Work: the conditions we've created and the future of leadership [2/3]
How to practice relational leadership + disturb and adapt systems
Are we willing to do this work now?
One of the most calming and powerful actions you can do
to intervene in a stormy world
is to stand up and show your soul.
Soul on deck shines like gold in dark times.
Clarissa Pinkola Estes | You were made for this
We’ve spent the last many years engineering the vulnerability and emotion out of work.
We’ve allowed leadership to become transactional. In an attempt to minimize our emotional investment — perhaps to more easily cope with how heavy leadership can feel on a daily basis, even without a global pandemic — many of us have chosen to compartmentalize our work persona from our home persona. Work towards outputs. Live in quantitative data and numbers. Honor rules, processes, and compliance above all else. Make it clear, in all of our actions, that financial results are all that matters. Operate with transactional leadership.
Both sides — the employer and the employee — have contributed to these conditions.
Employers have exploited the employee's desire to please and perform — in hopes of validating worthiness and the possible promise of progression. Right or wrong, employers have been complicit in the volume of work and have bet on the continuation of over-commitment.
Employees have disregarded and dismissed boundaries. Employees have acquiesced to the overwork. Employees have failed to say, “enough.”
Employees are finally getting brave enough to reevaluate their relationship with work. Questioning workaholism and the relentless hustle exacerbated by the virtual workplace. The boundaries we don’t hold because we lack the transition between home and physically crossing the threshold of the office doors. The boundaries we don’t hold because we lack the skills and practices to own and care for our self-worth.
Although the power dynamic between the employer and the employee has spun, the gravity of our collective accountability to create environments where we can do our best work — no matter where we work — is integral to bringing the future of work here, now.
We’re in a place where relational leadership is the way forward — it’s always been the way. Putting back into work what we’ve taken out — humanity, vulnerability, connection, empathy, trust, belonging — requires us to do the work we’ve always avoided and hesitated to do.
The practices of the relational leader
The skills and practices leaders and teams need at work — to foster trust, innovation, creativity, collaboration, equity, and inclusivity — demand whole humans who value themselves so they can see, value, and be in service to others. Relational leaders who choose to:
Practice self-inquiry - prioritize a relationship with ourselves so that we are conscious of the signals our body gives us when we are overwhelmed, over-committed, and overworked. A practice that supports us in learning to advocate for ourselves by recognizing and meeting our own needs.
Examine emotions and stories - make space to examine our feelings and the stories we build that stem from our greatest fears and inadequacies — amplified by uncertainty and complexity — so that we can fulfill our greatest capacity as humans and leaders.
Manage energy - be responsible for the choices we make when investing our time, emotions, and energy. Knowing the signs when we’ve disregarded our own values and boundaries that make it harder to manage our own reactions and emotions like generative, capable grown-ups. Set an example of what it looks like to take good care of ourselves.
Build resilience - choose to do courageous and hard things like honoring our self-worth and living in alignment with our values and integrity, especially in our relationships with others. Doing things that challenge our discomfort with vulnerability, curiosity, generosity, and boundaries like telling someone they’re not meeting expectations, supporting them in closing the gap, and then exiting them from the company. Knowing when to make space and how to process through the emotions, stories, and stress that come with constant uncertainty and the emotional weight of leadership and caring about people.
Pair self-compassion with empathy - genuinely care about and guide the people we influence and lead, even if that means we may feel discomfort, disappointment, pain, or loss. Acknowledge the self-care and self-compassion we need in order to hold space for others who require our empathy and energy.
Shift inequitable and inadequate systems - challenge the seemingly untouchable and infallible systems and pathways we use to operate the business and do our work. Starting with how we use money and power; how we pay and promote people; how we measure value, prioritize work, and make (or avoid and undermine) decisions. Fully integrating a diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging lens into our systems, ways of working, leadership, and decision making.
This work has always been here for us. Are we willing to do this work now? What is getting in the way? Are we open to putting down the false selves we bring to work? Are we prepared to deconstruct and reshape the societal and cultural ideals we hold about work, money, value, hustling, and results? Are we ready to face all the ways in which we sabotage the meaning and connection we so desperately crave?
Four things to do today
Many of us are asking, what is the work? It’s not enough to read this. What are the actions you are willing to take?
Prioritize health and well-being
Choose one day this week to set aside 15 minutes and ask yourself, how will I take care of my health and well-being so I can lead from a place of service and strength?
Then, for the next 30 days, choose one thing on your list to prioritize and practice in support of your health and well-being.
Consider some of these:
Go see an old friend.
Ask someone for help with something.
Listen without fixing.
Sleep for a full eight hours.
Eliminate one meeting from your calendar this week.
Intentionally schedule deep work sessions in your day.
Choose one source: phone, text, email, social, or apps, and turn all notifications off.
Plan an in-person restorative and strategic experience with your team.
Lay on the floor when you feel overwhelmed and count your breath.
Leave town for at least one day.
