In decades past, most people considered their job to be just that – a job and nothing more.
Whether or not they enjoyed what they were doing, they showed up, put in the hours and went home—and the cycle repeated itself every working day.
But today’s workforce is shifting.
Many employees want their jobs to align with their lifestyle, beliefs and advocacies. And this calls for a drastically different type of leadership than what was needed 50 or even 10 years ago.
Given this shift, organization leaders are propelled to go with the change of time. The question then is: How should leaders lead in 2023?
Here, you’ll learn to do just that.
On leadership not being a soft skill
In fact, it’s one of the hardest things to master.
Mastering leadership is hard precisely because there’s no equation. You can’t plug in some numbers and get an answer. Every circumstance is different and it requires your own level of emotional intelligence, intellect, and interpersonal savviness to be able to get the best out of the people that you’re working with.
It’s dangerous to endorse the idea that these skills are soft because both the importance and the difficulty of practicing the kinds of skills necessary to lead a thriving team are inherently hard.
On resisting new ideas
Embracing data-driven approaches can leave you better prepared for the future.
Many of us have spent most of our lives frustrated that we come into workplaces with systematic evidence, and leaders say things like, ‘Well, that’s not the way we’ve always done it,’ or, ‘That will never work here.’
Before COVID, we already had good evidence that as long as people are in the office half the week, you can get more productivity, more satisfaction, higher retention, and no cost to collaboration by letting people work from anywhere.
But at that time, most organizations resisted – we’re talking nearly 95% of them.
Post-pandemic? More than half of the workforce is now at least hybrid.
If they had rethought their resistance just a few years ago, they could have had all of 2018 and 2019 to figure out how to make remote work work, before we were going through a global pandemic.
We’ve all heard the adage that people don’t quit a job, they quit a boss.
So when the Head of People at Facebook told the Harvard Business Review that the company started tracking why employees leave Facebook, all bets were on managers.
But their engagement survey results told a different story: When Facebook wanted to keep people and they left anyway, it wasn’t because of their manager – at least not in the way Facebook expected.
Of course, people are more likely to jump ship when they have a horrible boss. But Facebook spent years working to select and develop great managers, and most of the respondents said they were happy with theirs.
The decision to exit was because of the work. They left when their job wasn’t enjoyable, their strengths weren’t being used, and they weren’t growing in their careers.
If you want to keep your people — especially your stars — it’s time to pay more attention to how you design their work. Most companies design jobs and then slot people into them. The best leaders sometimes do the opposite: When they find talented people, they’re open to creating jobs around them.
Great leaders open doors to meaningful tasks and learning opportunities — they enable their people to be energized by their projects, to perform at their best, and to move forward professionally without taking steps backward at home.
When people have a leader who cares about their happiness and their success, their career and their life, they end up with a better job, and it’s hard to imagine working anywhere else.
On embracing better practices over best practices
One of the scariest things in a lot of organizations is how attached people become to best practices. They might’ve been the best at the time that you created them. But as the world around you changes, as your culture evolves, what was best five years, 10 years ago may not be what’s most productive today.
It seems the language of best practices creates this illusion that there’s an endpoint, that we’ve already reached perfection. And so we don’t need to change anything.
What we would love to see more organizations do instead is to strive for better practices, right? To say, “OK, you know what? No matter how good a practice becomes it can always be improved. And we’re open to trying whatever ideas you have for trying to evolve the way that we do things around here.”
On leading with humility
It sounds like low self-esteem or having a low opinion of yourself or being meek. That’s not actually what humility is. If you go back to the Latin roots, one of them means ‘from the earth.’ Being humble is about being grounded, recognizing that you’re only human, that you’re fallible.
And it takes real confidence to say, “You know what? Here are the things I’m not good at. Here are the questions that I don’t have answers to. Here’s what I don’t know. Here’s where I was wrong.”
What the research shows consistently is that leaders who are secure enough in their strengths to admit their weaknesses and vulnerabilities actually get better ideas from the people around them, they learn more and that ultimately enables them to lead more effectively.
The balance of confidence and humility is to say: These are not mutually exclusive. These are actually states that can go hand-in-hand. Confidence is believing that you can do great things. Humility is knowing that you don’t always have the knowledge and skills to do them yourself.
On acknowledging your shortcomings
There was once a time when many of us would’ve handily doubled down and argued harder when someone resisted our point of view.
Despite our best efforts, bombarding someone with data and with facts and with reasons didn’t sway anyone to see our side but, more often than not, rendered someone incapable of making their point in return.
And for leaders, that can be a huge lost opportunity.
This tactic isn’t an effective way to communicate because it leaves the other person to defend, to attack, or to withdraw.
Now, as soon as we realize that someone has a different point of view, we acknowledge our own shortcomings – and it invites the other person to commit to openness, too.
And then we’re both agreeing to learn something from each other. We’ve even been known for announcing, ‘I’m just as happy to be proven wrong …’ as we make our case to leave the door for communication and discourse wide open.
On reading emotions like data
This may sound counterintuitive and fly directly in the face of everything we’ve ever been told or taught. But hear us out.
Emotions are data.
When you see what other people are feeling, that’s information about what their motivations are, what’s occupying a lot of their energy and attention. Without that information, you’re actually handicapped as a leader.
At the same time, if you never show any emotion, that’s a signal that you lack passion — that, you know, that you’re incapable of really connecting to the challenges of the moment. For someone who loves data and who tends to be left-brained, this idea that emotions are data provides a comfortability to bring them to the table.
On thinking like a scientist
Thinking like a scientist means you don’t let your ideas become your identity. There was a recent experiment with startup founders in Italy that shows the value of teaching businesspeople to think like scientists.
Half the founders are put in a control group. Nothing unusual happens to them. The other half are taught to just think like scientists. They’re told, “Your strategy for your company, that’s a theory. When you talk to customers, that’s a way to home in on specific hypotheses. And then when you launch a product or a service, just think of that as an experiment to test your hypotheses.”
Over the next year, on average, the entrepreneurs who had been randomly assigned to learn to think like scientists brought in more than 40 times the revenue of the control group. That is a massive effect. And the major mechanism behind it is those entrepreneurs were more than twice as likely to pivot.
They ended up looking for reasons why they might’ve been wrong instead of just the reasons that they must've been right. They listened to the perspectives that made them think hard, not just the ones that made them feel good. And they surrounded themselves with people who challenged their thought process, not just the ones who challenged their conclusions. That's the art of thinking like a scientist.
On success being defined by your ability to make other people successful
That’s why investing time into learning effective leadership skills is so important.
No matter how high you climb in your career, you cannot succeed alone. In fact, the higher you climb, the more your success depends on the ability to make other people successful.
And if you don’t invest with the same discipline and the same analytical rigor in figuring out what effective leadership skills look like as you did in operations or finance, then you’re actually limiting your ability to succeed in your career.
Generation X is now in charge of the workforce, with Millennials hot on their heels. But despite who stands at the helm, one thing remains clear: We must continue to play a critical role in preparing the leaders of tomorrow.
By teaching what we learned in becoming independent, being transparent and honest, and polishing the skills we were taught, we can have some components of that previous style of leadership. We can expect co-workers to be loyal, dedicated and committed, but only after we have created the culture for that behavior to exist.
We can serve our workforce well and equip them to thrive while still remembering the skills we learned from our past leaders.