Leaders: Control or Connect?

Recently, I learned (another) leadership lesson from my parenting journey:

Are you trying to control or connect?

My defiant son is learning to navigate who he is in the world, apart from Mom and Dad (if I dare slip up and say, Mommy, he is quick to correct!). You can imagine the arguments, stress, exhaustion – on both sides.

I’ve embraced positive parenting or conscious parenting. But I was raised quite differently and sometimes, well, I mess up.

And by mess up, I mean lose sight of my goals to get a short-term hit of self-righteousness.. 

My goal is to raise a healthy, empathetic, kind, self-aware, self-sufficient human boy. My goal is to encourage him to speak up for himself, express his creativity, and develop a growth mindset.

But those goals go out the window when your kid back-talks you, rolls his eyes, or refuses to do something you’ve asked him to do a million times.

A wise therapist reminded me (several times), my goal is not to control my son. In the macro sense of course. I’m not going to allow him to run out into traffic or anything. He is his own person with unique strengths, challenges, and preferences.  He is becoming who he is becoming and if the goals listed above are truly my goals, then I have to remember to seek connection more than compliance. 

This will ensure we have a close relationship for the long term, so when things get harder for him as a teen and an adult, his Dad and I can still have influence and he will still feel safe talking to us and being honest. No parent wants a child who keeps important secrets or cuts ethical corners to avoid punishment.

That doesn’t mean I let him do whatever he wants, whenever he wants.

That doesn’t mean he has no guardrails or expectations.

But in those tense moments, when tempers start flaring, it might FEEL good to shout and scream so loud that I will him into compliance. Or I can take a more graceful tact, regulating my own emotions while still seeing who he is AND standing firm with my boundaries. Being a model for him with my own behavior so he knows what to expect and strive for.

So leaders: Ask yourselves:

Do you want control or connection?

Tight-fisted, authoritarian control may get you short-term compliance, to be sure, from demanding a return to the office, tracking keystrokes and badge swipes, or publicly berating someone at the next team meeting for screwing up – but what does that buy you in the long run?

What are your goals?

Are your goals really to force disengagement (for their own mental health, in that kind of environment), encourage the bare minimum, foster resentment, and lose good, talented people to your competition?

I don’t think so.

Or would you rather create a high-performing team for the long term that collaborates, innovates, solves problems, and gets things done – all while remaining extremely loyal to you and the organization? 

You can still set high expectations.

You can still set boundaries and guardrails.

You can still have difficult conversations and get people to take responsibility and face consequences.

AND…you can do all of that while still prioritizing connection over control. 

Remember your true goals. And choose connection over control. I promise it will be worth it for your goals in the long run.

Photo credit: RD Smith, Unsplash

Can’t Get Your Employees Back to the Office? Here’s Why

Recently, Delta CEO Ed Bastian talked to BusinessInsider about the real reason there is tension around the return to office (RTO). So simple. So ignored.

Your employees’ work and life patterns have been forever changed. Employees crave flexibility. They are not going back unless it works for them.

The Pandemic showed knowledge workers that it’s possible to be creative, productive, and connected while working remotely or even traveling. Companies didn’t stop innovating or selling goods and services. They even came up with new revenue streams. The lockdown forced many local businesses I know to finally dive into eCommerce because it was the only way to stay alive.

And workers learned how well they could balance personal and professional life working from home. They spend less time commuting. They can better deal with childcare, aging parents, and their own diverse needs – from being introverted to living with a disability – in better ways.  It opened employment opportunities to many talented workers who live far from big cities.

They thrived. And so did their work, and so did their businesses.

But the 2023 State of Workplace Empathy Report showed us the ridiculous gap between CEOs and their workforces. CEO on average tend to have come up learning older leadership styles. They of course adapted to the chaos of the last three years because they had to. And that led many workers to believe they had evolved their leadership styles as well.

