How Do You Define Freedom?

When you hear or read the word “freedom,” what is the first thing that comes to mind?

In the US, the 4th of July marks the anniversary of thirteen colonies declaring independence from Britain. They gained their freedom from British rule and government.

In contrast, Canada Day, celebrated on the 1st of July, marks the anniversary of four separate colonies uniting into a single dominion with the British Empire. They gained their freedom to.

Both holidays celebrate freedom, but from very different perspectives. One is freedom from, and the other, freedom to.

But is it really a matter of perspective?

The words freedom, free will, and liberty are frequently used interchangeably. However, according to Wendy Hui Kyong Chun, Ph.D, author of Control and Freedom: Power and Paranoia in the Age of Fiber Optics (MIT, 2006), there is significant difference:

Liberty is linked to human subjectivity; people have (or have not) liberty.

Free will is the quality of being free from control.

Freedom can exist within a state of liberty: a person can be liberated but not experience freedom. Just as control differs from discipline, freedom differs from liberty.

And then there is the matter of negative liberty (or negative rights) and positive liberty (or positive rights.) In Two Concepts of Liberty, Isaiah Berlin wrote that “I am slave to no man,” as an example of negative liberty, and “I am my own master,” as an example of positive liberty.  

How do you experience freedom and liberty? Are you your own master?

Defining Freedom

Consider how you may have defined freedom pre-pandemic. Was it a feeling? Was it an abstract principle? Was it the ability to do what you wanted, when you wanted? You may have given it little thought; freedom may have been something you took for granted. For many, this became abundantly clear during the pandemic lock-downs and the renewed focus against systemic racism.

Yet for persons of color, women, LGBTQ communities, or any oppressed persons, freedom is rarely taken for granted. The struggle was, and remains, real. For others, the struggle might be a matter of awareness that requires a shift in mindset.

What if we acknowledge the freedom of privilege and choice where it exists? What if we manage our time and energy better, and advocate for others?

Freedom Management

In “Time Management Won’t Save You,” (Harvard Business Review, June 2021), Dane Jensen wrote, “time management is like digging a hole at the beach: the bigger the hole, the more water that rushes in to fill it.” That pretty well describes it. Maybe it’s not about time management, it’s about freedom management.

Of course, productivity matters. But choosing what to choose is critical. Here are a few strategies to exercise freedom.

Freedom Strategies

Clarify values, identify choices (and which really matter), and prioritize tasks that align with values.  This requires an attitude of gratitude and the ability to set boundaries:

When it is in your power to do so, say “thank you, no,” to tasks that don’t align with your values or priorities. When it is not in your power to do so, engage in a collaborative discussion to prioritize the request. This strategy aids in the reduction of tasks.

Recognize and reduce decision fatigue with absolute principles. Seemingly unlimited options and choices can overwhelm even the most experienced leaders. Create rules about your decision-making and decisions. For example, I won’t eat anything between 7:00pm and 11:00am; I will research options for 48 hours, make a decision, and then let it go; I will limit my time on social media to 15 minutes each day, including the time it requires to respond to direct inquiries.

Block task-time on your calendar in order of priority (i.e. #1 priority on Monday, #2 on Tuesday, etc.) to safeguard your time and prevent distractions. For managers and leaders, this can include open-door or on-call hours when you are available. Block a few minutes between meetings to capture notes, process, and reflect.

Together, these strategies work to reduce how many tasks we take on, how many decisions we must make, and the number of distractions that can interrupt us, depleting our time and energy.

Exercising Our Freedom

The very subtle stories we tell our self about our own limitations often block us from exercising the freedom we do have. These stories are often a form of self-handicapping: we anticipate a real or imagined obstacle that might get in the way of success and use it as an excuse to do nothing.

This behavior is not uncommon, even for great managers and leaders. We do it unconsciously to protect our self from the pain (and fear) of failure. It may look like procrastination or lack of time.  It might feel like “I can’t,” or, “I don’t have the freedom to…” But, what if you could? What if you do?

More Freedom and Power at Work

Here is an exercise to explore the freedom and power you have at work:

Block 15 minutes on your calendar where you will not be interrupted or distracted.

Reflect on your career path, and identify the projects that you enjoyed the most.

What were your actual actions, or tasks?

Did these projects rely on your strengths, or allow you to develop new skills?

How were you involved in establishing goal- and benchmark setting? What about processes to achieve the goal?

If you had the freedom to change your work, what would that look like? For example, which tasks or projects could you swap with someone who would find them more enjoyable or fulfilling? Which strengths would you like to better utilize or develop?

It’s easy to unintentionally lose power and get stuck, especially today. We have been inundated with obstacles and barriers outside of our control, and we feel disappointed, angry and frustrated. Many of us have been holding ourselves back, waiting for better times. If you have trouble with self-handicapping or embracing your freedom, a qualified coach can help.

Leadership, Trauma, and Recovery

The way we live and work has changed dramatically the past year, upending our routines, our identities, and for many, our sense of security. The trauma of job insecurity, health insecurity, major intergenerational loss, and culture assaults leave us reeling and impact our productivity. Leaders are concerned about their employee’s well-being and safety.

Traditionally, when employees share or demonstrate a need for assistance, we rely on our human resources department (or representative) to step in.

However, leaders and managers who are able to work with HR and their employees through trauma recovery are of greater help to those they lead —and their entire organization.

The Catalyst for Change

It’s no wonder that reports of anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are on the rise. Experiencing violence (as a victim or witness), a serious illness, or the death of a loved one can trigger post-traumatic stress. Unfortunately, fear, misunderstanding, and lack of trust prevent many employees from seeking assistance or even reporting events.

Trauma can impact anyone. Great leaders recognize this. They understand that how we manage trauma can define our life. The best leaders share openly about their own struggles, how they manage uncertainty, and are able to engage others to share their story. Why?

Individual wellbeing matters in every organization, small or large. When leaders and managers are equipped to treat everyone with care and compassion, everyone benefits.

In Posttraumatic Growth: Theory, Research, and Applications, (Routledge, 2018), authors Richard G. Tedeschi, Jane Shakespeare-Finch, Kanako Taku, and Lawrence G. Calhoun share their research on trauma and how leaders can help traumatized people recover. According to Tedeschi, “…despite the misery resulting from the coronavirus outbreak, many of us can expect to develop in beneficial ways in its aftermath.”

What is Trauma?

Although trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are frequently used interchangeably, they are different. Trauma is time-based, can be experienced more than once by an individual, and there are multiple types of trauma:

  • Physical or psychological
  • A one-time event
  • Historical – this type of trauma is often associated with racial and ethnic population groups in the United States who have suffered major intergenerational losses and assaults on their culture and well-being
  • Traumatic grief/separation/forced displacement
  • Natural disasters
  • Witnessing any of the above traumatic events

Responses to trauma can be expressed through emotions and/or behavior, and can impede an individual’s ability to function.

