All Great Leadership Styles Begin By Spending Time With Employees

Are you spending enough time with your employees…or too much? New research reveals that the median time employees spend interacting with leaders is approximately three hours per week – just half of the six hours found to be optimal for employee engagement.  Regardless of which of the myriad leadership styles you prefer, spending time with employees is a universal requirement.

According to a new study “Optimal Hours with the Boss” from Leadership IQ, most people spend only half the time they should be spending with their boss. People who do spend an optimal number of hours interacting with their direct leader (six hours per week) are 29% more inspired, 30% more engaged, 16% more innovative and 15% more intrinsically motivated than those who spend only one hour per week.


However, it turns out that there can be too much of a good thing. When people spend more than six hours per week interacting with their leader, diminishing returns are shown in terms of building inspiration, engagement and motivation.

For all that’s written about the wide variety of leadership styles, the universal here seems to be that leaders need to spend time interacting with their employees.

While there may be other benefits to interacting with one’s leader more than six hours per week, this study shows levels of inspiration or engagement remain the same or declined beyond six hours of interaction. The only exception to this is seen in innovation, which shows spikes at 11-15 hours, and again at 20+ hours spent with their leader.

How should time be spent with your leader? Of the many ways people communicate with their leaders (face-to-face, email, phone, video conferencing, texting, social media, etc.), face-to-face and email are by far the most common. These modes shifted as respondents spent more time interacting in person with their leader. Most notably, among people who only spend one hour per week interacting with their leader, 33% of that time is spent in face-to-face interaction and 42% is spent via email. By contrast, those who spend six hours per week interacting with their leader spend much more of their time (48%) in face-to-face interactions, and much less of their time (27%) interacting via email. So the findings indicate that not only is the amount of time spent interacting with one’s leader important, but increasing the percentage of face-to-face interaction matters as well.


While it might have been expected that senior executives and middle managers would need less time interacting with their leader than frontline employees do, the study found that the opposite is true. The myth that executives prefer laissez faire leadership styles is just not backed by the data in this study.

Executives experienced their highest levels of inspiration when spending 7-8 hours per week interacting with their leader, while middle managers felt their highest levels of inspiration when spending 9-10 hours per week doing so.

Leadership IQ, a leadership training and research company, compiled these results after surveying 32,410 American and Canadian executives, managers and employees from January-May 2014. Respondents were invited to complete an online assessment comprised of 127 questions, and respondents were drawn from a wide range of industries, ages, and organizational and compensation levels.

“Face-time matters for both leaders and employees alike,” notes Mark Murphy, founder and CEO of Leadership IQ. “Leaders who aim to improve their direct reports’ level of engagement, motivation, inspiration or innovation need to assess whether they’re spending enough time interacting with them. It appears that pretty much all leadership styles must build on a foundation of spending time with employees.  Likewise, if you’re looking for a promotion by shining on these same criteria, one best bet is to spend the right amount of time with your boss.”

The most obvious finding from this study is that people generally aren’t spending enough time every week interacting with their leader.  If the median time is 3 hours per week and the average optimal time is 6 hours, there’s a lot of room for improvement.


And this finding is relevant for both leaders and employees.  If you’re a leader trying to improve the inspiration, employee engagement, innovation and intrinsic motivation of your employees, it would be wise to assess whether you’re presently spending enough time interacting with them.

And if you’re a career-minded employee (whether an individual contributor, middle manager or executive) who wants to be more inspired, engaged, innovative and intrinsically motivated, then you need to assess whether you’re presently spending enough time interacting with your leader.

But I do want to caution both the leaders and the career-minded that there can be too much of a good thing. Don’t forget that there was some drop-off in inspiration, engagement, innovation and intrinsic motivation once people reported spending 10, 15, 20 hours per week interacting with their leader.

Another key finding is that the people who interact with their leader 6 hours per week spend a much smaller percentage of that time on email than the people who spend 1-2 hours per week. And the 6 hour people spent a much larger percentage of their time with their leader in face-to-face interactions.

Does this mean that email is always bad and face-to-face is always good?  Of course not. But there is such a clear drop in the percentage of time spent via email as time with leaders increases, that if you intend to increase the time you interact with your employees or leaders, I would suggest trying to increase face-to-face time rather than email time.

This study also has big implications for employee engagement and leadership training.  When it comes to employee engagement, companies spend billions of dollars every year trying to fix this issue with little to show for their efforts. And yet, this study shows clearly that people who spend 6 hours per week interacting with their leader are 30% more engaged than people who only spend 1 hour per week.  If companies are worried about engaging and retaining their people, this would seem to be an amazingly simple and cost-effective place to start.

And when it comes to developing leaders, both middle managers and executives are more inspired when they spend more time with their direct leaders.  So as you consider development opportunities for managers and executives, be sure to include more time (especially face-to-face time) with the leaders to whom they report.

If anything, this study shows that one simple intervention (more time with leaders) can have a significant impact on many issues.

This study has some implications for organizations’ current span of control (as well as the flattening of management that has taken place over the past decades).  If leaders have so many employees that they can’t devote sufficient time to interacting with them, inspiration, engagement, innovation and intrinsic motivation will suffer.  If a leader has 60 employees, for example, how will they find sufficient time to interact with all of them?

And if an organization adopts one of the “player-coach” leadership styles, in which leaders function both as titular leaders and individual contributors, how will they find the necessary time to drive inspiration, employee engagement and more?



Posted by Mark Murphy on 22 June, 2015 Leadership Skills, Leadership Styles, no_cat, no_recent, Research, sb_ad_30, sb_ad_5 | 3 comments
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  • Linae Warden - July 17, 2015

    Besides regular team meetings, I learned a lot from HP’s “management by walking around,” being available, approachable, relaxed, not necessarily talking about their work all the time, asking/knowing a bit about their interests & family; addressing them as three-dimensional people with broad interests and concerns. “Hey, how’d your daughter’s swim meet go?” I frequently asked open-ended questions how things are going (business or not – personal life affects performance), was there anything with which I could help, etc. “I notice you seem to like working on web design. How would you propose we use that differently to support our team?”
    Keeping a candy jar in my open office “invited” them in for a chat. If their reason for reaching out would take more time than I had right then, I asked for a brief description (in case research was needed & to gauge “heat”) and we agreed on a time when we could give it appropriate consideration. We had monthly one-on-ones in which to discuss individual aspiration and challenges. Listening & asking clarifying questions was key, then working on their next steps together.
    My approach was more as a mentor or coach (to employees) and a process manager for business decisions. I strove to communicate that their success (including promotions outside of our team) was important to me and offer them opportunities to develop in their preferred direction. The mentoring worked better with some people than with others; a few still required a top-down approach to take their responsibilities seriously, especially if they did not perceive any value in my guidance or accept my authority. That, thanks goodness, was uncommon.

  • Nwosu Onyema Cyril - July 16, 2015

    I think is a grate idea. I unconsciously practice it without taking it as an important aspect of leadership.
    Thank you for making me realize that it is an important management tool

  • David Schuster - July 15, 2015

    While interacting with employees I supervised I attempted to visit with them “daily” only to be removed from supervising them as they felt they were being micro managed. I had a very difficult time getting them to engage with me no matter how I tried. What would be a good way as a new manager to allow employees to feel comfortable and engage with me?

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