But they didn’t. Many leaders thought – and still do – that all this flexibility was temporary and they can now go back to their regularly scheduled programming.

They never really evolved. They coped. And that is why they’re flipping back to what they know:

If I can’t see you, if you’re not in the same room, we can’t get any work done or achieve our ambitious goals.

It’s the only way they know how to lead and hold people accountable.

So basically, they learned nothing.

But workers learned a lot. They saw the promise of flexible work. They thrived in being able to fit in morning yoga, afternoon soccer games, and even being able to cover having a sick kid at home WHILE working hard. Many of them improved their mental health, got fit, and reconnected with their families.

Why on earth would they willingly go back to the way things were? Especially if the culture was lacking to begin with.

And so…some leaders, once again refusing to get it, think the answer is to “perkify” the office. Full-service cafeteria! Workout facilities! Cool new office space! On-site laundry!

I’ll be the first to admit, that is all super cool and generous. It’s empathetic to provide your workers with all the things they need to manage their life so they can contribute their highest potential to their work.

But it only works if going back to the office WORKS for your people. And it only works if you have a culture worth going back to office for.

For many people, it still doesn’t. They need that flexibility. What they gained working remotely still outweighs all the “perks” their company can offer onsite.

It’s not about getting people back to the office so leaders can feel more comfortable with how to manage them. What is the real reason you want them back in the office? Be honest!

  • Is it the investment in office space you make?
  • Is it wanting to support small local businesses that are struggling because workers are not coming downtown anymore?
  • Is it your discomfort or misunderstanding of how to collaborate and innovate remotely?

All of these reasons can be addressed with intentional learning, training, and experimentation. You can thoughtfully determine – with input from your people – what actually warrants in-person collaboration.  You can also minimize your discomfort through coaching and training or explore industry best practices to learn how to effectively lead in a hybrid world. 

Just because you don’t know how doesn’t mean you can’t learn!

But…there is one big reason that you need to be honest about:

Do you trust your people?

If you don’t, either you’re not hiring the right people, mistrust is rampant across the organization (you set the tone), or your leaders have connection and control issues that need attention.

And who wants to come back to an office culture like that?

Culture is an issue that can’t be solved by unwillingly dragging people back to the office. So stop forcing the genie back into the bottle and figure out how to stay flexible, upskill your leadership and enhance your culture.

Photo Credit: Anastasia Nelen, Unsplash

The Bear on How to Deescalate Conflict

If you’re not watching The Bear on Hulu, go. Now. It’s the story of Carmen Berzatto, a world-class chef who returns to his Chicago home to take over his brother’s working-class sandwich shop after his brother commits suicide.

My husband and I love it because it’s all about the restaurant business, which we’re kind of fascinated by from a team dynamics point of view (and my husband worked in a hotel and catering kitchen when he was a teen), but the family drama, tension, acting, writing, and how they make Chicago an actual character are everything. As an Italian-American myself, the family dynamics resonate! And I get to enjoy post-college nostalgia, having lived in Chicago in the mid-’90s.

Some episodes are tough to watch. Your heart will race. The arguing will stress you out.  And some are so poignant, you will shed a tear. So much goodness!

Anyone who’s worked in a kitchen before knows the stress and drama. It’s real. And the show helps educate viewers on restaurant slang. One of which we might all want to employ. Carmen teaches his new head-chef Sydney a great signal to help de-escalate conversations when they get out of control.

We’ve all been in those conversations – at work or in life. They start out civil enough, then someone gets offended, the other person reacts, and pretty soon you’re both shouting over each other and no one is listening.  It’s not productive, and frankly, all it results in are bad feelings and a headache.

Carmen teaches Sydney the American Sign Language sign for “I’m sorry” When he has messed up, wants to apologize, or even wants to take the temperature down in a tense conversation, he makes a fist and rubs in small circles over his heart. 