What is PTSD?

PTSD is a longer-term condition that can develop as a result of trauma, however, not all traumatic events lead to PTSD. Re-experience of the event can occur through flashbacks, dreams, and thoughts. Common signs and symptoms of PTSD include:

  • Avoidance of people, places, or memories of the event
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Being easily startled
  • Feelings of guilt or blame for the event
  • Outbursts of anger
  • Constant state of agitation/arousal  (not triggered by traumatic event reminder)
  • Event memory lapse
  • Negative thinking about self/world
  • Loss of interest in pleasure, family, or friends

PTSD symptoms can begin as early as three months post trauma or years after, occur for more than a month, and interfere with work, relationships, and daily tasks. A diagnosis of PTSD can be done by a trained medical professional, but leaders who have a greater understanding of the condition can aid in the recovery process.

What Leaders Need to Know about PTG

Post-traumatic growth (PTG) occurs through the struggle with adversity and results in a transformative, positive change. Based on the research published by Lawrence G. Calhoun and Richard G. Tedeschi in The Handbook of Posttraumatic Growth (Routledge, 2014), people who make meaning out of trauma:

  • Increase their sense of personal strength and ability to prevail
  • Improve their relationships and sense of belonging
  • Experience greater compassion
  • Deepen their sense of purpose and appreciation for life

Research also reveals the benefits of small support groups. These offer the opportunity to share our stories, an invaluable tool in PTG.

PTG at Work: What Managers Need to Know

Managers and team leaders can provide a psychologically safe-space where employees can share their stories, restore their wellbeing, and re-affirm their sense of purpose. Below are five key questions to help employees validate their experience and move forward constructively through the pandemic recovery:

  • What is your greatest loss as a result of the pandemic?
  • What is your greatest gain as a result of the pandemic?
  • What self-discoveries have you, or are you making as a result of the pandemic?
  • How can you apply your discoveries going forward? What would it look like?
  • What can you use to prompt you to apply your discovery? Specifically, what two words or phrase?

Remind your team to refrain from cross talk (don’t interrupt or comment on what someone else has said), as well as keeping what is shared confidential. You see, listening as “attentive companions” creates and holds a safe space for one another. When we use storytelling based on these questions, we express authenticity, vulnerability, and trust: for and in others.

Your Trauma Recovery:
What Employees Need to Know

As many return to pre-pandemic routines, trauma and trauma recovery are frequent topics of discussion. For some, the challenges have brought a new appreciation (and recognition) of personal strengths. They are exploring new possibilities personally and professionally.

If you’re not there yet, know you are not alone. Help is available. While post-traumatic growth (PTG) may happen naturally, there are steps you can take to facilitate the process.

Five Ways to Facilitate Growth after Trauma

A traumatic event is often shocking, scary, and sometimes, dangerous. It disrupts our beliefs and challenges our assumptions. Trauma can produce anxiety and repetitive thoughts.

  1. Educate: Trauma disrupts our beliefs, challenges our assumptions, and can be a catalyst of positive change. Consider where you might find positive impacts.
  2. Regulate emotions: Notice feelings as they occur. Then, determine what thoughts preceded negative feelings. Replace negative thinking with positive thoughts.
  3. Share your story: Talk about your experience: past and present.
  4. Create an authentic narrative: In what ways are you changing or have you grown? Where are new possibilities and opportunities?  
  5. Be of service: Helping others can renew our energy and help us find meaning.

Be patient with yourself. When you are ready, the effort is worth it: you are worth it. If you need help, ask your manager, a trusted mentor, or a qualified professional.

Inspirational Leadership

What does inspirational leadership look like in your organization? Let me ask: what impact do inspiring leaders have on performance, both organizationally, and at an individual level?

Consider this: while an employee’s mindset is important to their overall performance, without support from their leadership, even the most committed and motivated employee may not reach their potential. This became very clear during the pandemic, as studies now find. When uncertainty and anxiety are high, employees must have clear expectations and emotional support.

Unfortunately, some leaders have risen to the top through marketing or hype. They sway others to do as they ask (or command) with a lack of genuine concern for their well-being. As a result, there is a large degree of distrust and reluctance.

Conversely, inspiring leaders take action because of their care and concern for others. You see, inspirational leadership is not about being in charge, it’s about taking care of those in our charge. While rank or title may indicate leadership authority, they are not indicators of leadership ability.

Inspirational Leadership Can Be Developed

Inspiring leaders are often described by their innate traits, strengths, or title. Fundamentally, inspirational leadership is the ability to positively influence and/or motivate others. In today’s world, inspirational leadership is about connection: connecting with those you lead in ways that are meaningful to them.

You see, the relationships you create determine your abilities as an influencer. If you build trust and practice empathy in your relationships, you’ll create higher-quality connections. This may sound simple, but it poses certain challenges that require nuance and practice.

Fortunately, we can develop inspirational leadership. At the core is our ability to see those around us.

Why We Need Inspirational Leadership

In a 2017 survey recently published in Harvard Business Review, 85% of 14,500 workers across a variety of industries said they were not working at full potential. We know that external incentives or benefits alone are not enough to motivate workers. Great leaders inspire their people with why they do what they do, instead of the what and how.

When employees believe their work matters; when they have a purpose that aligns with the mission of the organization and their leader, they are more creative and productive. They care because their leaders skillfully communicate genuine care.

Engage the Heart and Mind

Great examples of this in action are those leaders who engage both the heart and mind. Consider the entire speech of Martin Luther King Jr. delivered on August 28, 1963. He didn’t begin with “I have a plan.” Nor did he open with the changes that needed to be made. He began by telling us why: why all people need to bond for a better future.

When we begin a communication with why, we engage the part of the brain most responsible for decision-making. It registers subconscious thoughts, lacks language, uses gut intuition, and is heavily influenced by feelings and drives for survival. When leaders share a greater cause and higher purpose, listeners are sifting, sorting, and deciding whether and how much to trust, and ultimately, commit. Then, leaders can focus on the how and what.

How Leaders Inspire (or Not)

The pressures of the pandemic have affected our communication. We’ve reverted to old school communication styles that are less effective: define the problem, analyze it, and recommend a solution.

If you want to inspire and motivate others, this approach does not work. Worse, it can create more problems. Employees who disagree, have other ideas, or ingrained habits won’t respond well to a perceived command and control order, or a lecture on beliefs.

