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Increase Employee Engagement: Jesus or Darth Vader?


Recently, a client contacted SHVA lamenting he felt as though he, as the workplace supervisor, was required to have all the answers and that his employees only had to be there and do as he directed. Consequently, he knew he did not have the answers and wanted SHVA to help him increase employee engagement.  His call brought me back to a previous supervisor. She was young and inexperienced when she was my supervisor. I recall several staff meetings when she openly rejected excellent advice and, during one session, even dismissed an employee because he publicly disagreed with her. Interestingly about a year later, she confided in me. She thought she had to rule with an “iron fist” and have all the answers to win employee respect. Time, experience, and wisdom helped her express regret for those choices.


Love and Fear


I routinely tell employees that supervisors can lead like Jesus or Darth Vader. Both leaders garnered a massive following. However, which had more long-lasting results? If you are looking for short-term success with an expensive long-term cost, leading by fear works. However, if the leader is looking for long-term success, fear will not work. Darth Vader did not solicit follower input and handed out swift and severe punishment at the slightest hint of failure. Conversely, Jesus valued follower ideas and earned the respect of his followers. Interestingly, it was suggested that a healthy dose of love and anxiety in the workplace inspires followers to be more engaged (Dahm & Greenbaum, 2019). The fear Dahm suggested was the fear of failure out of respect for the leader, not fear of death, as in Darth Vader’s followers.


Follower Dissent


One aspect of followership dissent I have personal experience with deals with employees in virtual working environments. Blair and Bligh (2018) posit employees in high power situations (supervisors are physically far away) are more apt to voice dissent than employees in low power (supervisors are physically nearby) situations (Blair & Bligh, 2018). My employees feel free to express disagreement with me because they are in another state. Conversely, when we have quarterly, in-office meetings, dissent is rarely voiced. Additionally, these actions support other findings that employees express dissent at higher rates via Twitter than in person (Conway et al., 2019). For more information, please see my article on Constructive Disagreement.


So, must leaders have all the answers? No, not at all. Simply put, to increase employee engagement, leaders must earn the follower’s respect by doing two simple acts. First, by showing love (the leader cares for and values the follower’s ideas). And second, by leveraging that love to build respect, so the follower respects the leader to such an extent that failure is not an option.


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Blair, B. A., & Bligh, M. C. (2018). Looking for Leadership in All the Wrong Places: The Impact of Culture on Proactive Followership and Follower Dissent. Journal of Social Issues, 129-143.

Conway, E., Rosati, P., Monks, K., & Lynn, T. (2019). Voicing job satisfaction and dissatisfaction through Twitter: employees’ use of cyberspace. New Technology, Work and Employment, 139-156.

Dahm, P. C., & Greenbaum, B. E. (2019). Leadership through love and fear: an effective combination. Journal of Managerial Psychology, 326-338.