadership talks, we talked about helping people feel safe, welcome, and like they belong. I think that’s a starting point for a lot of employee wellbeing. That it’s a good place to be, I’m safe and welcome here, and I’m valued.

Chris Goede:     Yeah. I think even going step further of even having them in the right seat of the organization in their strength zone. I was reading an article the other day that said, “Hey, do you want to have an engaged team member?” And if so, if you have them and you know, first you got to know them. We talk about that all the time. Then you have them in the right place and in their strength areas, they’re 75% engaged in the organization. 75% chance of being engaged if they are in their strength zone. But if you don’t have them in there, it said it was 9% of those people are engaged.

It just really talks to, thinking about yourself and your role and what your strengths are and how you feel engaged or not engaged depending on what that is. I think when you do that, you drive higher morale for the individual. They bring different energy levels to the organizations. The biggest thing, and I love this comment right here, is organizations talked to us about retention. They talked to us about turnover. I think if you figure this out, just a part of the puzzle, it’s just a piece of the puzzle, that, that will help you as leaders continue to retain talent and to continue to lower the turnover percentage that may be costing you as a leader and your organization a lot of dollars that we sometimes are unaware of.

I think this is an important subject, and I think we can talk about it from a leadership perspective and it’ll definitely be a benefit to your business.

Perry Holley:    Fantastic. When we look at what can negatively affect someone’s feeling of wellbeing? A big component that I’ve seen is that there’s high job demands, but I have low job control. That feeling of tension that rises when I don’t feel like I’m in control of what’s going on. If you feel that a lot is expected from you and you have little control, you may feel frustrated, experience high anxiety, other components there. I’ve looked at it. I’m just thinking about three areas that I’d like to share that I think leaders can help their teams maintain this feeling of wellbeing and then share some ideas that I’ve heard, I think you have too, from people that we coach on specific areas and what they’ve done. Just some practical things that I’ve seen.

The three areas come from research around motivation. I think I picked this up from Dan Pink in the book, Drive. But I was thinking about how much it applies here to how people feel in their job. The first one I think that applies here in the first area was about purpose. If what I’m doing at work feels like a bigger purpose in my life that I’m actually making a difference, it matters, I’m more likely to experience the challenges and the ups and downs. That’s just part of the journey. It doesn’t affect me, it’s part of we’re all in this together. I was thinking, the question I had for you is, how can a leader help the people on the team with the purpose? Is that really your job to make them feel that there’s a purpose in this?

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Chris Goede:     I love the word that you just used, feel. When we talk about leadership development, a lot of people refer to it as a soft skill. It’s an emotional intelligence skill. It’s not easy to do. But what I thought about was oftentimes I’ll ask this question of leaders and I know you will as well, as we do pre-calls before we go and speak teams or organization. We’ll say, “Hey, what’s it feel like to work inside of that organization? What does it feel like to work for that leader?” You just ask that question and then you sit back and listen and take notes.

I think that gives you a really good insight on the culture of that organization and whether or not the organization is doing a good enough job of tying the purpose, the vision that they have, to what that individual role is doing, no matter the level of the organization. That’s on us as leaders to make sure that we are tying the purpose to the actual role that that individual, and why that individual is doing what they’re doing in order for them to feel like they’re part of something bigger than themselves. I think that’s the first thing. We often talk a lot about values.

Again, this is, I think it’s simple, but it is a powerful exercise. If you not only understand their individual values, but you begin to help them discover their values. Not the organizational values, what their personal values are. A lot of people, we know incredible leaders we’ve had the opportunity to sit down around a table with. We go through an exercise and do the values cards and they’ve never done it before. They can come up with the buzzwords of what they think their values are, but when you really make them go through and force rank it, it’s an incredible way for them to begin to feel like they’re a part of the purpose and the bigger cause.

I think if you tie that together, I think if you help them understand their values. Then I go back to what I just mentioned, if you get them in their strength zone, and they will be engaged, 75% of those will be engaged within their strength zone, I think all of that helps from within to help that individual.

Perry Holley:    I agree. Second area that I picked up from Dan Pink about improving wellbeing was helping people with a feeling of autonomy. This speaks to that, I mentioned earlier about high demands but have no control. When someone has a feeling of autonomy, they feel like they can control how they do their work. They know what you expect of them, but then they have the autonomy to go and figure out how to do it. Is that something a leader can help with? Can you help somebody with that feeling of autonomy?

