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The Secret of ‘Empowered’ Accountability, the Power of ‘Slow Productivity’ & More – The Leadership That Works Newsletter

by | Jun 30, 2024

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: Lead people through change, practice ’empowered’ accountability, meet your employees in the middle, a framework for better listening, the power of ‘slow productivity,’ 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.

How to Lead People Through Global Transformation

Change is everywhere—and employees are feeling it,” write the authors of this comprehensive PwC coverage of their new 2024 “Global Workforce Hopes and Fears Survey,” which finds that “more than half of workers feel there’s too much change” happening all at once. The survey, which polled “more than 56,000 workers in 50 countries,” also found that, amidst palpable angst about rapid change, there are also “strong signs of optimism and engagement,” and that most employees are open to embracing “new ways of working.” To successfully manage these dual attitudes towards change—the simultaneous positivity and anxiety—PwC’s research finds that CEOs should take six key actions to “build a future-fit workforce in an age of transformation.”

1. Lead in new ways to build resilience among a stressed-out workforce. “Leaders have an important role to play in helping employees strengthen their ability to navigate change and stress.”

2. Engage employees on change to drive transformation. “When employees understand the reasons for change, they’re more engaged and connected to the organization’s goals.”

3. Help employees lead on innovation. “The fastest way to get your business to adapt to new technologies and ways of working is to empower your people to experiment with both.”

4. Instill confidence in GenAI. “Every senior leader needs to be involved in establishing trust in AI, fostering adoption and ensuring it’s used responsibly across the organization.”

5. Recognize how critical skill-building is to workers. “Almost half of employees say that having opportunities to learn new skills is a key consideration when it comes to their decision to stay with their employer or leave for another job.”

6. Prioritize the employee experience for performance. “Close the gaps between what employees say is most important and what they’re actually experiencing at work.”

Get the full story, including detailed charts and metrics in support of each key action, here.

**For more on the future of work, keep an eye out for our upcoming limited monthly series, “EQ Answers to AI Questions” in which ConantLeadership Founder, Doug Conant, will provide thoughtful, human answers to pressing leadership questions generated by AI. Make sure you’re on our list to receive the first edition.

A 3-Ingredient Recipe for ‘Empowered’ Accountability 

In the post-pandemic era, leaders report a growing tension between wanting to honor the emphasis on employee well-being that emerged over the past four years while also “building accountability” and remaining results-oriented. This NeuroLeadership Institute coverage of new research on the topic shows that there are two schools of accountability: One is the more commonly known “punitive accountability,” which punishes people when they “don’t meet expectations,” and can create a culture of fear. The other, which is more effective, is “empowered” accountability which positions performance roadblocks “as opportunities to improve rather than potential threats to one’s status,” and is more likely to create a growth culture. To bring empowered accountability to life, leaders should “frame accountability as a worthy challenge,” and then practice three key habits with their teams.

1. Think ahead.Thinking ahead is the first step in creating accountability because it brings the successful outcome to life in both the leader’s and employee’s minds before any actions are taken. The right intentions can turn into the right behaviors.”

2. Own your commitments. “The second factor in how accountable employees feel for their responsibilities is how much the team’s leader owns their commitments. Modeling plays an enormous role in culture building overall. Accountability, in particular, depends on whether people feel like their leader practices what they preach.”

3. Anchor on solutions. “Healthy accountability requires a focus on solutions rather than harping on how people messed up. It means creating a climate of psychological safety that enables people to admit their mistakes and then move on to make things right.”

Get the full story here.

Meet Your Employees in the Middle

Many leaders boast an “open door policy,” but is it effective to place the onus solely on your employees to take advantage of that policy and walk through your door? In this Fast Company piece, Jane Hyun, the world’s foremost expert on cultural fluency, says that “flexing,” or meeting other people in the middle, is a “mutual responsibility” between leaders and employees. In particular, she says that, “when we’re trying to attract, motivate, and retain a diverse workforce with varying styles,” leaders need to be more alert to “the individual needs and cultural preferences” of their workers rather than merely setting and forgetting one-size-fits-all policies like an “open door.” Hyun says that, while understanding and adapting to different norms is a shared responsibility, it is wise for leaders to be proactive: “Since managers tend to have a better handle on the dynamics of the organization, it is helpful when they take initiative and set the tone.” And she offers three tips on meeting people in the middle.

