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The 8 Paths to Humility, How to Recover from Setbacks, & More – The Leadership That Works Newsletter

by | Aug 31, 2023

At ConantLeadership, we’re committed to lifelong learning and continuous improvement. In service to your leadership growth, each month we curate the Leadership That Works Newsletter, a digest of timely resources from around the web. We prepare this resource in order to:

  • Share actionable advice from top leadership luminaries
  • Celebrate a range of viewpoints (inclusion is not an endorsement)
  • Contextualize workplace trends through a leadership lens
  • Illuminate cultural recalibrations in the world of work
  • Support your personal development in life, leadership, and beyond

In this month’s Leadership That Works Newsletter: The 8 paths to humility, how to recover from setbacks, stop saying ‘hybrid work,’ recognize ‘screen apnea,’ and more. As alwayswe’re sharing the content from our newsletter here on our blog in case you’re not subscribed to our mailing list. If you find these links enriching, you can sign up to receive our newsletter right here.

The 8 Paths to Humility

“Humility has been lauded as a virtue in most world cultures and wisdom traditions,” and science backs up its benefits in cultivating “empathy and relatedness,” writes psychiatrist Ravi Chandra in this Greater Good Magazine piece. However, he explains, “we’re also learning that there are many different kinds of humility—and that each one can have limitations.” Leaders looking to learn more ways to be humble should heed Chandra’s list of eight different kinds of humility, each with their own attributes:

1. Cultural Humility.
2. Familial (or intergenerational humility).
3. Intellectual humility (particularly around opinion).
4. Humility of knowledge.
5. Humility of skill.
6. Humility of wisdom.
7. Humility of awe.
8. Humility in the face of suffering.

Get a deeper explanation of each of the eight paths to humility and their unique benefits in the full story here.

**For more on this, explore the chapter on Humility in The Blueprint, Doug Conant’s practical guide for discovering your purpose and lifting your leadership to new heights.

Is It Time to Stop Saying ‘Hybrid Work’?

As how and where we work has radically shifted over the past three years, so has the language used to describe the changing paradigm e.g., “hybrid,” “remote,” and measures of “productivity” In this Charter piece, author Brian Elliott says even our newest terminology is already outdated and is preventing leaders from “focusing on real opportunities to make work better for people and organizations.” He advocates for an evolved lexicon that “more accurately reflects the way we work now,” and helps leaders “prioritize the things that help workers thrive.” Elliott suggests three key changes:

Shift from “remote” to “flexible.” Research shows that what employees want most “isn’t necessarily full-time work outside an office, but the freedom to work where and when they’re at their best.”

Shift from “hybrid” to “distributed.” “’Hybrid’ is most often used to describe a setup requiring a minimum number of days in the office for the entire organization—a one-size-fits-all that we’d never apply to customers, but do to our most important asset, our people.” Aside from being an inelegant solution, it also ignores reality: “Almost any medium or large organization is distributed,” with “a workforce spread out across cities and time zones,” requiring new leadership tools and training.

Shift from “productivity” to “outcomes.” “Productivity measures are blunt instruments that make little sense in a world where the most important aspects of work are complex, creative, and interdisciplinary.” Rather than focusing on “hours worked,” leaders should build “outcome-driven organizations” that prioritize “actual output over the visible trappings of work.”

Find a deeper exploration of these shifts in the full story here.

How to Flourish in a Changing World

In this coverage of a recent MIT Sloan Management Review symposiumGabriella Rosen Kellerman and Martin Seligman, co-authors of the book Tomorrowmind, share five skills that can help people “flourish in dynamic work environments,” based on their research with U.S. Army soldiers. The authors use the acronym PRISM to describe the desired skillset, which stands for “prospection, resilience, innovation, social connection, and mattering.” The “P,” for prospection, is the most important of the five skills and refers to “the ability to imagine our options, plan for the future, and restore our agency.” If mastering these skills sounds daunting, the authors reassure leaders that they can all be learned. The authors offer resilience as an example of a learnable competency and say to “focus on the five following skills that drive resilience: emotional regulation, self-efficacy, cognitive agility, self-compassion, and optimism,” and reflect on which of the five you feel least comfortable with. Then, “look for ways to apply it in your day-to-day life.” Get the full story here.

**For more on this, explore our recent coverage of Jon Gordon and Doug Conant’s conversation about the power of optimism.

Coaching with Questions (Not Answers)

During his ten years teaching leadership coaching at Georgetown University, Scott Eblin learned that it’s crucial to show students that “coaching isn’t about offering answers or advice,” but rather, “it’s about asking the kinds of questions that help leaders come up with their own answers and insights.” Now, as an independent executive leadership coach, he observes the need to drill the same point home to the C-suite: “There is simply too much to do and too many things to fix in large organizations for senior executives to provide all the answers. The task is to build organizational capacity so the broadest number of people can come up with answers that lead to continuous improvement.” How to do it? In this blog post, Eblin shares a framework for coaching with “Socratic questioning,” which is a specific way of asking questions to help people “think through how to solve problems and improve processes.” He says there are seven principles of Socratic questioning in a leadership context:

  • Challenge assumptions
  • Probe for clarity
  • Stimulate critical thinking
  • Explore alternatives
  • Ask more than you tell
  • Practice generative and active listening
  • Promote a spirit of inquiry and learning

Across all seven principles, Eblin says the “quality of the questions” is paramount. Leaders should ensure their queries are “open-ended, non-accusatory, and stimulate observation and reflection.” Find a deeper explanation of the Socratic principles and their impact in the full story here.