Communication That Inspires

Leaders inspire their audience when they pay careful attention to communication details and understand the importance of:

  • Word choice
  • Patterns  of words
  • Order of patterns

In addition to words, the language of leadership is most effective when you:

  • Can share intelligent stories and narratives
  • Display appropriate, congruent body language
  • Demonstrate an understanding of the audience’s story and context

What Your Audience Wants to Hear

Most of our communication is done electronically (email, phone, video-conference, etc.) and people aren’t necessarily listening. Inspiring leaders understand this, and use four methods to grab focused attention.

  • Sharing a personal story or message – sharing “why”
  • Triggering emotion – sharing “how”
  • Presenting trustworthy data or reliable source – sharing “what”
  • Using concise language, without relying on jargon (i.e. industry specific terms, abbreviations, etc.)

The Role of Positive and Negative Messaging

Personal stories that trigger emotion are more than twice as likely to resonate with your audience. Negative messages are also more effective when they illustrate the seriousness of a problem, the trajectory, and how it was and can be overcome. However, negative messages can de-motivate people.

Positive messaging creates a desire to change and sparks imagination. Clear examples of how others are making a difference appeal to the heart, and the mind. This enables your audience to see the possibilities and create their own conclusions.

What Your Audience Needs to Hear

Inspirational leadership relies on the establishment of an emotional connection, as well as sound reasoning.

The Importance of Connection: At its core, inspirational leadership is about connection: connecting with those you lead in ways that are meaningful to them. The relationships you create determine your abilities as a motivator. For example, if you are empathic and establish trust in your relationships, you’ll create higher-quality connections.

Encourage individuals to speak truth to power. Create an environment where there is safe-space to share ideas, including disagreement and dissent. This enables greater collaboration and innovation.

The Importance of Compelling, Sound Reasoning: Any desire or willingness to change will wane unless it’s reinforced by compelling, sound reasons. Appeal to your audience in story forms that communicate:

  • Why: why the change is needed
  • What: what the change is and how it will impact them
  • How: the change will be implemented
  • Why this change will work: the sound reasoning

Inspirational leadership creates a scaffolding­—a catalyst for a creative process—that enables an audience to see the world for themselves, view their relationships in a new way, and make progress in reaching their full potential.

Your Heroic Journey

Where are you in your heroic journey?

This is not a rhetorical question. Nor should it be answered flippantly. Certainly, it has taken many years (and experiences) to become who you are today. And it hasn’t been easy.

However, out of our setbacks, and even failures, we have been afforded the opportunity to develop our grit: by encountering difficulty and learning to cope with it. This has made us stronger and more masterful.

If you take the time to think about it, your journey as a hero began with a call that you just couldn’t ignore. This calling required that you put aside outmoded ways of being. It required facing unknown challenges.

To move forward into the unknown the hero questions everything, including self. You see, at the core of your heroic journey is your acceptance of your true self: through self-assessment, reflection, and often times painful exploration of insufficiencies. This requires brutal honesty.

If you think you haven’t begun your journey, know that denial can only last so long. Going back is not an option. Stagnation leads to decay, and eventually death. Instead, you can take a step forward.

The Heroic Journey Guidebook

The heroic journey doesn’t have a final destination, per se. It does, however, require careful attention, focus, and even vigilance to assess where you are and how to become your best self.

Consider Doug Conant. He turned around the once struggling Campbell Soup Company, and went on to successfully lead Nabisco Foods. What is really remarkable is how he overcame being fired without warning, and considers this to be “the best thing that ever happened to him.” Why? It allowed him the time for self-reflection and discovery.

According to Conant, many leaders today are blocked from embarking on their heroic journey because they are “trying to live the corporate story,” rather than their story. In their attempt to fulfill the expectations of the outside world, they “fail to reconcile the inside world, and remain stuck.”  

Instead, we can create an entourage of excellence, find our individual leadership stories, and bring those stories to life.

Become Your Best Self

Over the past year, we’ve seen incredible acts of vulnerability and authenticity. And while we may never become heroes and sacrifice like so many did, we can become more authentic and capable of heroic deeds. We can embark on an heroic journey to our best self.

The journey to self is an intentional process. Discovering who you are and where you are at this particular point in life requires an honest assessment.

In The Blueprint: 6 Practical Steps to Lift Your Leadership to New Heights (Wiley, 2020), authors Doug Conant and Amy Federman share their experience, research, and expertise to guide you through the process.

To begin, the authors suggest three steps:

  • Write your entire life story.
    • Write by hand, rather than type.
    • If needed, start with a chronological outline, and add in the minutiae: all the intricate details you can recall.
    • Provide context. For example, what is your birth order, where were you born, what major events—near or far—were taking place, etc.
  • Identify your points of light. These are the people who y influenced in your life.
    • What were/are their standards for you?
    • How did they demonstrate care and affection for you?
    • How do you practice or model this for others?
  • Reflect and connect.
    • Explore your life story. Consider who and where you are right now.
    • Then, ask yourself: Are you living your story, or the story someone else expects?
    • Inhabit your story heroically. Be a part of the story, and not just a footnote.

Your Next Act as a Hero

To act as a hero is to be intentional. It is to create the life that is the most accurate expression of who, what, and where you want to be. While this might sound like a tall order, your next act is just one small step away.

When you take an accurate and honest assessment of yourself, and connect to what and where you want to go, you act like a hero—for yourself, and others. This allows you to:  

  • Envision who you want to be; your best self.
  • Reflect on your strengths, and how you perceive yourself: intellectually, cognitively, emotionally, physically, socially, sexually, and spiritually.
  • Transform your life.

After you’ve completed the first three steps, move on to the next three:

  • Plan. Design a life: a career, a way of being, that aligns with your true self. Identify the resources and goals you need to move forward.
  • Practice. This is where you can develop new habits. Keep them simple. Recognize each time you use your strengths and express your values.
  • Progress. Remember that heroes are not perfect; rather, they work to improve and reinforce positive habits. Your heroic journey is a process that takes perseverance.

Working with a trusted mentor or qualified coach is very helpful in this process, as is intentionally:

  • Paying attention to who you are right now and recognizing when you are your truest, best self.
  • Taking action. If needed, change your attitude, beliefs, and habits that require undoing and redoing.
  • Sharing your story. Your heroic journey is meant to be shared, with authenticity, gratitude, and humility. 

“You can either walk inside your story and own it, or you can stand outside your story and hustle for your worthiness.”Brene Brown

Get Your Career Mojo On!

How is your career mojo?

Navigating a return to work after a long absence can be daunting, especially if it requires securing a new position. Typically, most people rely on networking as a common strategy. However, with so many workers, managers, and leaders furloughed or laid off, the competition can be fierce. Add to that bias about long-term unemployment, and even great mojo can take a hit.

