Amy Leschke-Kahle of ADP: “The best team leaders (managers at any level) do one thing the same”

Beautifully, I only need to share one thing that managers should be doing to improve their team’s culture. The best team leaders (managers at any level) do one thing the same. They pay really frequent attention to their team members, one-on-one, through a strengths-based lens with a focus on near-term priorities. The optimal frequency is […]

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Beautifully, I only need to share one thing that managers should be doing to improve their team’s culture. The best team leaders (managers at any level) do one thing the same. They pay really frequent attention to their team members, one-on-one, through a strengths-based lens with a focus on near-term priorities. The optimal frequency is weekly and the connection sounds like, “what is the most important work you need to get done this week and how can I help?” The beauty is in its simplicity. That’s not to say that leading isn’t complex. It absolutely is. But we can’t and shouldn’t expect to prepare people leaders to be able to address every possible complexity that might arise. We can however help them do the one most powerful activity of leading teams and that’s creating a culture of high attention: a culture where every team member can confidently expect their team leader to see them for the unique strengths they bring to the organization.


As a part of my series about how leaders can create a “fantastic work culture”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Amy Leschke-Kahle.

Amy Leschke-Kahle has built a career out of busting workplace myths and bringing a fresh, real-world approach to making work “more better.” Today, as the VP of Performance Acceleration at The Marcus Buckingham Company, an ADP Company, Amy combines her experience as a leader in several Fortune 100 companies with ground-breaking research to bring light touch, high impact approaches to organizations all over the world.

When she isn’t working with clients one on one, Amy can be found inspiring “Aha!” moments with audiences across the country with her inspiring talks on Talent Activation, Speed to Impact and how to boldly go from proficiency to extraordinary to drive real world results. As Amy says, we are smarter together, and now, more than ever is our time to #GoBeSmart. Amy is a frequent contributor to professional publications as her work has appeared in mainstream business media such as Forbes and MIT Sloan Management Review.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Like many people, I fell into the world of HR. I started my career as a chemical engineer and gradually made my way into the profession via academia and then several large, global organizations. I’ve been lucky to spend time in virtually every facet of HR, excluding benefits. I often get asked if I went into HR because I didn’t like chemical engineering. It’s not that at all. I see incredible alignment between the two — both focus on really hard problems that you can’t see.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

Although I don’t lead the organization, I do get to lead a practice helping organizations help their employees accelerate their contributions and performance. That said, the most interesting thing I get to do, and continue to explore, is how much we’ve overengineered the processes and approaches that are meant to develop leaders and employees. And more importantly, I get to design new ways of working that remove the hassles and accelerate the joys.

Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?

The work I get to do is exciting in that I get to work with organizations who are committed to helping make work better for their employees. The leaders I partner with are not satisfied with incremental change. They are committed to making substantial and sometimes what many would consider unconventional shifts in how they approach talent. For example, many organizations employ traditional performance management practices because they believe it will help employees perform better. And its also one of the most dreaded work practices by managers, team members, and even HR practitioners. As a practitioner, I used to think that I was executing the process wrong, that’s why it wasn’t working. But perhaps is wasn’t the execution that was wrong. I was executing the wrong process. Partnering with organizations to shift from a “people are a problem to be solved” mindset to a “people are an opportunity to be amplified” mindset is not only exciting for me but game changing for the organization and their employees.

Ok, lets jump to the main part of our interview. According to this study cited in Forbes, more than half of the US workforce is unhappy. Why do you think that number is so high?

Of course we want people to be happy at work. But it’s actually less an issue of happiness (or unhappiness) and more an issue of employee engagement. Employee engagement is a term that has kind of become interchangeable with satisfaction, happiness or even employee experience. It’s helpful to clearly define employee engagement — the emotional precursors to extraordinary work. In other words what are the emotions that an employee needs to feel in order to be most likely to do their own unique best work. This changes the question you asked to, “what are the conditions that are necessary for employees to their best work?” and “What actions can be taken and by who to help employees be fully engaged at work?”

What the data from our research shows is that the most powerful condition needed to help employees be fully engaged is that they have a chance to do some bit of work every day that they love. Not all day every day, but at least something every day. And the fastest path to that is for the employee’s direct leader (or leaders) to pay really frequent attention to the employee through the lens of their own unique best work. We all want to be seen for the best of ourselves by the most important people in our lives, and at work that’s our team leader.