There is one episode in Season 2 when they are arguing about the menu for the new restaurant they are opening. It quickly escalates. And one of them immediately uses the signal to help them both take a beat and reconnect. They are then able to constructively talk with each other again, not at each other.

What signal can you use for yourself – or create with your team – to let each other know that we recognize things are getting out of hand, and we are sorry for our behavior? How can you create a signal to reset the conversation to something more productive to move forward together?

Photo Credit: Mashed

Change is Hard – Even When It’s Good For Us

My son loved his play kitchen when he was a toddler. His toy groceries, pots, and pans came to life for him, so he would bake cakes, fry up eggs, and offer me and my husband dinner, which usually consisted of waffles, a chicken leg, asparagus, and a side of fries – and chocolate milk.

As he got older, he played with the kitchen set less and less. But the thought of donating it terrified him. Especially since his world turned upside down in the Pandemic. One day in 2019, he was in kindergarten, playing with his friends. The next, he was taken home, away from his friends and school, for many, many months – and had no idea why.

As he neared 6 and 7 and he went back to somewhat normal life,  he still clung to what he knew, refusing to make any changes. And that meant we could not give away a single toy or book without drama. Despite telling him we wanted to make room for new toys and games – and bring happiness to another child – he wouldn’t budge. And so the toys collected dust and took up room.

I get it. Change is hard. Even when it’s good for us. Even when it’s worth it.  Even for adults. (TWEET THIS!)

Why?

Change requires us to lead the status quo behind. And that makes us uncomfortable. The status quo is what we know. It’s why moving cities and developing a new routine is hard. It’s also why seasoned leaders sometimes have a tough time embracing a new paradigm of emotionally intelligent and human-centered leadership. Even though our brains know we might land up in a better place, our hearts don’t want to let go. And our brains are wired to exert the least amount of effort on actions and activity – change requires us to think harder again, for lack of a better phrase!

Change means we risk failure. We may not know how to expertly navigate the change. What if we do it “wrong”? What if we cause more harm than good? What if we look like an idiot? What if we don’t know the next right step to take? This often happens to people trying to strengthen their empathy. What if I offend you with all my questions? What if I appear weak? What if someone walks all over me? All valid fears to feel – but also myths about what empathy really means!

Our brains understand the need and desire for change. But it doesn’t make it any less scary and hard.

So I invite you to calm your heart when facing change. We should allow ourselves to feel the emotions associated with it fully. Denying them is pointless and counterproductive. We can grieve the loss of the status quo or our idea of comfort by focusing on all we gain when we change.  And we can seek support as we make the journey – and celebrate achievements along the way by measuring success.

My son has eventually learned the power of decluttering to make room for new interests. He has learned how happy his old toys can make another child. And yes, he gets half the money if we sell the items – no one said you can’t incentivize change!

The only way to live, evolve, and grow is to experience and embrace change. The alternative is to stay stuck and stop learning. And really, who wants that? What is the point of life if you live and work that way?

Photo credit: Magnet.me on Unsplash

What Does Psychological Abuse at Work Look Like?

You never knew who would be crying in the office on any given day. Today, it was mine. Again. But I would not give them the satisfaction of seeing it.

See, my anger, powerlessness, and frustration come out as hot tears.  

They used to tell us not to “get emotional” at work. But what happens if you are treated like trash? Gaslit, shamed, mentally exhausted, and not at all eager to deliver great work as a result? You suffer – and so does the company’s bottom line.

Once (well, honestly, twice) upon a time, I had to work under psychologically abusive executives.

I don’t use the term “psychological abuse” lightly. I’m not being dramatic. It feels the exact same way as a mentally abusive romantic relationship I had.

From both work and personal, those scars run deep.

We’re not talking about a manager you get along with, or who has rigorous and unflinching performance standards.  It’s about someone who makes you question your very value, ability, worth – and sanity – on a daily basis.

As a Type A overachiever, this was not a case of a perfectionist boss stretching me to deliver my best work. This leader came into a highly functioning team – a team that had been operating seamlessly for almost six months while the leadership role was vacant – and decimated it.