**For more on this, explore our post from the archives, “Are You Listening Like a Leader?”

The Secret(s) to Leadership Compartmentalization

If you’re not careful, leadership can become a 24-hour-a-day job with no mental reprieve from nagging worries, emails, and crises. In this Fast Company piece, Adam Bryant explains how a healthy ability to set boundaries and compartmentalize can prevent a high-pressure career from consuming your life. While he warns that being too comfortable with compartmentalization can be detrimental, a balanced approach to managing demands can work wonders. Bryant says there are five key ways to master the art of leadership compartmentalization:

1. Stay focused on what matters most. “The key to prioritization is to have a useful strategy document. Done right, it will serve as a constant reminder of what matters most.”

2. Don’t get pulled down into people’s problems. There are a lot of forces that will conspire to pull you down from the altitude you need to maintain so that you can think clearly and see the big picture. People may try to monkey-park problems on your shoulders.” Set boundaries, say no to superfluous meetings, and be militant about your schedule.

3. Delegate and ask for help. “People want to pitch in. If you are feeling overwhelmed, pull your team together and ask for their advice on how you can tackle the problem together.”

4. Give yourself a break. “If you are driven and ambitious, it’s a good bet that you set a high standard for yourself and want to get everything right. But you have to recognize that there are limits to what you can accomplish, and you can’t execute everything perfectly.” Remember that done is better than perfect.

5. Do what is best for the company. The more complex the issue, the more important it is to stay anchored to this simple question: Asking “‘What is best for the company?’ will help keep you at the necessary altitude to clarify whether you are doing the right thing.”

Find a more substantial explanation of the secrets to leadership compartmentalization in the full story here.


**For more on this, explore a free chapter of The Blueprint which offers the two words, “Forget Perfection” as its central rallying cry.

Why Office Mandates Cause Family Strife

The return-to-office tug of war is playing out not only between bosses and employees but between spouses. Corporate insistence that workers show up at the office sets up a conflict between two-career couples at home,” writes Sarah Green Carmichael in this Bloomberg piece about the family strife caused by in-person mandates. As the pandemic spawned a work-from-home boom, Carmichael says, “many households established new routines,” with a more equitable distribution of household tasks than in years past. But now, all that progress is at risk. She writes, “as executives demand more days in the office and set stricter team schedules, the ebbing of flexibility is creating a mounting sense of alarm,” particularly among women married to men who are wary of returning to a status quo which often demanded they “sacrificed their careers to make time for their higher share of household labor.” It’s not all bad news: Carmichael says, “backsliding isn’t inevitable if employers remain open to hybrid schedules,” and research shows that support from leadership can be “the single most important factor in mitigating work-life conflict.” Overall, she says that a review of the research on attitudes towards professional and domestic work shows that “couples today want to share the load equally” and “employer attitudes and policies” can either support that desire or stand in the way. Get the full story here.

How to Recover from Setbacks? Celebrate Rejection

In this excerpt from her book Stop Waiting For Perfect, author L’Oreal Thompson Payton shares a reframe for facing setbacks, gleaned from her experience with rejection throughout her career: “When I look back at the jobs and opportunities I’ve lost,” it always led to “something bigger and better. In these instances, my setbacks really were a setup for my comeback.” Since rejection is so often a necessary precursor to success, Payton says it doesn’t have to be viewed in a negative light: “One way I’ve learned to reframe rejection is by celebrating it,” because it means “you did a brave thing, a new thing. You took a risk, and it didn’t work out this time. But so many people talk themselves out of even trying.” Then, she recommends a “four-step recovery plan”:

1. Throw yourself a pity party. If you can’t jump right to the celebratory framing, “give yourself permission to sulk, but set a time limit on it
—whether it be two hours, one day, or one week. We must take time to not only acknowledge, but honor our feelings. The crucial part is not letting your pity party morph into a self-loathing spiral.”

2. Ask for feedback. “
Not everyone is humble (and mature) enough to ask for feedback, so this will automatically make you stand out to the recruiter, hiring manager, editor, etc. Understand, however, that everyone won’t be able to provide thorough feedback and not all feedback is good feedback.”

3. Apply the feedback. “
Now it’s time to conduct your own assessment. Evaluate what went well and identify areas of opportunity . . . Then apply your learning to the next application, interview, or whatever you’ve decided to try.”

4. Dust yourself off and try again. “You tried, you failed, and now it’s time to put yourself back out there. This is the part where so many people get stuck. Will you allow self-doubt to prevail, or will you shake it off, trust your dopeness, and confidently walk back in the ring like the boss that you are?”

Get the full story here.

**For more on this, check out Jane Mosbacher Morris’s five tips for resilience in last month’s newsletter.

Recognize the Effects of ‘Screen Apnea’

If you’ve ever realized you were holding your breath while replying to a work email, you’re not alone. “Screen apnea” refers to “the disruption of breathing many of us experience doing all kinds of tasks in front of a screen,” explains this New York Times coverage of the phenomenon. Experts say, “screen apnea is a manifestation of our body’s stress response” and that our nervous system responds to stimuli by trying “to decipher whether or not it’s a threat.” Assessing each incoming stimulus “requires mental effort which kicks off a chain of physiological changes,” including shallow breathing, slowed heartrate, and a “freeze” response. And “the more unexpected a stimulus is—say, getting a text notification out of the blue—the more likely the body is to perceive it as a threat.” While the reflex isn’t inherently harmful, it becomes taxing when it’s “switched on all day, every day,” because it forces “the nervous system into a chronic state of threat,” and causes exhaustion. While the ubiquity of screens seems unlikely to decrease, experts offer a few practices for counteracting the effects of screen apnea: “Set up breath reminders,” “try larger screens,” and “make your breaks count.” Get the full story here.

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Amy FedermanAbout the Author: Amy Federman is ConantLeadership’s Director of Content and Editor in Chief, and co-author with Doug Conant of the WSJ bestseller, The Blueprint.

(Cover photo by Susan Gold on Unsplash)

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