Why a good boss is the best incentive of all

Who was the best boss you ever had? With a bit of luck, there will have been at least one in your career.

The chances are they were the kind of person who was patient, and even kind, taking time to bring out the best of your skills and experience. A good boss will bring their employees on. A great boss inspires them to go even further...

Like a random act of kindness on a rainy afternoon, good leaders have the influence to really bring out the best behaviours in their people. You could even go so far as to call them the ultimate performance incentive.

Sodexo’s ‘Boosting the Best Behaviours’ study says that behaviour is contagious, stating that “employees pick up habits and mindsets from the people around them, without ever realising that they’re doing it.” If yours is a positive workplace culture, so much the better. But there’s always room for improvement, right?

If an employee feels respected and supported by their manager, they will feel more committed and dedicated to their organisation. It’s not exactly ground breaking stuff.  

So, the question is, are the leaders in your organisation your biggest staff incentive?


People influence people. Like a form of peer pressure in the workplace, if everyone’s behaving a certain way, it will soon catch on. “This is especially true when there’s a ‘hero’ in the team, a role-model,” says Sodexo’s Natasha Omelchenko. “When people look up to someone, they will be influenced by them, and mimic their habits and behaviours.”

In the immortal words of Bonnie Tyler, ‘we need a hero’.

We actively embrace inspiring leaders and it’s little wonder. When a company’s leaders are modelling behaviour change, employees will better adapt to these ways of working and bring these nuances in line with their daily habits.

As Sodexo’s ‘Boost the Best Behaviours’ study found, “it starts with leadership”. According to Jack Zenger, CEO of Zenger Folkman, in a multi-year research project, his firm spotted a “trickle-down” effect from leaders to their direct reports.

Zenger says:

“Managers whose overall leadership effectiveness was in the bottom 10% have direct reports whose engagement scores were in the 15th percentile. In contrast, the managers whose overall leadership effectiveness was in the top 10% have direct reports with those whose engagement scores were in the 81st percentile.”

Employee engagement is inextricable linked with effective management. Look around, what do you see? If people are leaving a team like rats from a sinking ship, you might have a hero problem. Or rather, lack of one.

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When we work for a good boss, we feel energised and ready to fulfil our tasks to the best of our abilities. You’ve heard the phrase, ‘People leave managers, not companies’. Well it’s true.

A poor manager will only spread feelings of unhappiness and a lack of motivation across the team. Nobody’s incentivised to be super productive when there are barriers stopping them from doing their best work. 

Simon Sinek, author of ‘Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action’ says:

“A leader’s work is not to do the work for others. It’s to help others to figure out how to do it themselves, to get things done, and to succeed beyond what they thought was possible.”

If your managers aren’t doing this, it doesn’t matter what other incentive platform you offer, employee engagement will be on the floor. And with it taking an average of 28 weeks to get a new recruit up to speed, employee retention should be front of mind for businesses everywhere.

Not all leaders are born and not made. Everyone can benefit from training opportunities to be the best employee they can be. While some might have a natural ability to lead, it can’t hurt to give them extra support to keep them at the top of their game. Do that and the benefits will be endless.

Not your everyday charisma

Natural born leaders are often charismatic and dynamic individuals, leaving a lasting impression in our minds, even years after we first worked with them. It’s also a reason why so many entrepreneurs make exceptional leaders. 

You don’t have to have read Richard Branson’s autobiography to know he well known for his inspiring views about people engagement, like some sort of super charged management beacon. From his forward-thinking views on flexible working to his ‘unlimited holiday’ policy, Branson links employee wellbeing to company success. 

On leadership, Branson has this to say,

“I think, one of the key attributes to a good leader is listening, making sure that you write down the feedback that you get. And very importantly, make sure you act on that feedback when you get back to base. An exceptional company is the one that gets all the little details right.” 

As Sodexo’s ebook states, “whether they know it or not, leaders are constantly setting an example to their teams. Slack behaviours and a too-casual approach ‘erode’ the performance of direct reports, but happily, the converse is also true: if you’re a great boss, that engages your team.”

As Dr. Travis Bradbury writes, “Great bosses change us for the better. They see more in us than we see in ourselves, and they help us learn to see it too. They dream big and show us all the great things we can accomplish.” 

If that doesn’t sound like a good enough reason to work hard to reap rewards, we don’t know what does.


Peer influence doesn’t stop with leaders. As Dr Robert Cialdini, Professor of Psychology and Marketing, Arizona State University, advises, peers on our own level at work “are often more convincing than executives” when we’re deciding what we should do.

Let’s face it, we’re more likely to work late if everyone else on our team is – no one wants to be the person to get that look from their peers. It’s the Facebook ‘Like’ effect all over: you’re doing it because everyone else is and you don’t want to be left out. It’s just not cricket.

Rightly or wrongly, this kind of peer motivation can change behaviours for the better. Hands up anyone who ever got involved in an office fundraiser or challenge like Movember or Dry January? This kind of group influence can have a really positive effect on employee wellbeing.  

As Sodexo found, “over 53% of employees admitted that their peers’ behaviour changes the way they behave at work (younger employees are even more aware of their peers, as that number shoots up to over 70% of those aged 18-24).”

Ways to appeal to peer influence

Peer influence doesn’t stop with leaders. As Dr Robert Cialdini, Professor of Psychology and Marketing, Arizona State University, advises, peers on our own level at work “are often more convincing than executives” when we’re deciding what we should do.

A good manager should seek to find ways to create a positive workplace virus. Rewarding patterns of behaviour can have a brilliant effect on improving performance and transforming behaviour across the team and company as a whole.

Here are a few ways to keep peer influence working its daily magic:

  1. Fix negativity fast – if staff are constantly moaning or there is a vibe of negativity in the workplace, think what you can do to change that. Just as good energy and creativity inspires others, bad feeling soon catches on too. It could be time to entirely rethink engagement at work.
  2. Find your workplace heroes – pinpoint the people who inspire others and ooze infectious positivity in the workplace. Get them front and centre where they can set an example to their colleagues, boost morale and drive productivity.
  3. Appeal to the positive team player – in a meeting scenario, get the members of staff who agree with you the chance to weigh in with their views rather than try to hammer the nay-sayers in the room. Sometimes strong peer advocates are the best influencers when it comes to transforming behaviour. 
  4. Recognise good behaviour – if needs be, you can offer desirable staff incentives that promote the values you want to instil across the workplace. It could be on-the-spot rewards to inject fun and a competitive spirit into a working day. This can be as simple as letting someone off the team tea run, some sweet treats or £10 gift cards. Anything goes.

Iain Thomson, Director of Incentives and Recognition says, “By bringing in the ‘human factor’ and encouraging high performers to share their business success stories, you create that strong positive example, and at the same time give your ‘heroes’ the recognition they deserve.”


There’s no doubt that good leaders help to create positive peer influence in the workplace. From carefully thinking through new hires and how they will fit into the current team to remembering people have lives outside of work – good bosses can bring out the best in their people in many ways. That couldn’t be more important. 

Jonathan Bedford, Head of Sales and Client Services, Sodexo, says, “If you don’t have advocates in the leadership team, permeating right through the infrastructure of the business, then it becomes very difficult to embed any kind of solution or programme within the organisation or the organisation’s culture.” What he said.

Whether you invest in staff recognition schemes or not, you can only truly motivate staff and transform behaviour from the top down.

Your bosses are your greatest assets acting as your very own staff incentives – teach them to be exceptional managers and your organisation will enter new realms of greatness.

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