Leadership in a post-COVID hybrid workspace world, with Donald Thompson and Bradley Kirkman

Today, Bradley Kirkman and Donald Thompson discuss the future of work through the lens of emotional intelligence, generational differences in leadership, and diversity in the C-suite.

Donald Thompson is an executive coach, CEO of The Diversity Movement, and host of the Donald Thompson Podcast.

Bradley L. Kirkman is the General (Ret.) H. Hugh Shelton Distinguished Professor of Leadership in the Poole College of Management at North Carolina State University.


Jenny: Thank you again, both for being here and Brad, I thought what would be really good for us to kind of kick off our conversation today, a lot of the work that you do obviously is with leaders of organizations. And I’d be curious to hear what you have heard and experienced in the last several months about how leaders are coping post COVID and how they’re moving forward in their organizations.

Bradley: Yeah. that’s a great question, and there’s obviously been a lot of pain points, for leaders in the last couple of years, and when I’m working with them, I always ask them the same question when I’m kind of kicking off a session or a meeting, you know, what’s keeping you and your other leaders up at night.

What are your biggest challenges that you’re facing right now? And there are two that seem to get repeated quite a bit. One is how to figure out how to work, in this new way of the hybrid kind of working, you know, you’ve got, some people are face to face, some are remote, we’re exploring different ideas around hybrid arrangements, which is the most challenging I think a situation right now, we know a lot about working a hundred percent face to face because we’d done it forever. We actually know a lot about working a hundred percent remote cause we’ve had virtual teams for over 25 years. 

What we don’t know is how to structure work in a more hybrid type fashion. So questions would be like, who comes into the office? When do they come in? How do you make decisions about who should be a hundred percent in the office, who should be a hundred percent remote? There are a lot of fairness issues involved in those decisions because a lot of companies are leaving it up to individual managers and leaders to make those decisions.

And they likely use different rules, different policies, and it can leave people kind of feeling kind of treated unfairly. In the end with this hybrid working the decisions really come down to what jobs cannot be done remotely, and which ones can, and there are a lot of issues to consider., and there’s also personal preferences. We’re finding that some people actually work more effectively from home than they do in the office, but others want that office environment. So you need to balance the nature of each person’s job with their own preferences for remote work. And it gets very, very complicated quickly. 

The second major challenge, and everyone’s heard of this, we’re talking about the great resignations. I almost think it should be called the great reshuffling, because even though there are some people resigning and retiring from the workforce altogether, we’ve seen that the vast majority of people are just moving on to different jobs, and something similar happened in the US after 9/11, and also after the great recession. Oh, that one wasn’t necessarily by choice, but these significant, and really from some ways traumatic events kind of stop people in their tracks. And make them really think about what they’re doing with their lives.

I mean, at the end of the day, we spent a lot of our time in our lives working. And so people want to know that what they’re doing is meaningful, that it really has a purpose. And I’ll just cite one study that was conducted actually before the pandemic in 2018, by a company called Better up Consulting.

And that company found that nine out of 10 people would trade money to do more meaningful work. And in fact, that study found that they would be willing to give up about 25% of their entire future lifetime earnings to do something more meaningful. And I would guess that was again, pre pandemic. I would guess that that trend has only increased during the pandemic.

The problem is only about 40% of them said they were currently doing meaningful work. So all of them want it and they would give up more money to do it, but many of them don’t have it. So I think that those two things, the hybrid working arrangements and the great resignation really stick out as two things that are keeping leaders up at night.

Don: That’s right on target with what I’m hearing and in the work that we’re doing, and the leaders that I talked to the thing that I will add in addition to that is that the expectations for leaders to be more empathetic, to be more focused on belonging of their employees, to be more emotive in what they’re doing is certainly the right thing to do.

People are embracing that, but everything that we do or don’t do comes at a cost. And so that means leaders are spending more time on things that they’re not fully equipped, trained for, or experienced in. So anytime you do the first thing, something for the first time, whether it’s run a mile five miles or 10, right.

You’re conditioning for that new thing is not necessarily there, if it’s the first time you’ve run a mile in a while, for the first time you’d run five miles. So now think about our work strength, our work conditioning leaders have not been conditioned to focus on the empathetic side of the employee experience as much.

So there’s a lot of anxiety and stress coupled with, now we’re in this moment where people are hypersensitive and hyper aware of the way conversations should or shouldn’t be had in the workplace. So there’s this entire new dynamic that is now on the leadership plate at a pretty high level, but the associated readiness has not been made available.

And anytime you’re doing something that’s highly important, highly emotive, but you don’t feel ready, that is a stress enabler. And so I’m seeing with leaders that they’re not necessarily debating the move of culture having more meaning, the movement of employees having more empowerment, but the lack of readiness to deal in that moment is creating a higher degree of stress and uncertainty among leaders.

Jenny: Thinking about that, how do we prepare leaders for that? This is kind of a throw them in, drink by the fire hose right, but are there things that we could be doing to better prepare our leadership teams for this type of work?

Full Episode Transcript

The Poole Podcast is hosted by Jenny Hammond, the CMO at Poole College. This is a production of Earfluence.

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