Drink 3-4 liters of water today.
Cut out alcohol, processed foods, and sugar for one day.
Get in as much nature as possible for one hour each week.
Go outside and play a game of hopscotch.
Put down all electronics at least an hour before bed one day this week.
Go for a walk by yourself, without a phone, music, or podcast, and tell yourself you’re doing a good job.
Have a conversation with your manager about reasonable workload.
Hire a coach or a therapist.
Change your rhythm (#2 below).
Change your rhythm
Take 45 minutes to look at your own individual operating rhythm and the work you’re prioritizing. Zoom out. At a 30,000 foot level, look across your calendar for the month — inside and outside of work. Categorize the events you see: meetings, actual work time, exercise, breaks, rest, fun, thinking space, nourishment, and connection with others. Categorize the work streams and projects you’ve been focused on.
Consider how you’ve designed the days across your weeks and within your month. Be conscious of the rhythm you’re moving through, and ask yourself:
1) Where am I choosing to put my investments of time and energy?
2) How am I managing my energy?
3) What do I need that I’m not getting (and who is responsible for those needs)?
4) Where am I on auto-pilot?
5) Where do I want to put more strategic effort in or take some effort out? What can I adjust?
It takes diligence, discipline, intention, thought, and preparation to design work — and our lives — in a way that gives us what we want and need. The lack of face-to-face serendipity in virtual work means we need to intentionally design space into our operating rhythms for connection, rest, deep work, and clarity. Intentionally engineering back in what we need that we’re not getting anymore.
Revisit decisions with a DEIB lens
Choose a day at the end of your work week and schedule 30 minutes with yourself in a quiet room. Take a notebook or journal with you. Make a list of all the decisions — small and big — you made this week and ask yourself: Did I consider diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) in my decisions?
For decisions yet to be made, ask: How will I ensure I consider DEIB in the future?
If you’re ready to look even deeper, consider:
1) How will this decision have an impact on those who don't have power or authority?
2) Will this decision penalize or marginalize portions of our workforce?
3) Who in my network has the DEIB lens already integrated? And how can I ask them for their perspective and support?
Notice where systems need to be disturbed and adapted
For one week, as you do your work on your own and with others, make a list of tensions in a notebook — things that feel frustrating, inconvenient, or uncomfortable. Then, at the end of the week, take 30 minutes to review the tensions you’ve recorded and name the themes you see.
If you’re struggling to identify tensions, answer these questions:
1) Where do I bump up against the same problem over and over?
2) What unproductive behaviors am I noticing in myself and others (back-channeling, gossiping, complaining, blaming, resentment, lack of decision making, lack of initiative)?
3) Where do I notice myself or others going around systems or people to get what I/they need?
Of all the tensions you’ve noticed and themed, prioritize one. Within that tension, identify one uncomfortable conversation you may be avoiding that’s associated. Or, identify one small experiment you can try for a week to alleviate it. See what you learn. Talk to others who’ve experienced similar tensions and share what you’ve tried. Next week, try another. Improve what’s in your power.
Perspective-taking: The act of perceiving a situation or understanding a concept from an alternative point of view.
“It’s not that [relational] leadership excludes data...you’re just making it much more holistic and you’re centering around people instead of just numbers and sanitized data.”
Aiko Bethea with Brené Brown on Inclusivity at Work: the Heart of Hard Conversations - Part One and Part Two via the Dare to Lead Podcast
“Before the pandemic 5% of work in America was done remotely and 27% of employers offered flexible hours; today the numbers are 40% and 88% respectively. The hybrid workplace will be a messy concoction. Left to develop organically, it is more likely to exacerbate existing inequalities than reduce them.”
How to Ensure that the Future of Work is Fair for All by Sacha Mauta via The Economist
“The age of the manager as a gatekeeper is done; today’s successful leaders are empathetic coaches who focus on creating environments of connection and trust.”
The End of Business as Usual: The Power of Empathetic Management in an Age of Uncertainty by Sheela Subramanian via Future Forum
“Starting with the “endings” means to look at what is presently ending, coming to a close, here to shed, or ready to stop...In doing so, we are relieved from unnecessary burdens or confusion of obligation or responsibilities that used to be real or present for us.”
Wondering what’s next? Start with endings by Jim Marsden via Reboot
“With a growing Trust gap and trust declines worldwide, people are looking for leadership and solutions as they reject talking heads who they deem not credible.”
Edelman Trust Barometer via Edelman
“We need programs and solutions that help everyone in the company be healthy, and they have to go far beyond wellbeing.”
The Healthy Organization: Next Big Thing in Employee Wellbeing by Josh Bersin via Insights on Corporate Talent, Learning, and HR Technology
“The future of work is less about how we re-configure cubicles and more about how we redesign our relationship with work. That redesign begins, in part, with an examination of your values. And, by extension, the values of your organization.”
Create Your Own Future of Work from the Inside Out by Karen Mangia
- Mack + Mat