There remains in our culture a stigma about long-term unemployment. This is especially true for the more mature knowledge workers who internalize self-blame or stigmas. Left unchecked, long-term unemployment can suck the air out of our spirit. When this happens our mojo becomes a no go, or as Marshall Goldsmith coined it, “nojo.”

According to Goldsmith, nojo occurs when we become dispirited and confused. This is happening right now with two common mistakes: waiting for the facts to change, and looking for logic in all the wrong places. As a result, we get stuck, and stay stuck.

Fortunately, there is action we can take to navigate a successful return to work.

Avoid Mojo Traps

Waiting for the facts to change. When we experience a setback, such as a loss of a job, it’s not uncommon to wait for the facts to change into something more to our liking. Similarly, when we are given the choice between two undesirable options, we’ll often choose neither. But, in a rapidly changing world, such inaction can be akin to moving backward.

Instead, consider what action you would take if you knew the situation would not change. Ask yourself, “Which path do I choose?”

Looking for logic in all the wrong places. Have you noticed how much time and energy you spend on finding logic in situations where none exists? It’s easy to do; after all, we’re trained to value logic. However, sometimes decisions that affect us are unreasonable, unfair, or unjust.  

Instead, we can recognize and accept that human beings are profoundly illogical. We can accept the things we absolutely can not change, find the courage to change the things we can, and develop the wisdom to know the difference.

How Is Your Career Mojo?

While many workers, managers, and leaders are excited about the future of work, not everyone shares their enthusiasm.

However, according to a recent article published by Harvard Business Review, there is an estimated 1.5 million white-collar workers furloughed or laid off for six months or more. Many are asking the question, “Where do I go from here?”

When this topic comes up in my coaching conversations, we explore four key components of career mojo:

  • Knowing yourself well. For example, what are your strengths? How do you perform best? How do you learn best?
  • Identifying your core values.
  • Determining how your values fit with who you are today.
  • Taking action with purpose, power, and increasing ease.

Reclaim Your Career Mojo

Thinking about the person you are—what makes you “you”—in a realistic, positive light, can help you reclaim your career mojo. Ask yourself:

  • How have I grown in the last decade? The last year?
  • To what extent would I want to trade places with who I was 10 years ago? What about two years ago?
  • How much do I romanticize my earlier years?
  • Who do I think I want to become—and how close am I to becoming my ideal self?

Because the work we do is central to who we think are, it’s important to explore and identify our ideals. This is a purposeful step in becoming and evolving. When we tap into what motivates us in the here and now, we find passion, energy, and direction.

Optimum Career Mojo

A successful return to work requires a certain amount of mojo: those moments when we do something with purpose, power, and increasing sense of ease. When we take action in a positive direction, we reclaim our mojo.

We can begin by reflecting on the past to identify how we have grown. Reflection allows us to identify our current values and how our identity shifts over time.

Because we often operate from a template formed by past experiences, we may be unnecessarily limiting our options. Instead, we can challenge the assumptions we make about ourselves.

Your Ideal Self

Picture yourself a year from now, with your hopes and plans fulfilled.

  • What does that look like?
  • How would you describe yourself?
  • What assumptions are you making about yourself?
  • Where are you placing limits? For example, are you curtailing thoughts based on outdated perceptions about your strengths and weaknesses?
  • How can you leverage your experiences, skills, values, and passion?

A common approach for a return to work is to identify the position you’d like to have and acquire the required skills. But considering the statistics, trends, and analysis on the future of work published by McKinsey & Company, a better approach is to identify and acquire skills for your ideal self, and then find a position.

Reclaiming your mojo begins with small steps that you can take toward your ideal you. If you have trouble with that first step, start with an action that will be helpful regardless of what happens tomorrow, or next week.

For example, review and update your resume and your social media profiles. Update your contact lists and references, and review recommendations. And if you haven’t already, identify a trusted mentor, coach, or other professional who can support you through the process with objective, helpful feedback.

Post-Pandemic Work: The Future is Now

What will work look like in your organization, post-Covid? When the pandemic ends, which new normal adaptations will endure?

Our common response to massive disruption, such as a pandemic, is to hope for and assume things will return to normal. However, do we really want to return to all the old ways of doing business?

This topic comes up frequently with my clients right now. And it makes sense: planning for an uncertain future is challenging, even for great leaders and managers. They want to avoid old “bad” habits, and incorporate new policies and processes that make sense for their organization, including their employees.

Savvy leaders and managers understand the importance of an effective strategy, careful planning, and great execution in order to emerge from this pandemic.

But do we truly know, and understand, how our work has been changed?

When the Pandemic Ends…

A massive disruption provides an opportunity to examine how things were before, including our view of the future.

Based on an analysis of consumer and business trends, The McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) recently published a report on the future of work. According to MGI, remote work, digitization, and automation were accelerated by the pandemic. They predict that these trends will “have a lasting impact on workers and work, even after the pandemic.”

However, others caution about expectation management.

It is incredibly wonderful how so many have come together to create solutions, now and for the future. It is truly remarkable how we adapt: remaining flexible, creative, and productive through-out the process.

A pandemic changes the way we work, learn, and live. It alters our perceptions and expectations.

The Future of Work is Now

According to McKinsey, the pandemic highlighted the impact of physical proximity in the workplace, and spurred changes in business models. The four work arenas most affected, both short- and long-term, include:

  • Leisure and travel venues (including restaurants and hotels)
  • On-site customer interaction (including retail and hospitality)
  • Computer-based office work
  • Production and warehousing

Work Trends

Three groups of consumer and business trends are likely to persist beyond the pandemic:

  • Remote work and virtual interactions. According to their research, 20-25% of workers could work remotely 3+ days/week on a long-term basis. This represents four to five times more virtual/remote employee work/interaction than pre-pandemic.
  • Surge in use of e-commerce and other digital platforms. Digitization of products and services has grown two to five times during the pandemic. McKinsey predicts a shift to gig jobs in the independent workforce. 
  • Deployment of automation and artificial intelligence (AI). Their research found an uptick in the use of robotics, robotic process automation, and AI. In a July 2020 global survey of 800 senior executives, 66% indicated plans to invest in automation and AI, “either somewhat or significantly.”

McKinsey predicts that more than 100 million workers may need to switch occupations by 2030 as middle- and low-wage jobs decline, and more high-wage jobs increase.

Post-pandemic Leadership Decisions

Many leaders are in the process of making strategic decisions about the future of work, including whether or how to develop ongoing remote and hybrid work. The best leaders:

  • Remain flexible. Look beyond the pandemic to reimagine how and where work can be completed.
  • Consider hybrid options. Continue to analyze activities that can be completed remotely without a loss of productivity.
  • Communicate effectively. Ensure you have strong, two-way communication in place that allows everyone to raise questions, concerns, and ideas without fear of personal repercussion.

