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Are You a Renaissance Leader?

Issue 166, June 27, 2024

Just when you thought leaders have been disintermediated by demanding younger employees who want a seat at their bosses’ tables, these leaders are more important than ever. So much has been reported and written about working to live, life/work balance, and the quality-of-life fulfillment of remote work that managers and their roles have been shoved to the side.

But in truth, leaders have their work cut out for them.

The Rise of Loneliness and Disengagement

Leaders need to call on new skills when the workforce, as reported by a new Gallup poll, is not alright: “62% of global employees are not engaged at work, another 15% are actively disengaged, only 34% of workers would describe themselves as thriving, and around 20% of employees describe themselves as lonely — plus those numbers get even worse for younger workers (Fortune).

Perhaps as we wrote last week, the lack of gratitude and curation of trust only deepens disengagement.

And on the state of loneliness, the U.S. surgeon general declared a loneliness health epidemic last year. According to The Wall Street Journal, “Alienation affects remote and in-person workers alike. The number of U.S. adults who call themselves lonely has climbed to 58% from 46% in 2018, according to a recent Cigna poll. More than 40% of fully remote workers polled by Bright Horizons said they go days without leaving the house. Those who work in-office spend nearly a quarter of their time in virtual meetings, while face-to-face meetings account for only 8% of their time, according to Cushman & Wakefield. Americans have tripled the time spent in meetings since 2020, Microsoft says—leaving less time for the casual interactions that social scientists say foster happiness at work. And professional coaching platform BetterUp reports since 2019, 68% said they knew their co-workers on a personal level, down from 79% five years ago.

And even more troubling are recent reports that disengagement on screen is a prediction of disengaged employees who are quietly quitting.  Research, from analytics firm Vyopta reveals workers who wound up leaving their company within a year had their cameras on just 18.4% of the time in small group meetings; those who remained at the company longer were on camera 32.5% of the time. In 2023, the share of workers who stayed muted for the entirety of a meeting was 7.2%, up from 4.8% in 2022. (Axios)

On the other hand, usage of on-screen social media for hours on end has become a relied-upon activity. Perhaps to counter the feeling of loneliness and being alone. Does it offer some respite? Or is it a temporary fix?  We all know that the happy face of social media is often a mirage covering  up a less-than-perfect personal life.

All this seems to tee up a magic and opportunistic moment for leaders and aspiring leaders to lead, even if these individuals are experiencing their own angst personally and professionally.

The Right Stuff

The basic toolkit for successful leaders has changed and will continue to evolve as the work environment shifts. Leaders still need the basics to run the business, but the role has changed from a top-down decision-maker to an empathetic and facilitative colleague. We know it’s a lot to ask leaders to be group dynamics pros, but person-to-person skills as a wise mentor is invaluable with younger workers. It is and always will be important to “read the room” or in today’s terms “read the screen.”.

Two of the biggest complaints among those who are disconnected and frustrated are that they need clarification of exactly what is expected of them, and they want to learn, not be told what to do. Our newsletters and our book, The Truth About Transformation, are devoted to the necessity of recognizing how humans face transitions, be it losing a loved one, suffering an illness or changing a role or responsibilities at work. We typically define ourselves and our self-worth by what we accomplish, our role and our responsibilities. Over time, that sense of self-worth transfers to how we value our accomplishments and contributions. If we are disconnected and frustrated, it is likely because of a re-evaluation of our self-worth. In short, imposed, external change (read transition) without guidance or understanding can undermine even the most confident person.

With virtual work environments, impersonal meetings and a heads-down-get-it-done focus,  interpersonal communications matter more now than ever have before. It is time for enlightenment.

Great leaders are enlightened leaders.  Brian Gorman describes them as “leaders who are attuned to their employees. They are alert to the external world and its impact on the organization, its people, and its products and services. They are constantly learning and growing, never assuming that ‘this is the way we do it around here’ is inviolate or that what worked in the past is what is needed to succeed in the future.” So, who are these people?

Renaissance Leaders

At 2040 we work with our clients to practice mindful leadership with a holistic view of the organization in context of the marketplace. We know that most people don’t quit their jobs, they quit their leaders and managers. We have redefined great leaders as Renaissance Leaders. These are individuals who are able to synthesize the relevance of external factors with an understanding of how current events, cultural shifts, consumer trends, and market dynamics affect the human factor – their workforce.

We do not live in silos; everything is happening around us and to us all at the same time, all the time.  Yet too often organizations operate in silos, separating everything from overall strategy to revenue streams. For example, think about the lack of teamwork in a typical event company when the registration team is incentivized differently from the expo sales team.  One department believes it exists independently and doesn’t even bother communicating with the others. Another team ignores the inter-dependencies among departments viewing collaboration as fruitless and frustrating. Or in retail when in-store sales teams are commissioned differently than online sales. You could look at it better through the lens of unified commerce, which relates to most organizations. If everyone is rewarded as part of a whole, it can foster better teamwork and cooperation. And that’s where enlightened leaders come in.

