Last week’s article which was an Open Letter to the Modern Leader elicited a bunch of responses but they were -maybe unsurprisingly- mostly in private. This is both good and bad, let me try and explain.
It’s bad because any debate, discourse or dialogue that is private and is not in the public arena when what it pertains to is one of the stringent topics of culture, state of mental health and the dynamics of the new workplace paradigms, is a loss of opportunity learning-wise. There’s so much still that has been left undiscussed and unclear that any chance we get to elucidate any of these topics, we ought to take.
Furthermore, the real reason these conversations are behind closed doors is fear. Impression Management. Believing that if we take them to the open some type of loss of status will occur. That’s never a good thing. Never. And this we need to address and address fast.
But it’s also good and I’ll tell you why - it’s because most topics around the enterprise and even more so, “leadership” that suggest in any way shape or form that there is an insufficiency going on, typically elicit a strong herd mentality negative response. It’s not undeserved of course, it is utterly proportionate with the amount of injustice and suffering many of us had to put up with in our long and often sad corporate lives and there’s much to accuse, there’s no double about that.
But, as I said over and again in this newsletter - the “us versus them” mentality is one of the biggest hurdles we must overcome.
That is because there’s no way we will ever be genuinely rid of fear before everything has been out in the open in a compassionate way and from a creative place.
Ages ago, when the pandemic first came, we kept repeating the message that everything must be discussed all over again. The real “why”s and “how”s of work. The behaviours, the emotions, and the humans. Not the departments or the functions. The mindsets, not the processes. The essence, not the surface. To get to where we understand what works best for flexibility, we should have first dissected each and every preconceived notion about life in the workplace and constructed a brand-new reality. That way we could create from zero on good new foundations that brimmed with empathy and respect.
Together with how we are at long last starting to educate children about techniques to do efficient self-care, this could have given us as humans a chance to meet somewhere in the middle - those already in work today demanding a better life and those entering work later knowing how to be empathic towards themselves and others and that meeting would create a sustainable reality.
Incidentally, this reality is also a business imperative as we now know all too well when we can read the radical difference in numbers and results that companies who are people-centric get versus those who ignore their people issues.
The lower the HumanDebt an organisation had, the lesser these hard, foundational, cultural discussions about the very essence of things had to be. And fewer of them simply meant they were easier to tackle and more likely to have happened. When companies were not encumbered by years of undiscussed matters and their purpose and definition of work were already live topics, figuring out how to transfer these to the digital and flexible arena was a more straightforward step. And they suffer less today.
There are plenty of companies that were in decent shape culturally and did undertake some of this honest exploration to redefine leadership, to understand what work/life balance meant, to empower their people and they are sailing today. You won’t necessarily know who they are because the ones doing well are not the ones who end up front-page news because of their people issues. They’re not the banks who demanded people return to work or Elon’s firing squad and demands for overexertion topped off with the new insanity of turning offices into sleeping facilities closer to working camps than modern technology places of collaboration. They’re the ones who found their way and genuinely put their people first.
In almost all of them, openness and lack of fear is the most substantial difference. There is organisational permission for the human work, there’s the genuine desire to lower the HumanDebt, there’s empathy, there’s valuable human connection and all that translates into performance. None of these frontrunners who got flexibility and the new paradigm of work right is exempt from either of the big organisational crises from the mental health and burnout one to the lack of EQ and the leadership one, but they are working on all of them by having done the hard and searing work of throwing everything under examination when they should have done and encouraging their people to open-heartedly co-create the future of work with them.
And they’ll be winning further. We’ll know their names when the history of the workplace looks back on this period and attributes their stock-market success to the smart people moves of now that made them truly people-centric and eliminated their HumanDebt but until then we can only work on our own selves to eliminate fear when we can, to remind all that we have to work together and do the human work obsessively and be resilient enough to wait for it all to get better and emotionally invested enough to do our part to get there.
As you know, I'm in the midst of writing "Tech-Led Culture" and if you can think of examples of these companies that have done the hard work and are en route to a safe people-first culture please let me know so I look at them and include them. Even if you have to tell me in private.
Related: Open Letter to the Modern Leader