Chris Goede:     Yeah. I love this. You made a comment here, which is, hey, what’s the opposite of autonomy, which is becoming a micromanager. Now, if you’re listening, I want you to think back to the last leader that you had that was micro-managing everything you did, and that doesn’t feel very good, does it? Because I had a couple and I’m like, “Oh.” It just makes the hair stand up on your arms in thinking about that. When you take that into consideration and you think about the opposite of this… I know as leaders, sometimes we want to have control of everything, we want to have controls of certain things, but I would encourage you in order…

Again, we’re talking about getting the most out of for them, some of your team members, driving engagement, making sure that they feel fulfilled in their roles. I would encourage you to make sure that you become a coaching leader. This is something that I’ve had to work on in my leadership, which is not staying in the details, but then backing up and being a coaching leader through that process. Whether you use the 10-80-10 principle that Perry and have talked about on this before. Maybe you use a different set of questions, whatever that might be to allow you to become a better coaching leader and back away from micromanaging. I would encourage you to do that.

I’d also encourage you to just step in once in a while and say, “Man, what is going on? What’s in the way that I can step in and help you remove that roadblock?” I love this. I know I talk to my team sometimes I’m like, “Hey, what’s in the way. What, from where I’m sitting in my seat, can I help you remove out of the way in order to do what you’re doing?” Then just make sure that I think you look at everybody as a team member that you can develop. Remember, people join your company for one reason, they don’t stay for that same reason, and everybody’s looking for improvement.

Some maybe are more excited about it than others. We call that the self selection process through certain things. But make sure that you, with good intentions, are making sure that your team feels, there’s that word again. You used it, I’ve used it a couple of times, that you are for them, that you want them to be better, that you want them to lead project, you want them to be developed

Perry Holley:    You used the personal development leads this third idea about help with wellbeing is just mastery. That if someone feels they’re growing, improving, developing mastery in their role, they feel good about themselves, they’ll feel good about the future. They’ll know they’re making progress. I’m thinking, put those three things together, purpose, and autonomy, and mastery, it really does add to the wellbeing. But specifically for you, the specific for a leader to promote mastery in their people, you mentioned about self-development and some people do and don’t. But are there things you do to encourage somebody to develop mastery in their role? You got them in the right seat, you want them on the team, they’re on the bus, they’re on the right seat, but how do they get better and better at what they do? Next level stuff.

Chris Goede:     I don’t know about you, but when I was younger and I can remember learning how to swim, which was my dad just threw me in the deep end and said, “Start swimming.” I’m not saying we’re going to do that with certain projects, but I think where we’re going with this is the only way for them to really begin to master certain things and to grow and to be developed, you got to equip them with the right tools and the right resources. In my example, make sure that Chris has swimmies on . Which I think even when I was that young of age I probably still weighed over 100 pounds, and so that was a little bit of struggle. I had to have double.

But make sure that you equip them to be able to do the smaller projects first. I’m not saying throw them in the deep end. I’m saying, put them in the shallow end and let them run with it to where it challenges them, it excites them. It begins to make them feel like they’re part of what we’re doing, and they got to contribute. I was texting with somebody yesterday and we’re working on a project. I said, “Here’s just a really simple quote for you.” It was about the fact of, hey, if you’re not scared of what’s going on right now, you’re probably not growing. I was like, “Oh man, that’s interesting.”

Even as a leader, and I’ve had the privilege of working in this organization for a long time, you got to have that feeling in order to begin to take a next step in your productive deliverable as an organization. The other thing that I want to mention that you made a note here, I think this is so powerful, is then after they get experienced doing that, and they begin to master the small steps, have them share that with the team, have them share that with each other, have them share that with a peer. If your budget allows, say, “Man, go head out to lunch. Go over here to Firehouse Subs, take so-and-so and share with what’s going on and what you’re learning and then begin to do that.” I think all of those things are healthy ways for you to connect with your people on the team.Perry Holley:    That speaks to the inclusion piece that, “I belong here. I’m valued here. This is safe and I feel good. It just feels good to be a part of this team.” Let’s shift gears as we start to think about wrapping up. I wanted to give a couple of practical things and maybe you can go first on things you may have seen or any practical areas that might apply.

Chris Goede:     Well, for me, I think one of the things you got to do is we talk about work-life balance. That’s so hard. Again, I’m going to go back to us with an organization today. One of the top five values of an individual I was talking to was balance. I said, “Can you help me with that?” But I think what we’ve got to do is, I want to encourage you guys as you think about this leadership culture, you think about your people, to Perry’s title when we talk about, what is the role that we play in the employee’s wellbeing.