Worker Archetypes

Enlightened leaders see the bigger picture.  They are also attuned to each individual. There are plenty of segmentation studies identifying workstyles and personalities, including  Myers-Briggs and other more prosaic descriptions (vegetables, animals and colors). We recently came across a new one by way of Inc. that is straightforward and easy to get. The general idea is that if you don’t understand what’s motivating individual employees, you can’t manage them. Builders, Busy Bees, Bullies and Believers are four ways to bucket your workers and customize your communications and leadership style. And enlightened leaders can address each behavioral preference clearly.

  • “Builders are the innovators and problem-solvers. They look for ways to improve processes, create new solutions, and drive the company forward. They thrive on challenges, are attracted to iteration, and are not afraid to take smart risks. Provide them with opportunities to take on new projects, encourage their creativity, and give them the autonomy to experiment and learn from their mistakes.
  • “Busy Bees are the workhorses of a high-performing team. They are reliable, efficient, and are generally willing to put in the extra effort to get the job done. However, they can sometimes get caught up in the day-to-day tasks and lose sight of the bigger picture. Focus them on impact instead of just output and encourage them to take on more strategic roles to think differently, help them understand how their work ladders to the larger company objectives, provide them with opportunities for growth and development and challenge them to think beyond their current responsibilities.
  • “Bullies can be disruptive to team dynamics, generously referred to as ‘brilliant jerks.’ They may be high performers, but their aggressive or uncooperative behavior creates a toxic work environment and wreaks havoc on everyone around them.  It’s essential to address their behavior early on and set clear expectations for teamwork and collaboration. A University of Pennsylvania study reports intervention strategies that provide practical support and enhance behavioral skills are more successful in influencing actions. Bullies are bad news if the behavior isn’t adequately addressed and the toxic environment they create, the negative impact on team morale and psychological safety, the high turnover of good employees, and the potential damage to the organization’s reputation and culture aren’t intervened.
  • “Believers have fully bought into the company’s mission and values. They are passionate about their work and willing to go above and beyond to contribute to the team’s success. To keep them engaged and motivated, recognize their contributions, provide them with opportunities for growth and leadership, and involve them in decision-making processes.”

Clearly, you can create your own behavioral segments, but these four simplify attitudes and approaches that can be managed, if not easily, at least with empathy.

Rising Above It

Leaders, as well as organizations, need new rules. Let’s start with leaders and the nuances of how they can be more effective with today’s workforce. They need to actively listen and overrule any bias that seeps into filtering how they hear people.  Open, transparent dialogues are critical, even if they may be uncomfortable. Critical thinking is the foundation of all interactions and problem-solving. In as much as humanly possible look at any situation impartially without personal beliefs or opinions clouding the issue. Mentor, often and honestly without dictating knowledge. Empower each employee, helping them strengthen the networked team with the power of the whole. Be a lifelong learner, curious and able to bring insights to the team, connecting insights into meaningful observations and openings for innovation.

Organizations can become Renaissance role models for employees by manifesting the strengths of their Renaissance Leaders. First and foremost, organizations need to find, articulate and follow their North Star. They need to be clear about their market orientation. They need to state their values and ethics and follow them. They also need to alleviate their managers of unnecessary busy work and obstacles preventing them from leading and empowering their teams. They need to embrace empathy, the importance of clear communication, and the recognition that humans need nurturing. They need to help employees make transitions and define/redefine who they are, whether that be to pursue a new personal endeavor or at work.

Words to Work By

Cutting to the chase, we’ve collected a few words of wisdom that can help reconnect to enlightened leadership when facing obstacles and challenges.  Some are borrowed and some are fusions of phrases we’ve grown up with. Create your own Enlightened Leaders checklist to help keep grounded when you need to. After all, it’s common sense.

    • Reach for the stars but keep your feet on the ground.
    • Judge on accomplishment, not time spent.
    • Value others, walk in their shoes.
    • Be empathetic, seek to understand what motivates a person
    • Everyone puts their pants on like the rest of us, one leg at a time.
  • Memories are what you remember, not necessarily what happened.
  • Don’t make assumptions, be constructive, open and direct.
  • Do no harm.

The Renaissance

In the end, we are all human.  We eat, sleep, cry, laugh, and love. We also want to talk, be understood, and contribute to something bigger than ourselves. We want to matter. In retrospect as we moved away from the hierarchical industrial models, we began to acknowledge humans as humans and not as cogs in a machine. In a digital age fraught with AI-rendered information, images and robot co-workers, we need to reconnect with the fact that we are all more the same than different.

The 21st-century Renaissance will be led by leaders who understand and celebrate the human factor. They will recognize the importance of being human in a digital age.  And they will rely on their toolbox of empathetic skills to match their business prowess.

Get “The Truth about Transformation”

The Truth about Transformation Book Cover ImageThe 2040 construct to change and transformation. What’s the biggest reason organizations fail?  They don’t honor, respect, and acknowledge the human factor.  We have compiled a playbook for organizations of all sizes to consider all the elements that comprise change and we have included some provocative case studies that illustrate how transformation can quickly derail.

Order your copy today and let us know what you think!

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