Questions for Leaders

Below are a few questions published by Harvard Business Review regarding policies and practices at your organization that could be quantified (scored on a scale) for analysis:

  • What is the nature of the work? For example, is it highly independent, or collaborative? If the later, how much management is required?
  • What is the experience level of the individuals or teams?
  • What is the employee and team preference?
  • What is the cost/savings of remote versus in office time?

From a broader perspective:

  • How do/will you support a strong company culture, in person and remotely?
  • How will changes affect HR policies? For example, what is your policy on work from anywhere (WFA)? Will compensation or benefits be adjusted relative to geography? Will training change?
  • For new or returning workers, will you require a COVID-19 vaccination?

Post-pandemic Management Preparations

According to McKinsey, employees working in a computer-based position could spend 70% of their time working remotely without losing effectiveness. As a result, they anticipate hybrid remote work for the long-term. Of course, management practices will be critical to success.

Questions for Managers

  • How will you support a healthy remote-work climate?
  • How will you support employees as they manage competing priorities, professional and personal?
  • How will you support a sense of psychological safety?
  • How will you consciously engage your employees?
  • How will you foster employee trust and accountability?
  • What tools, resources, and practices will you need, and use?

Studies find that even small doses of high-quality social interaction can lower stress and improve well-being. Predictable communications, that is to say, a predictable cadence, can foster productivity and foster trust.

High performing teams are most often led by managers who use virtual and/or face-to-face meetings to connect socially, build personal relationships, and engage all employees. The best managers ask questions, show vulnerability, share reliable information, and are open to new ideas.

Your Future of Work is Now

With a lack of communication between leaders, managers, and employees, it’s not uncommon for tensions to grow. Add to that a resistance to relinquish telecommuting and/or receive a vaccination, employees may limit their career options. Instead, employees can prepare for the future of work by focusing on their performance, expanding skills, and effective, positive communication.

Prepare Your Future Now

  • Consider returning to the office for work one day/week. If you work with a team, consider how you might share one office, rotating your time, to reduce real estate costs. Alternatively, or in addition, you might coordinate your time so you are all together, post vaccination.
  • Prepare for face-to-face meetings. Plan 25% of your meetings (with colleagues or clients) to be in-person, once we reach herd immunity.
  • Be proactive in your own goal setting and tracking. Share your intentions and results with your manager.
  • Expand your knowledge and skills. There is, and will be, a growing need for workers who can create, deploy, and maintain new technologies, as well as social and emotional skills. Participate in training, and share your experience and accomplishments with your manager.
  • Be flexible and open to new ideas, opportunities, and reassignment within your organization. McKinsey research finds that a markedly different mix of occupations may emerge post-Covid. Job growth is most likely in healthcare, STEM, warehousing, and transportation.
  • Stay positive. Agility and collaboration can lead to greater productivity, career growth, and upward mobility. Consider working with a trusted mentor or coach; let me know how I can help.

The Power of Cognitive Flexibility and Persuasion

“In a turbulent world, success depends not just on cognitive horsepower but also on cognitive flexibility. When leaders lack the wisdom to question their convictions, followers need the courage to persuade them to change their minds.” – Organizational psychologist, Adam Grant, PhD

As a coach, I work with some really incredible people who have an amazing depth of wisdom. They rely on their knowledge, skills, experience, and intuition, and it serves them well. However, they will also be the first to tell you that there have been times when they regret rejecting the opinions and ideas of others in favor of their own, let’s just say, unwise ideas.

When asked what led up to this, some will point to blind spots, or hidden bias. But others confess to simple over confidence: they wouldn’t listen to others and held fast to what they believed to be true.

It’s not uncommon for leaders. After all, their expertise often catapults them to where they are today. But, have you noticed how truly great leaders have the wisdom and courage to question their own convictions?

They do this with three key tactics:

  1. Accept that everyone has limits, including you.
  2. Surround yourself with a diversity of experts and empower them to ethically and courageously persuade you.
  3. Practice flexibility, collaboration, and compromise.

Sounds simple enough, but…why don’t we “just do it?”

Why We Believe Everything We Think

First, it’s easy to forget that we don’t know what we don’t know. Add to that how facts quickly change, either through new data, discoveries, or perspectives, and what was once right may be outdated.

Second, as leaders it’s our job to persuade others to follow us—our vision, our strategy, and our plans, even if there is a better way (or we are wrong!) Changing how we see ourselves can feel threatening.

Third, we are hard-wired to conserve mental energy. We learn something, and move on. In today’s highly competitive and fast-paced world, there is no time for second-guessing ourselves. As Adam Grant, PhD, writes in Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know(Viking, 2021), “questioning ourselves makes the world more unpredictable.”

Finally (or for now), we—including those around us—often don’t know how to use persuasion effectively. One solution to believing everything we think is to practice ethical persuasion. I’ll dive in to this in another post.

The Power of Persuasion

“A hallmark of wisdom is knowing when it’s time to abandon some of your most treasured tools, and some of the most cherished parts of your identity.” – Adam Grant

Even highly intelligent people are prone to bias that prevent them from changing their mind about a strongly held conviction. This stems, in part, from the way our brains categorize new information so that it can store and retrieve it later. When we do retrieve that information, we must re-examine it, which can be especially challenging for highly intelligent people. You see, we must search for reasons why we might be wrong, rather than being right, and adjust our understanding and convictions accordingly.

Fortunately, as Grant writes in the Harvard Business Review (March-April 2021) article, “Persuading the Unpersuadable,” it is possible for know-it-alls to learn something new (or unlearn something), for the most stubborn to change course, the narcissistic to demonstrate empathy, and the contrarian to accept and support new or different information.

Persuading the Arrogant

Depending on your knowledge, understanding, and skill level, it can be a real lesson in humility. There’s nothing like walking someone through a process to help us identify our own gaps. And it’s a great technique to overcome arrogance. Rather than point out ignorance directly, ask the know-it-all to walk you through the explanation step-by-step.

Persuading the Narcissist

While narcissism involves arrogance, it can go beyond attitude to action, including hostility and aggression. (We’ve all seen examples of narcissists pulling down others in order to stand above them.) However, one of the myths of narcissism is low self-esteem.

According to researchers, narcissism involves high, but unstable, self-esteem. So, when you appeal to their need to be admired with praise and respect, they feel more secure and open-minded. But as Grant suggests, what and how you make your appeal are critical.

“Don’t bury criticism between two compliments… narcissists are especially likely to ignore the criticism altogether,” advises Grant. Instead, offer praise for something unrelated to the topic.