We were all excited when this leader joined, to finally have someone steering the ship again. To learn and grow from them. To get exponentially better than we already were.

This leader, however, came in and first ignored us, then shamed us, then waged psychological warfare by pitting us against each other and often lying to make comparisons (“So and so turned in their budget plan already, why is yours not done?” PS: They hadn’t turned it in). Literally tearing us apart in every single meeting. 

To what end, I was never really sure.  It never had to be this way. All I know is that we went from a high-performing team to one by one leaving the company. 

Every now and then, I go back to that office in my mind and shudder. We were treated like naughty children, not professionals. Could we improve? Of course – everyone can. But leading with hostility, shame, and fear just never seemed like a sound strategy to me.

What Does Psychological Abuse Look Like at Work?

How do you know when your leader has crossed the line from being “tough and driven” to psychologically abusive?

  • You feel shame and blame. People are shamed in meetings with no warning or reason. Instead of constructive feedback, people are struck silent in embarrassment and shame. The conversation can’t move forward. 
  • Fear rules the workplace. People live in constant fear of the spotlight shining on them. Questioning their skills, feeling disempowered, and turning that abuse inward through depression, alcoholism, and other destructive behavior.
  • Your personal life suffers. You can’t sleep at night. You dread Monday morning, not because of the work but because of this one person. You spend most of your time trying to figure out how you can twist yourself into knots to please them and avoid the abuse (again, the sign of a romantic abuser) Not a great environment for innovation and creativity. 
  • The team starts trauma bonding. When a leader gets off on shame and humiliation and people have to warn and support each other like they are fighting a war, you know there’s a serious issue. Trauma bonding is when we literally feel like we’re in a bomb shelter together, fighting for survival, and it’s ALL. WE. CAN. TALK ABOUT. If toxic leadership dominates your lunchtime conversations and private DM’s, that’s a sure sign of abuse and means we’re all getting distracted from delivering great work.

How Can We Protect Ourselves from Psychological Abuse at Work

Knowing what I know now, older and wiser as they say, I see clearly the issue was not completely us.  This leader was clearly broken inside. 

But sharing advice to “protect ourselves” is hard. It’s a form of victim-blaming because it implies you are the one who needs fixing. 

We should not blame the victim of psychological work abuse, just as we wouldn’t blame the victim in an abusive marriage. This advice is meant to help you weather the storm – until the situation changes or you can get out.

Knowing what I know now,  I would fortify my ability to withstand it (although, frankly, no one should have to). I am more self-confident now and know my strengths and blind spots better so I can stand my ground. I would practice more self-care so my job didn’t define me. I could have sought counsel from trusted mentors outside of the company and might have more clearly seen this power play for what it was:  A desperate attempt by a broken person to inflict pain on others and prove something. 

I would have shored up my emotional intelligence skills to approach this person with more EQ and respond to them in a way that didn’t destroy my mental health.

The irony is that I actually did learn a lot about “the work” from this leader. But it was too high a price to pay. And how much more could I have learned if this had not been the established relationship? When they ended up supporting me and advocating for my promotion,, when I was no longer their direct report, I thought we had gotten through it. Until one final and unexpected attack threw me for a loop again – and I was glad to be moving on to a place where I was appreciated and supported. Where I didn’t have to go to work every day and feel bad about myself or live in fear.

Learn to recognize when your leaders have crossed the line from demanding high performance to psychological abuse.  Don’t be afraid of hard work, fair criticism, and learning lessons as you go. But if it starts to negatively impact your mental health, walk away.

No stellar performance review or promotion is worth that.

If you want to shore up emotional intelligence in your organization to avoid psychological abuse and create more collaboration, let’s talk. I can deliver a dynamic empathy workshop series and strategically advise on an integrated curriculum with my network of talented speakers and trainers. We can build psychological safety, critical communication, and trust building into the curriculum. Just reach out today and we’ll get the conversation going.