I want to make sure that you continue to encourage, both formally and informally. What does that look like in regards to the team member, and how that makes them feel, and how are you able to do that with your budget? I’d love for you to express appreciation for the people on your team. Who is it? I know Cathy and other people that said, “Man, how do you know if somebody needs to be encouraged?” If they’re breathing-

Perry Holley:    If they’re breathing. Yeah, everybody needs-

Chris Goede:     That’s for everybody, even if they… matter of fact, I want to challenge you. If somebody says, “I don’t need encouragement,” they probably need more than. I’m thinking about an individual that comes to mind right now. Maybe even offer access to programs to help them uncover what their true purpose is. Maybe you’re just asking some questions saying, “Man, what is it that you feel called to?” That’s our language. What do you feel like is your purpose? There are tons of resources out there. I can remember back when I first started my journey with John Maxwell, I didn’t know the answer to that question.

There were some great resources they gave us access to go through and do assessments and books you can read different things. Be a resource for your people, both personally and professionally. One of the things, I’ll just share quickly and then throw it back to you, is John, this Change Your World book that he’s passionate about-

Perry Holley:    Just thinking .

Chris Goede:     … and this transformation movement that he’s doing that’s much bigger than anything I could ever think about. We did a little transformathon. John got big into walking last year and he wanted to encourage all of our team to jump on and be a part of this transformathon, which was not a marathon in one day, it was over a month, but we ended it with a 5K. Just to encourage us to get out there and to get tired of this and get going, part of what we were given for Christmas was a pair of tennis shoes. On there, something, he just had C-Y-W for Change Your World, very little cool touch.

You might not be able to do something like that. You might be able to something even bigger than that. We’re just saying, we want to challenge you to begin to think about ways that you can do things like that for your team members in order to enhance the leadership culture, and again, the wellbeing of the team members.

Perry Holley:    I like my new Nikes, thank you.

Chris Goede:     Yeah, that’s right.

Perry Holley:    Yeah, things outside, I like that. I once worked for an organization that encouraged everyone to participate in a physical fitness program and you could receive a free Fitbit if you signed up and you committed to investing in your own physical fitness. They would help you track it. I thought that was cool. Another practical thing. One of my coaching clients invested in a health and wellness program for every employee. He didn’t have to do that. He just saw that there was a lot of work, a lot of demand going on, but can I help you with some of the weight training, or the weight control, or dieting, or exercise? He provided that.

Another one was really big on flexible work hours. People, that happened a lot in 2020, that we figured out we can work from other places. But do the people on your team, would it add to their wellbeing to know that they could come and go at different hours if it helped them? Maybe providing access and some funding to go back to school to develop another passion or something, but you provide assistance for them to go to school. A final thought, leaders should always… I added this late but I was thinking, anytime your people on your team go through a major life event, and that could be having a child, or losing a parent, or kids graduating from high school to college and leaving, empty nesting. Things that really change their lives.

It’s really a great reason for you to know what’s going on in their life. Where are they that a major life event can really affect someone’s outlook and cause feelings, again, of losing control. You may be able, through some assistance or resources or just an empathetic ear, to help understand what that’s going on in their life.

Chris Goede:     Well, as we close up, this is such a great topic for us as leaders, you got to be aware. Remember, as leaders it’s our job to lead people, both personally and professionally. That’s what we believe. We spend more time with people that we work with than we do our own personal family members, and so we want them to be the best them that they can be. I’m not saying the best individual for that organization, it’s the best them for them. You and I were on a call last week with a chief operating officer of a very large organization. His thing was, “One of the things we did was we made sure that our HR department is doing a really, really good job of letting everybody in the organization know what’s available to them.”

I thought, we are a much smaller organization. I don’t know if I know that for our organization. Man, thank you. We need to be doing that. I wanted you to hear that example as we close, because we gave you certain examples. Some are very small, some of it’s communications, some of it’s spending dollars, but it’s important for you as a leader to be thinking about that, and that is part of your role. That ultimately is part of the culture and how it feels to work inside your organization or on your team.

Perry Holley:    Fantastic. Well, thank you, Chris. As a reminder, there’s a learner guide for this episode. If you’d like to download that or leave a comment or a question, or even learn more about our offerings, you can do that at We always love hearing from you there, and we always love that you would spend this time with us. Very grateful for that. That’s all today from the John Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast.

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