Based on your experience or research, how do you think an unhappy workforce will impact a) company productivity b) company profitability c) and employee health and wellbeing?

I’d like to turn that question around and respond to how can a fully engaged workforce impact productivity, profitability, etc.? A great everyday way to describe fully engaged is “all in.” You don’t even need research (although we have it) to answer the question, “what impact would having more of your employees all in have to your organization?” What would the impact be to your customers if more of your sales associates were all in? What would the impact be to your patients if more of your clinical staff were all in? What would the impact be to your product’s quality if more of your engineers and assemblers were all in? The answer is clear and common sense. The impact would be profound. Would you rather be served by an employee who was just showing up or all in?

Can you share 5 things that managers and executives should be doing to improve their company work culture? Can you give a personal story or example for each?

Beautifully, I only need to share one thing that managers should be doing to improve their team’s culture. The best team leaders (managers at any level) do one thing the same. They pay really frequent attention to their team members, one-on-one, through a strengths-based lens with a focus on near-term priorities. The optimal frequency is weekly and the connection sounds like, “what is the most important work you need to get done this week and how can I help?” The beauty is in its simplicity. That’s not to say that leading isn’t complex. It absolutely is. But we can’t and shouldn’t expect to prepare people leaders to be able to address every possible complexity that might arise. We can however help them do the one most powerful activity of leading teams and that’s creating a culture of high attention: a culture where every team member can confidently expect their team leader to see them for the unique strengths they bring to the organization.

It’s very nice to suggest ideas, but it seems like we have to “change the culture regarding work culture”. What can we do as a society to make a broader change in the US workforce’s work culture?

The “idea” of high attention being the secret sauce to highly engaged employees isn’t an idea at all. It’s a practice that I’ve experienced myself and from organizations around the world that have in fact created an environment where employees contribute in above and beyond ways. Our data consistently shows that employees who receive weekly attention from their team leaders are 2 ½ to 4 times more likely to be fully engaged than those who don’t receive frequent attention. And while there is certainly more research to be done, our own research from the ADP Research Institute shows that employees whose engagement decreases over time are more likely to leave the organization. And employees that report being more engaged are more likely to sell more. And highly engaged knowledge workers are more likely to be in the top quartile of performance (The Definitive Series: Employee Engagement by Marcus Buckingham and Dr. Mary Hayes).

The bottom line is that if you want to change your organization’s culture, don’t solely focus on the big, top down efforts. Focus more on the team by team critical activity that is shown to create actual impact on the organization. Create a culture of team by team, local, high attention.

How would you describe your leadership or management style? Can you give us a few examples?

I, like many managers, came into the role a bit hesitantly. Leading others is hard. But after learning and practicing the one activity that any team leader can do, I hope I’ve become a team leader that team members can rely on to honor their unique strengths and help them accelerate their unique contributions and growth opportunities. As an HR practitioner, I’ve learned that we need to stop trying to turn every team leader into some unattainable perfect team leader. Instead, we must create the programs and processes that support team leaders in creating a culture of high attention.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Absolutely. I pinch myself every day that I’m privileged to do that work that I do helping employees, leaders and organizations think about and do this thing called work better. That wouldn’t have happened if Marcus Buckingham didn’t invite me to join his team to help change the real world of work. I never dreamed of leaving the corporate world but it was the best professional move I could have made.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Virtually all of us need to work to support ourselves and our families. We spend a lot of time and emotional energy doing this thing we call work. I’m committed to help making work better for people, one company at a time, one moment of attention at a time.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I don’t have a favorite, but I do try to live by the mantra of assuming positive intent. It’s so easy, especially in today’s world to mistake someone’s words as coming from a not so good place. That certainly happens but I try to remind myself every day to always start by assuming that others have a positive intent. When I do that, my mindset shifts to one of curiosity and appreciation. I might be a bit naïve but it’s a much nicer place to be in than the opposite one of assuming others are trying to take advantage of me.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

That movement would be to institutionalize the practice of seeing others for all of them and first and foremost seeing others for their unique best. I say it like this: “I see you for all of you and first and foremost I see you for the best of you.” Every person has unique gifts and talents. The most powerful thing we can do as leaders, as humans, is to overwhelmingly pay attention to those gifts and overinvest our time and energy in helping them shine.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you continued success!

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