Photo Credit: Elisa Ventur Unsplash

How Empathetic Leaders Can Set Strong Boundaries to Avoid Burnout

We are in some tough times. 

Layoffs, Market volatility. For many, returning to work or at least navigating change in a hybrid environment.

Managers are currently caught in the middle. They are feeling pressured from above to get back to delivering stellar results and improving profitability. And they are squeezed by their people, demanding (rightly, after many decades of the opposite) a more human-centered and healthy approach to integrate their work and life. The Pandemic accelerated this movement, and many workers don’t want to go back.

That leaves many leaders stuck – and exhausted.

These folks want to embrace compassionate leadership as a catalyst for innovation, collaboration, and engagement They really do. But how can they do so without losing their own health and sanity in the process? How can they avoid burnout?

The answer is not to give everyone whatever they ask for, nor is it to force you or the team to take on extra work. It also does not mean you become an unlicensed therapist and then slip on your own responsibilities. 

In my new book, I’m developing five pillars to being an effectively empathetic leader while still expecting excellence, setting boundaries, and avoiding burnout. 

Setting boundaries is essential for any leader to prevent burnout and maintain high-performance standards while still caring for their people as…well, people. Here are some strategies that can help leaders set better boundaries at work:

  1. Set clear expectations: Communicate with your team members and colleagues about your availability, working hours, and the time it takes to respond to emails or messages. This will help them understand your boundaries and respect them.
  2. Prioritize self-care: Take care of your physical and mental health by exercising regularly, eating well, and getting enough rest. Find hobbies that keep you in the present moment or simply give you joy, working out a different part of your brain. This will help you feel more energized and productive during work hours.
  3. Delegate tasks: Identify tasks that can be delegated to team members or outsourced to external vendors. And then trust them to do it! This will help you focus on high-priority tasks and prevent burnout.
  4. Say no: Learn to say no to requests that do not align with your priorities or are outside of your capacity. It’s better than saying yes and then dropping the ball! Saying no can be difficult, but it’s necessary to maintain boundaries and prevent over-committing.
  5. Take breaks: Take regular breaks during the day to refresh your mind and recharge. This can include taking a walk, meditating, or engaging in any activity that helps you relax. Schedule them in your calendar, or you likely won’t do them!
  6. Unplug: Set aside specific times during the day when you will unplug from work-related technology, such as email and messaging platforms. This will help you disconnect from work and prevent burnout. Again, scheduling and time blocking this is key.

Remember, setting boundaries is a continuous process that requires self-awareness, communication, and commitment. By setting clear boundaries, you can improve your well-being and productivity as a leader. – and still, be empathetic and compassionate with your team.

Editor Note: I experimented with ChatGPT to initially draft this blog post and then polished it to make it my own. I was delighted to find that many of the concepts I’ll be talking about in my new book, coming Fall 2024, are referenced in this list. While I am always skeptical of AI technologies, I highly recommend you play with ChatGPT for your own content, research, or brainstorming!

Photo credit: Danie Franco on Unsplash

Empathy is Not This

When people are scared or unsure, they run back to what they know. And that’s what some leaders are doing in today’s post-pandemic workplace. And it’s pissing me off.

I read this article the other day and had….opinions. 

Today, as the pandemic fades and a recession looms, employers are back to their old ways — reacting to market conditions, sometimes haphazardly and sometimes without much compassion. 

Being an empathetic leader does not mean you have to be “the cool parent” or that you need to fix things. (TWEET THIS!)

As the article states, “Managers need to be empathetic…but they must also provide workers with guidance and direction and not shield them from economic realities.”

First, it’s dead on that the Pandemic forced leaders and companies to find humanity. We were in/are in a global crisis. All we have is our humanity. People’s lives were turned upside down. Of course, we turned to compassionate leadership. To empathy. We HAD to. 