1. Take the time to discover the cultural preferences of your team members. “Begin each update or dialogue with curiosity rather than judgement.”

2. Incorporate proactive one-on-ones. “A critical component of development is having regular manager-to-employee conversations.”

3. Try a different approach for getting your team’s input. Some employees “may expect clear direction from you and feel uncomfortable crossing the line to initiate a point of view.”

Get the full story here.

**For more from Jane Hyun, explore our latest blog recap of her keynote session on cultural fluency at the recent BLUEPRINT Leadership Summit.

Cynics Don’t Win

Have we taken our cynicism at work too far?,” asks Rachel Feintzeig in this Wall Street Journal coverage of Stanford researcher Jamil Zaki’s forthcoming book, Hope for Cynics. Zaki’s research finds that people who have been scarred at work by untrustworthy bosses or the threat of layoffs learn to practice “pre-disappointment,” which assumes other people will let them down, as a means of self-protection. This cynical mindset can feel worldly and wise but “can actually stunt our careers in the long run, and hurt our mental and physical health.”

Zaki puts it bluntly: “By never trusting, cynics never lose,” but, “they also never win.” He urges leaders and employees alike to fight their cynical urges and learn to extend trust in manageable ways. Feintzeig reassures readers that shedding some of our mistrust doesn’t have to be a heavy lift: “You don’t have to become the company cheerleader, or even an optimist, to grow your faith in other people,” but “you do have to take a chance on them, examining your own assumptions and suspending” your beliefs that negative outcomes are pre-ordained. It all starts “with being open-minded,” and starting to practice the golden rule of “doling out what you hope to receive.” Otherwise, your negative pre-conceptions may become self-fulfilling prophecies because “people often mirror how we treat them.” It’s better to believe that better outcomes are possible and give others the opportunity to rise to your expectations. Get the full story here(This story may appear behind an email gate or paywall for some readers.)

**For more on this, explore our suite of resources on how to inspire trust with your leadership.

The ‘H.E.A.R.’ Framework for Better Listening

“When encountering disagreement, most people jump into ‘persuasion mode,’ which doesn’t leave much room for listening,” writes Julia Minson in this Greater Good Magazine piece on how to listen more effectively. Minson says good conversations should offer “an opportunity to learn something new, build a relationship,” or have a stimulating moment of connection, but “those goals get forgotten when the urge to persuade sets in.” Leaders who are looking to have more productive discussions, especially with those who disagree, should “focus on changing your own behavior,” rather than “trying to change how you think or feel about your counterpart.” Minson, who has spent years studying how parties in conflict can make each other feel understood, recommends a four step framework represented by the acronym H.E.A.R.

H. – Hedge your claims, “even when you feel very certain about your beliefs.”

E. – Emphasize agreement by finding “some common ground even when you disagree on a particular topic.”

A. – Acknowledge the opposing perspective by devoting “a few seconds to restating the other person’s position,” rather than “jumping into your own argument.”

R. – Reframe the positive by avoiding “negative and contradictory words,” and increasing “your use of positive words to change the tone of the conversation.”

Get the full story here.

**For more on this, explore our post from the archives on a three-step process for better leadership interactions.

How to Tell the Pros from the Zeros

If you want the highest quality information, you have to speak to the best people. The problem is many people claim to be experts, who really aren’t,” writes Shane Parrish in this Farnam Street piece on how to be more discerning. Parrish says there are five key criteria to consider when assessing whether someone is an “expert,” or “an imitator.”

1. Imitators can’t answer questions at a deeper level. “Specific knowledge is earned, not learned, so imitators don’t fully understand the ideas they’re talking about. Their knowledge is shallow.”

2. Imitators can’t adapt their vocabulary. ” They can explain things using only the vocabulary they were taught, which is often full of jargon,” so they struggle to express themselves “clearly to their audience.”

3. Imitators get frustrated when you say don’t understand. “Real experts have earned their expertise and are excited about trying to share what they know. They aren’t frustrated by your lack of understanding; they love your genuine curiosity about something they care about.”