For example, don’t pair a decision change request with a decision making skill compliment, rather, pair the request with genuine praise for other skills or attributes, like creativity or athleticism.

Another myth about narcissism is an inability to experience and demonstrate humility. However, narcissists can, and do. Draw on this understanding. When we feel more secure, selfishness and aggression are reduced, and we can become persuadable.  

Effective Persuasion is a Process

We are living with a great deal of uncertainty and change, and yet we expect people to act consistently from one situation to the next. The reality is that we respond to different scenarios with different personality traits and strengths.

Fortunately, even the most stubborn can be flexible, and the most disagreeable can be open-minded. Great managers and leaders pay attention to these instances. They notice when and how people change their minds. Grant describes this as “predictable if…then responses.”

Persuading the Stubborn

In the 1970’s, researchers surveyed college students on their locus of control—the degree to which they believe that outcomes can be subject to their will, from internal (choice and effort) to external (luck or fate) and their successes (and failures.) Predictably, those who scored higher on external control were more open to external persuasion, including light and forceful arguments. Those who scored higher on internal control were not persuaded by light argument, and moved in the opposite direction by forceful argument.

To harness this predictably, ask open-ended questions to spark creativity, such as “What if…?” This can plant a seed or generate new ideas. Then, take a cue from Improvisation, and “Yes, and.”

Persuading the Disagreeable

Disagreeableness, or argumentativeness, is common among the driven and competitive. They are energized by conflict, and enjoy a good fight. Smart leaders seek out the disagreeable to ensure they aren’t surrounded by “yes-people.”

However, if you need to persuade them, be prepared to battle. If you urge them to back down, they’ll double down. They want you to fight for your ideas and persuade them, often by refining your ideas with updated SWOT analysis, proofs of concept, and supporters.

A rapidly changing world requires a certain amount of thinking, and rethinking. This requires cognitive flexibility and effective persuasion; the mindsets, and skillsets.

Manage Burnout for Peak Performance

Peak performance is not what it used to be, according to leaders, managers, and employees who report teetering on the brink of burnout. And it’s not just individuals: entire organizations are at risk.

Within the first seven weeks of 2021, Harvard Business Review published six articles on the topic, including how the pandemic contributes to burnout, how to recognize burnout, and how to fight burnout. But instead, what if we could avoid burnout and maintain peak performance?

Although burnout is not classified as a medical condition or mental disorder (DSM-5), in 2019—pre-pandemic—the World Health Organization (WHO) re-defined the occupational phenomenon of burnout in the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11). According to the WHO, “burnout is a syndrome…resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed,” and includes three dimensions:

  • Feeling of energy depletion
  • Feeling of negativity/cynicism related to personal occupation or increasing mental distancing from occupation
  • Reduced professional/occupational efficacy

Typically, we avoid burnout by taking breaks: we enjoy several weeks of vacation, spend time away, and de-stress with a change of scenery and energizing activities. But for many, this has not been an option during the past year. Add to that virtual offices and work from home (WFH) practices, and stay-cations don’t recharge us like we need. Reaching and maintaining peak performance, for individuals and organizations, requires ongoing daily energy management.

Four Dimensions

Energy has four dimensions: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual (or ritual). We draw energy from each dimension, which we must replenish. To build our strength and expand our energy capacity (stamina/resilience) we must stretch ourselves beyond our usual limits and allow for rest. This cycle is referred to as stress and recovery.

Manage Your Physical Energy

We know that too much stress without recuperation can deplete our energy, and wreak havoc on our health. Left unchecked, our body’s natural cortisol response can actually weaken our immune system. Add to that overeating, and we block energy production.

To jump start your motivation and boost your physical energy:

  • Move your body. Even if it’s only a minute of stretching, jumping up and down, or a turn about a room, corridor, or neighborhood, it can generate good feelings and elevate your mood.
  • Identify SMART Stretch Goals. Your physical SMART goals can (and should) be related to activities and exercise, food and drink consumption, rest and relaxation, and wellness checkups with your medical care provider.
  • Create healthy habits and routines that support your goals. Making a decision and taking action depletes our mental and physical energy. To conserve precious brain energy, automate or eliminate decision-making.  

Physical Energy for Organizations

As a leader or manager, help your employees boost their physical energy:

  • Ensure work environments are safe.
  • Invest in building, equipment, and systems maintenance and needed upgrades.
  • Learn to recognize the warning signs of burnout, before it happens. Are your direct reports easily annoyed? Are they expressing impatience or discontent? Now is not the time to ignore it. Explore with empathy and curiosity.

Manage Your Mental Energy

Replenish your mental energy with frequent breaks from the actual thinking: complete an unrelated task, play a simple game, daydream, or meditate. Varying activities to stimulate different parts of your brain creates more mental energy. Studies also find a strong correlation between productivity and positive thinking. To boost mental energy, use these techniques:

  • Mental preparation: Willingness and optimism are key for mental toughness. Identify, control, and manage emotions. Be aware, and curious.
  • Visualization: See yourself succeed. Rehearse all the preparation and steps you will need to take to succeed. Visualize obstacles, and how you overcome them.
  • Meditation: Develop a practice of mindfulness or meditation. Begin with short sessions that focus on your breath, and grow your practice.
  • Introspection: What are you strengths? Where are your blind spots and bias? What is holding you back?
  • Reflection: Make time to feel feelings, process new experiences and information, and reflect on lessons learned. Ask for help when you need it.

Mental Energy for Organizations

If you aren’t already, consider providing spaces where employees can disengage for brief periods of time (5 – 60 minutes) to recharge their mental energy. To support a meditative atmosphere, create quiet zones with comfortable seating, floor cushions, and soft lighting. Discourage food and beverages, electronic devices, conversation, and other distractions.

Manage Your Emotional Energy

We know we are running critically low in our emotional energy when negative emotions become predominant. Fortunately, there are ways to manage negativity and build positive emotions:

  • Give yourself permission to play, even at work. Step-back, find the humor, and allow openness.
  • Phone a friend. Sometimes, picking up the phone can be the last thing we want to do, but it can be the most beneficial. If you haven’t already, hone this skill.
  • Find a way to be of service to someone else. When we spend too much time in our own heads it’s easy to lose perspective and forget that we’re not alone. Find a way to offer help or practice a random act of kindness.  

Emotional Energy for Organizations

  • Provide resources through which people can express anger, disappointment, helplessness, hopelessness, defeat, and depression.
  • Establish networks for executive peer support. Historically, these have been based on non-competing industries, but I wouldn’t rule them out entirely. When confidentiality is respected, such networks can foster coopetition. A qualified coach can also offer emotional support for executives, leaders, and managers.
  • Ensure you are recognizing and celebrating small victories at work. Frustration, anger, or fear are toxic and can block peak performance. Good feelings are contagious and can replenish our emotional energy.