But this was not a new trend that just popped up. The signs all pointed to a new model of leadership before anyone ever heard about herd immunity. Study after study showed that the Industrial Revolution models of leadership were having less of an effect. That worker’s desires, combined with technology and transparency, demanded a new leadership model: One based on collaboration and connection. A more human workplace. And the rewards? HUGE. Increased productivity, engagement, retention, top talent attraction, morale, innovation, performance, and customer satisfaction The data existed way before COVID began.

The pandemic just accelerated the need to adopt these new models. There was no other way forward but to adapt. 

Now that we are coming out of the pandemic, though, there’s backlash. Back to bossism. Command and control. As if, “They had their fun being treated like human beings but now it’s back to work.”

It’s MADDENING. 

Second, only leaders who don’t understand what is truly meant by empathy hold this position. Your fear and inability to adapt are showing. 

Empathy is not about caving into crazy demands, letting workers do whatever they want to do, or being okay with slipping performance. It’s about listening, getting curious, sitting with someone’s struggle or perspective, and finding a way forward.

Where do people get this stuff? Why do they empathetic leadership as either/or when it’s BOTH/AND? This is what I’ve dedicated myself to sharing, teaching, and inspiring.

Leaders who adopt HEALTHY empathetic habits with their teams can still expect high performance, set boundaries, and avoid burnout. They can just do so IF they have the right tools to embrace empathy in a healthy way (SNEAK PEEK: This is what my new book will be about.)

If you are not, you are not practicing empathy – call it something else!

Photo Credit: 

What is a Brand Story and Why Does My Business Need one?

A small business owner asked me the other day, “What do you mean by brand story? Is that website copy?” 

I said yes, sort of. But it’s bigger than that – it is not just one sentence, but it’s also the vibe and value promise of your business. Your brand story is not simply what you sell. It’s your purpose and what you believe. How you’re different. What value your offerings ultimately give to a buyer.

Porsche and Honda both make cars. They do NOT have the same brand story. They are not selling to the same people. Customers buy from them for very different reasons – not simply “because I need a car.””

Your business, no matter what industry you are in, needs to understand this.

How did this brand strategist get into the empathy advocacy game? Simple. Empathy is the key to marketing and sales success.

Marketers get this. You can’t influence or persuade someone – or build right-fit offerings for them – if you don’t understand them.(TWEET THIS!)

You must peek into their lives, see things how they see them, and ensure your solutions meet those needs, address those goals, and fulfill those aspirations. Or quite frankly, they should not be doing business with you.

Sometimes empathy gets a bad rap when used by marketers – or sociopaths – to manipulate. If it is used in that way, that’s just lazy marketing in my book. Marketing should be about elevating the truth of your story so the right people can find you and achieve their goals or solve their problems.

Empathy has always been the key to successful advertising. It’s never about the product, is it? 

A 1995 Nike campaign that always stuck with me, which I mentioned in my first book Branding Basics for Small Business, was called “If you Let Me Play”. The ads showed bright-eyed young girls playing sports and each would in turn say,

“If you let me play sports

I will like myself more;

I will have more self-confidence,

I will be 60 percent less likely to get breast cancer;

I will suffer less depression.

I will be more likely to leave a man who beats me.

I will be less likely to get pregnant

I will learn what it means to be strong.

…If you let me play sports.”

This was not just about the features of their shoes or athletic clothing. It was about empowerment. About safety. About strong mental health for girls. 

They got me, as a just out of college woman back then. They knew exactly what engaged and connected with me. They knew who I wanted to be and what I wanted to stand for. And they likely grabbed loads of parents who felt exactly the same way.

That’s empathy in marketing. Understanding the goals, desires, fears, values, and needs of your ideal audience and creating products and services that speak to them. But one step further, a good marketer has to be able to communicate that they understand.

That’s where brand story comes in.