4. Experts can tell you all the ways they’ve failed. “They know and accept that some form of failure is often part of the learning process.”

5. Imitators don’t know the limits of their expertise. “Experts know what they know, and also know what they don’t know. They understand that their understanding has boundaries, and they’re able to tell you when they’re approaching the limits of their circle of competence.”

Get the full story here.

**For more on this, explore Doug Conant and Bill George’s advice for leading more authentically.

Test Your ‘Strategic Fitness’

Rich Horwath, the founder and CEO of The Strategic Thinking Institute defines “strategic fitness” in this Harvard Business Review article as “a leader’s ability to learn from and adapt to their environment to set direction and create a competitive advantage.” To better understand how leaders can “develop and maintain their strategic fitness,” he studied “77 C-Suite executives over a period of four years.” His research revealed that the most effective strategic leaders “excel in four disciplines.”

1. Strategy fitness: They set clear strategic direction—and calibrate when necessary.
2. Leadership fitness: They refine their leadership style to meet the moment.
3. Organization fitness: They invest time thinking about the future state of the business.
4. Communication fitness: They effectively collaborate with internal and external stakeholders.

Get the full story here, including a series of suggested questions and prompts to test yourself in each of the four key disciplines of strategic fitness.

**For more ways to self-assess your strategic fitness, download our free companion workbook to The Blueprint, which includes self-guided exercises for evaluating your strengths, weaknesses, values, and beliefs.

The Power of ‘Slow Productivity’

Knowledge workers, even those who “prioritize self-care and productivity hacks,” can often find themselves “busy, drained, and distracted,” writes John Hall in this Calendar.com piece on how to fight burnout. He says that overworked leaders should consider a different approach to getting things done called “slow productivity.” Slow productivity strives to “create a harmonious work-life balance,” and owes its inspiration to the “Slow Food movement” of the 1980s, which was a backlash to “fast food culture.” Slow productivity, despite its name, “is not about laziness or working less,” but rather it’s a philosophy that “challenges the concept of productivity as we know it.” So how can you begin to implement the tenets of slow productivity? There are three core principles.

1. Do less, but better. “Focus on what truly matters by doing less. More specifically, slow productivity emphasizes streamlining your to-do list.”

2. Work at your natural pace. “We all have different rhythms and energy levels, ” which we can learn to use to our advantage.

3. Obsess over quality. Prioritize “quality over quantity,” and remember that “the key to success is self-belief.”

Get the full story, including many tips and tricks for implementing slow productivity, here.

**For more on identifying what truly matters most, explore our 6-step BLUEPRINT process which helps you clarify your goals and purpose with patented self-reflection prompts and exercises.

Insights & Resources from ConantLeadership

In this new blog resource, Doug Conant speaks to Jessica Foster, the CEO of RHR International, about how tapping into ‘centeredness’ is the key to being more effective in a chaotic world.

38 Quotes about Bravery and Leadership

We originally published this roundup of quotes about bravery and leadership in May of 2016 as an homage to Memorial Day and it has since become one of our most popular posts of all time. So we’ve updated this piece as an “encore” with 6 new bonus quotes from some of the top thought leaders in our network.

‘Stretch Your Cultural Comfort Zone’Jane Hyun & Doug Conant on Cultural Fluency in Leadership

In this recent blog resource, Doug Conant speaks with Jane Hyun, the world’s premiere expert on cultural fluency, about how to embrace cross-cultural effectiveness and lead a multicultural workforce.

Doug Conant on the How to Survive & Thrive Podcast

In this new podcast, Doug Conant shares one powerful “golden leadership nugget” that covers a lot of ground in just two minutes.

May’s Leadership That Works Newsletter

In last month’s newsletterLead through ‘change fatigue,’ the power of rituals, ‘maximizers’ versus ‘satisficers,’ bullish on blue-collar, small goals create big wins, the future of technology is human, and more.

Find Your Leadership Purpose with Doug Conant

Our inaugural LinkedIn Learning course, “Finding Your Leadership Purpose with Doug Conant,” which launched one year ago this month, has now surpassed 80,000 learners! Ready to join thousands of your peers and discover your unique leadership purpose? Join the learning journey here.


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 Christin Hume on Unsplash)

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