Manage Your Spiritual Energy

Spiritual energy is your personal connection to your true values and deep sense of purpose. It relies on self-care and depends on taking care of others with profound respect. Spiritual energy draws upon rituals and a connection with a greater purpose.

Peak performance means deep involvement with purpose, values, self-examination, and the establishment of effective energy replenishing habits. There are three critical steps in this process:

  • Defining true values and what is most important to you, fostering a positive mind-set, and being unselfish.
  • Being honest about where you are now and recognizing, understanding, and overcoming obstacles, including excuses.
  • Developing a plan and taking action on three positive rituals that will replenish your spiritual energy level.

Spiritual Energy for Organizations

In organizations, spiritual energy is gained from the leadership vision, the mission of the organization, and how each and every action supports the mission. It is renewed when we remind each other that we matter.

Calm, Cool, and Collected: Communication in Conflict

How do you remain calm, cool, and collected when conflicts escalate?

We’ve all been there: encountering someone in a fit of road rage; a neighbor upset about another neighbor’s transgression; dealing with a beloved toddler in the middle of a melt-down. Typically, we ignore such bad behavior, waiting for it to resolve itself. But, these may be prime opportunities to practice de-escalation techniques and communication skills.

Generally speaking, we trust that our co-workers are capable of resolving conflicts and able to avoid crisis in the workplace. If a situation does escalate, equipped and available managers step in. But consider this: according to the most recent report by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), over 20,000 workers experienced trauma from workplace violence in 2018.

How does this happen?

Conflict Escalation

Multiple factors can escalate a situation, including:

  • Physical: Pain/illness, sleep deprivation, low blood sugar/dehydration, prescription changes
  • Mental or cognitive: Unhelpful thoughts/thinking patterns, negative perceptions, critical inner voice
  • Emotional: Pre-existing mood disorders, past trauma, etc.
  • Social: Lack of healthy support network, isolation
  • Environmental: Visual or auditory triggers, audience
  • Spiritual: Sense of connection to higher power or that which offers hope, faith, purpose

While a crisis is not typically caused by one event, there is often a tipping point. Most common is the death of a significant other, loss of a relationship, loss of work, homelessness, or cabin fever. A crisis occurs when people perceive that they have encountered insurmountable obstacles to their goals, their life cycle or routine is significantly disrupted, and they have no appropriate method to manage their situation. In other words, they believe they have no way through, around, or out of their perceived situation.

Communication in Conflict: Shift Your Goals

Whenever emotions are involved, communication can get tricky. It happens often: at home, in public, and at work. When people disagree, feel un-heard, or feel invalidated, a conversation can go off track.

The goals of the communication shift to de-escalation can be summarized into three objectives: 

  • Gain equilibrium/stabilization
    • This may involve identifying and removing anything that reinforces aggressive behavior.
    • Help the other party(s) identify reasons to calm down.
  • Cognitive
    • Help the other party gain control of their thoughts (and behavior).
    • Help the other party gain a sense of control.
  • Psychosocial
    • Assess internal and external exacerbating and mitigating factors.
    • Identify and choose workable alternatives.

It’s important to remember that not everyone responds the same way to threats or a crisis. For example, they might be in a flight, fight, or freeze mode, or a combination in a wide variety of degrees. There is no one “normal” range of behaviors.

De-escalation requires self-awareness of our own perceptions and assumptions, and a curious, non-judgmental mindset. Here are a few techniques that can help.

8 De-escalation Techniques

  • Be professional, and respect personal space. This can vary from person-to-person, so be sensitive to physical, confidential, and social-distance space.
  • Use non-threatening body language: stand-to -side, rather than square to other. Speak in a calm, quiet, and low(er) tone.
  • Focus on feelings. Listen, watch, and reflect. “It sounds like you are feeling…”
  • Set limits. Help identify options, choices, and consequences.
  • Ignore challenging questions. Avoid taking the bait.
  • Choose wisely in stretching rules, boundaries, and battles.
  • Allow for time.
  • Be empathetic and non-judgmental.

Communication in Conflict: Trust the Process

While there are no quick fixes when communicating during conflict, you can trust a proven process.

In Walking Through Anger: A New Design for Confronting Conflict in an Emotionally Charged World (Sounds True, October 2019), Christian Conte, PhD, shares his philosophy and evidence-based model for change called Yield Theory. This framework is designed to help anyone see the world from the perspective of another with empathy, compassion, and non-attachment, replacing any ego-driven perception of a situation (or person in a heightened emotional state).

As Conte describes it, Yield Theory Compassion is the “cornerstone of communication.” It allows leaders, managers, and colleagues to de-escalate and work through conflict without aggression or submission.

According to Conte, practicing Yield Theory involves a “constant navigation toward the position of the other” through three steps:

  • Listen: hear what is being said, verbally and non-verbally.
  • Validate: validate the feelings of the person in a heightened emotional state. Validation is only effective (and has occurred) if the subject feels validated.
  • Explore Options: explore all options and consequences of each option. Persons in a heightened emotional state often have a narrow focus, a type of tunnel vision. This is the time to introduce a macro-vision, a wider range of options, and allow for choice in behavior or actions. In essence, you are creating a safe-space that de-escalates a situation.

7 Communication Skills

This process relies on seven key communication skills to build trust:

  • Acceptance: be accepting of others and yourself (strengths, limits, and emotional/cognitive states).
  • Authenticity: be true to yourself in order to be truly available to others.
  • Compassion: be aware and understand how others are feeling.
  • Conscious education: check-in and monitor your physical being to prevent transferring internal stress into external accusation.
  • Creativity: be open, curious, and of a growth mindset.
  • Mindfulness: be mindfully and totally present. Avoid the five errors of communication:
    • Approach: be self-aware of tone, non-verbal cues, space, etc.
    • Interpretation: be aware of cultural differences, opportunities to project, blind-spots/bias, etc.
    • Judgment
    • Language
    • Omnipotence
  • Nonattachment: let go of any pre-determined outcomes to achieve the de-escalation goals. Be responsible and accountable for self and don’t take statements personally.

Communication in Conflict: If, When, and How

Attempting to intervene in a situation of road rage is never a good idea. It’s best to contact the authorities when it is safe to do so. Any situation involving a weapon (be it a car or any deadly object) should be managed by a trained specialist.

Then there are the situations when our emotions have exceeded our rationality. It happens with people we don’t know and people we know well: colleagues, friends, neighbors, and family. This is when a conflict can quickly escalate; we get hooked by our natural mimic reflex making it more difficult to disengage. In that case, walking away or postponing the conversation may be the best option.