Many business owners and even marketers can speak eloquently about the features of their products. But they might not be as connected to the story they can share that will inspire, engage, and influence their ideal customers to join their community and stay loyal to the brand.

Sometimes this is because we get so caught up in jargon, we don’t speak in the way our customers actually talk. Which is the cornerstone of empathetic marketing! Sometimes, they think customers want to hear önly the facts”- when research proves that we often make purchase decisions because of emotion but justify that decision with logic. Yes, even our most skeptical, data-driven buyers do this because….WE’RE ALL HUMAN! Don’t believe me? Check out my podcast episode with behavioral economist Melina Palmer on all the research proving we don’t buy for the reasons our conscious brains tell us we do. We respond to other cues we are not even aware of! 

But what to say? How to say it? How do we even know what our ideal customers really want and need?

New Course to Help You Craft Your Brand Story! Brand Story Breakthrough

As some of you know, I have shifted from pure brand consulting to focusing on empathy speaking and training.  So  I’m unveiling what I hope will be a signature course to help marketers, business owners – and even agency professionals such as PR and design experts who need to help their clients nail their brand story and may not have a good process.

Check out  Brand Story Breakthrough, a 5 week digital course, along with weekly live coaching with me for feedback and guidance. This is my way to help people at scale uncover the magic of their brand story and build all the tools for their messaging toolkit so they can attract their perfect customers, stand out, and grow their revenue and impact.

And the root of the entire course and process? You guessed it. Empathy.

Empathy is too often what is missing from messaging. I once had a corporate VP client who disrespected their target client base, calling them arrogant, entitled, and not interested in the data. You cannot successfully market your offerings to those who need it if you despise or disrespect them! Sorry, not sorry.

If you’re struggling to get attention from right-fit customers you know you can impact, I would love, love, love to help.

Please check out details right here and see if it’s right for you (There’s even a free masterclass video on that page that will be super valuable for you) 

PS, this process works whether you sell products or services, B2B or B2C, non-profit or for-profit. Because it’s about flexing your empathy muscle and communicating in a way that resonates with the right people and ignites them into action. Not to lie to them. Not to deceive.  But to connect with them in a genuine and value-driven way.

Bottom line: We are all human. And if your mission is to have an impact and offer genuine value to customers or clients, you deserve to reach them and they deserve to know you exist for them. Marketing done right  is not sleazy. It’s a way for you to let the people who need you the most find you. Get excited to share your story. If not you, then who?! ChatGPT can only get you so far. First, you have to emotionally connect with the people you serve.

Photo Credit: Social Cut on Unsplash

What Leadership Success Requires in Today’s World

Leaders today need to understand the assignment. And it’s no longer about telling people what to do like a ruler from on high,, filling out paperwork, or even getting a cushy office. Unless your WFH space is indeed, decked out and super-glam.

So I ask you: Do you fully understand the assignment….or are you working off an outdated model of what skills you need to be a successful leader?

Leadership in the past was all about command and control. You did the job so well, you were promoted to lead others doing the same job. And so on. And so on.

But many people who are excellent at “the work”are never taught how to actually do the job of leading.

Leading requires a different mindset, skillset, and frankly, temperament. It’s not the same as doing the actual work.

In a world where talented workers have options, where people are demanding respect in the workplace, and where the data now tells us that innovation, creativity, and engagement increase when the right leadership is in place, here’s the assignment as it stands today:

  • Foster collaboration. Diversity enables your organization to look at challenges from every angle without missing anything. And it enables the best ideas to rise to the top. It is no longer acceptable to simply hire people who look and think like you, silence dissenting voices, or create fear and competition among your own people.
  • Take the time to get to know your team as individuals. What motivates them? What are their lives like? Who do they want to be? And you must tailor communications, incentives, and career development accordingly. Invest in your people. Yes, it takes more time. Yes, it’s your job now if you want high performance and to ensure you get your own bonus. No, it’s not distracting you from the work. It IS the work of leading.
  • Care about people as human beings. Understand their context. Empathetically listen before you start preaching. Accommodate for their challenges and differences. Get as personal as people are comfortable getting. Create a culture where people have each other’s backs. Be willing to be vulnerable and encourage connection and love for each other. You can encourage high standards, expect excellence, and be compassionate. We are not machines. We cannot turn our struggles, challenges, or mental health issues off to put on some “professional” facade.
  • Embrace failure and admit mistakes. No one ever believed you knew it all anyway, That’s not the job of leading. The job requires risk taking and encouraging new ideas. Celebrate and learn from things not going right. It means you are innovating or getting better.  If you’re still parroting, “This is the way it’s always been done,” then you’re done. 
  • Be Humble: If you can’t admit you’re wrong, what are you doing? Everyone around you knows you were wrong and when you don’t admit it, you just look foolish and lose people’s trust. If you are still puffing out your chest, acting like you’re “better than”and not sharing credit or space because you think that makes you the Big Dog, it’s time to step aside and let a leader with humility take over to get better engagement and results.

Let me be clear: These are not niceties. They are not a waste of time.  They are not distracting you from the work. This IS the work of leading. (TWEET THIS!)

These are the skills required of successful leaders today. You are absolutely required to inspire, listen, empathize, develop, collaborate, and foster trust.  And yes, deliver results.

If you are lucky enough to lead people, then please, understand the assignment.

Photo Credit: Desola Lanre-Ologun, Unsplash

What Brock Purdy Can Teach Us About Humble Leadership

Well, my San Francisco 49ers did not make it to the Super Bowl this year. But not for want of trying. Plagued with injuries, they still got to the NFC Championship game with their 3rd string quarterback, young rookie Brock Purdy. And a 13-4 record to boot.

In the final NFC Championship game, Purdy got an elbow injury in a fluke play trying to avoid a sack. The team went to their 4th string QB – and it all went downhill from there so that the Philadelphia Eagles took the game and marched off to the Super Bowl.

But what a story Brock Purdy turned out to be. And over and over again, when teammates and coaches were asked what made him so special, they spoke of his HUMILITY. His desire to learn. To get curious. To stay focused.

Purdy is a stellar athlete and did a tremendous job with his unexpected shove into the spotlight.  And we can all learn from his lesson.

He’s successful because he’s humble, and we celebrate that humility because he’s young. But humility is not just for inexperienced leaders. Those young guns we applaud who say they want to count on the knowledge and experience of those around them.  It’s actually harder and yet more of a sign of strength if experienced leaders can stay humble.(TWEET THIS!)

Experienced leaders can fall into the trap of thinking they’re the smartest person in the room. And that thinking leads to shutting down ideas, defensively doing things the way they’ve always been done, and ignoring diverse perspectives that might help you see challenges in a whole new light. 

We always say it’s great to be a disruptor. But with that title comes hubris. And of all people, disruptors don’t like it at all when THEY are disrupted! (TWEET THIS!)

Go now immediately and read Amer Kaissi’s groundbreaking book on leadership, Humbitious: The Power of Low Ego, High Drive Leadership.  Better yet, check out our interview on The Empathy Edge podcast to get all the goods! You’ll find the link to the book in the Show Notes.

Kaaisi talks about the winning leadership combination of humility + ambition. Just being humble isn’t enough, just as solely being ambitious is never enough to win.

We celebrate Purdy’s humility because he’s young. But even the most experienced leader can’t possibly know everything about everything. There’s always someone else who might know a bit more about the customer’s experience, product design, market fit, demand generation strategy – or even about emotional intelligence and reading the room.

So next time you’re tempted to come into the room with all the answers, or think that leadership means you have all the answers, just remember Purdy. Stay humble. Maintain curiosity every time you walk into the room. You can do so with confidence and decisiveness. But never stop wondering “What am I missing? Who can fill in the blanks for us?”

Photo credit:  Fox News Channel