Do’s

Here are a few tips to use this method of de-escalation and strengthen the relationship:

  • Take a physical step aside. Visualize insults passing by, missing you.
  • Talk about the process, not about the message. “I hear you are angry. I feel angry. I don’t want to raise my voice with you as it won’t be productive. I need to take a break. Can we talk about this at ___ (time).”  If you need more time to gain your equilibrium, ask for it.
  • Meet as agreed. Focus on common goals or interests.

Don’ts

  • Don’t ignore anger (yours or others), rather acknowledge it.
  • Don’t take someone else’s anger personally. Even if it is about you, recognize your own feelings about the issue, and remain calm (non-attached.)
  • Don’t feed someone’s anger by trying to stop it, rather, create a safe place to properly voice feelings.

Workplace Conflicts and Crisis

Every employer should have a Workplace Violence Prevention Plan tailored for their organization. A robust plan reflects their type of business/service and the clients they serve, resources, physical layout, organizational culture, and communication and training expectations. While it may be uncomfortable or unpleasant, all employees should participate in periodic violence prevention training to strengthen their knowledge and confidence.

The Matter of Business Ethics

We are making great strides in corporate social responsibility. Many reflect changes in business policies and practices. But when it comes to business ethics, are we really improving?

Consider this: almost 120 years ago, German socialist, economist, and politician Max Weber published his book, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, emphasizing that personal integrity and reputation matters: they form the basis of good business relationships. A person’s words are their bond and business can be counted on with a handshake.

Jump to the turn of the century. For six consecutive years, Fortune magazine deemed Enron one of the most innovative organizations and two months after being publicized, Enron filed for bankruptcy, bringing down companies and 1,000’s of individuals with it.

Not long after, new regulations and legislation were enacted including penalties regarding records and the accountability of auditing firms.

Then came the financial crisis of 2007-08, where organizations were deemed “too big to fail,” generating other hazards, risks, and an uneven playing field.

Headlines, book lists, and social media are filled with other examples, several from the most recent past. How did we get here? And more importantly, where do we go from here?

What We Don’t See

In Moral Mazes (Oxford University Press, 2009), Robert Jackall suggests that modern bureaucracy has created a “society within a society” in which there is a set of ethical standards that may not be consistent with those of the larger society. Our current capitalistic society goes along with these sub-societies, as long as they are successful.

Generally, the larger the organization, the more complex the strategy and operations. It might seem easier to stretch standards and change numbers to reflect what is desired, rather than what is.

Morality and Ethics in the Workplace

Research and empirical studies on moral standards and business ethics is sparse. But if we look at self-reporting surveys we can see some trends. For example:

  • 86% of managers claim moral standards at work are set by the expectations perceived in the work environment.
  • A corporation’s culture is a strong determinant of individual thought, behavior, and organizational norms.
  • Corporate or organizational culture is recognized as a key contextual influence in establishing and maintaining norms.

The Influence of Leadership

When the behaviors of leaders are seen to serve shareholders and themselves, rather than the employees, the community, the environment, or even the customers, there is an increasing sense of distrust of leaders’ motives.

Such erosion of trust may be pandemic. But as Dr. Marc J. Epstein and Kirk O. Hanson write in Rotten: Why Corporate Misconduct Continues and What to Do about It (Lanark Press, 2020), “While we don’t argue here that corporate behavior has necessarily gotten worse in recent years, we certainly don’t believe it has gotten better.”

Institutional Integrity: The Privilege of Pressure

Today’s great leaders understand and embrace the profound privilege and responsibility to create purpose and meaning that drives employee contributions, including innovation and productivity.

In most organizations, stated goals are consistent with the higher values of the organization: the vision of the leader, the organization’s mission, and a value statement. This allows all employees to operate in a coherent and consistent manner to achieve stated goals.

Addressing Injustice

Aside from the ongoing unemployment and underemployment in the midst of pandemic, we still have unresolved matters in the American workplace. One of the most pervasive is salary and pay inequities.

According to a recent Harvard Business Review article (November 2020), a recent self-reported survey of U.S. companies found that only 22% of the 922 largest public companies performed a pay equity audit (PEA) between 2016 and 2020. Until this issue is addressed and adjustments made, leaders will have an ongoing issue with building trust and credibility in organizational cultures.

Discussing Ethics at Work

Questioning moral or ethical viewpoints can trigger defensiveness, outrage, and even aggression toward those who think differently. However, leaders can set clear and consistent standards and expectations through:

  1. Leadership development practices. These must include programs on ethical reasoning and decision making. This must be an ongoing process, not a one-shot affair at fulfilling a requirement. The most effective include coaching and/or mentoring where issues of personal ethics and moral responsibility are explored and aligned with organizational values.
  2. Leadership programs. These must include selection, development, evaluation and rewards policies that are aligned in such a way as to reflect their support of the values of the organization. When a person is selected for promotion or is rewarded, the organization is making a statement: this person represents our values and standards.

Moral Rebels at Work

Morality and ethics are a daily challenge for managers and leaders. Most, if not all, have made a promise to “not knowingly do harm.” Of course, this is not always an easy promise to keep. But as Peter Drucker wrote in The Essential Drucker, “Its very modesty and self-constraint make it the right rule for the ethics that managers need, the ethics of responsibility.”

Powerful forces may lead us to feel powerless to oppose. Each person must weigh alternatives and make choices in light of personal values and goals, but also with consideration to organizational and professional success. Clearly, there are times when we must speak out.

A Framework for Ethical Dilemmas

There are two major approaches philosophers use to address an ethical dilemma:

  1. Focus on the practical consequences of what we do. This argues “no harm, no foul.”
  2. Focus on the actions themselves, and the “rightness” of the action alone. This argues that some actions are simply wrong in and of themselves.

An effective process includes a solid analysis:

  1. Analyze the consequences. Explore all aspects by answering the following questions:
  2. Who will be helped by what I do?

    Who will be harmed by what I do?

    What is the benefit, and how beneficial? (i.e. minimal, incremental, extremely; short-term and/or long-term)

    What is the harm, and how harmful?

  3. Analyze the actions. Without thinking about the consequences, consider all of the options from a different perspective. Explore all options by answering these questions:
  4. How do the actions measure up against moral principles like honesty, fairness, equality, respecting the dignity of others, and people’s rights?

    Do any of the actions “cross the line?”

    If there’s a conflict between principles or between the rights of different people involved, is there a way to see one principle as more important than the others?

    Which option offers actions that are least problematic?

  5. Make a decision. Consider the answers from steps one and two, and make a decision.

Moral and ethical leadership today require great courage, wisdom, and the right framework to make decisions. And there is always room for improvement.