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Employees Want ‘Human Leadership,’ Say No to ‘Productivity Paranoia,’ and More in the Best Leadership Links to Read Right Now

by | Sep 30, 2022

Today we dispatched the September 2022 edition of our Leadership That Works Newslettera curated digest of the best leadership links from around the web offering actionable advice for leaders, contextualizing workplace trends, and explaining cultural recalibrations in the business worldsent at the end of each month.

In this month’s best leadership links to read right now: Show ‘human leadership,’ say no to ‘productivity paranoia,’ the 4 types of leadership listening, 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.

Work Is Part of Life, Not Life Itself

Work is too big a thing to not take seriously. But it is too small a thing to take too seriously,” writes Derek Thompson in this thoughtful distillation of career wisdom in The Atlantic. Thompson urges readers to understand that work is roughly “one-sixth” of an average human’s waking hoursa substantial swath of existence, but not the whole of existence itself.

With employment placed in proper perspective, Thompson offers several pieces of career advice that can help leaders glean more fulfillment from both work and life. One compelling kernel of wisdom he offers is: “Don’t do the job you want to tell other people you do. Do the job you want to do.” It’s easy to be seduced by flashy job titles and to succumb to the allure of how fantastic your role might sound at cocktail parties. But pay heed: “Work is not a series of words on a LinkedIn profile. It’s a series of moments in the world. And if you don’t enjoy those moments, no sequence of honorifics will dispel your misery. “

It all comes down to time, the most precious and non-renewable resource in the course of our lives. Rather than choosing a career you’ll want to boast about, “for a couple minutes a month,” Thompson advises, “take the job you want to do for hundreds of hours a year.”  The more aligned you become with how you want to spend the one-sixth of your life dedicated to your vocation, the happier you’ll be in the many moments that occupy the other five-sixths. Get the full story here.

Data Doesn’t Support Recent Workplace Discourse

Last month’s edition of this newsletter included a plea to re-think the over-hyped term, “quiet quitting,” an expression often used as a misnomer for work-life boundaries. While the validity or accuracy of the term has been disputed widely across the web, much of the discourse seemed to agree on one thing—that employee engagement appeared to have taken a dive during the pandemic. But is that even the case?

Sarah Green Carmichael, writing in Bloomberg, says the data shows otherwise: “Even if it’s true that some segment of the workforce is mailing it in, this isn’t new. Workplace engagement has been pretty stable for years. Polling organization Gallup has been tracking it for over two decades, during which time the percentage of ‘actively disengaged’ employees has held largely steady.” The same is true for the percentage of actively engaged employees, which has also held stable for the past twenty years.

Carmichael argues it’s disingenuous to suddenly rebrand people in the middle, those “who are neither engaged nor disengaged,” as quiet quitters because “lots of people neither love nor hate their jobs, and they’re not quitters.” And, she points out, “every company needs some people who are content to do their jobs reasonably well,” while not being overachieving rock-stars. Her main takeaway for managers? “Don’t rely so heavily on employees going above and beyond their job description.” Get the full story here.

Employees Want ‘Human Leadership’

Extensive research covered in this CNBC piece shows that employee expectations in the post-pandemic era can be boiled down to a concept called “human leadership.” This conclusion was reached after “reviewing academic articles, surveying thousands of workers, and conducting interviews,” and it reveals actionable insights for leaders. “Human leadership,” is defined chiefly by bosses who show “empathy,” who “adapt to meet the needs of their employees,” and who “enable self-expression to create a happier and more productive workplace.” Unfortunately, the same research reveals that “human leadership” is a rarity, with only 29% of survey respondents reporting that their supervisor was skilled in this area. Today’s leaders must adapt to the new paradigm because the emotional fallout from the pandemic has created a “permanent change in the workforce,” and organizations who meet the growing demand for empathetic leadership deliver “better overall performance.” Get the full story here.

**For more on this, explore our post, ‘”Empathy Is the Secret Source of Connection’—Brené Brown and Doug Conant on Leadership in the Pandemic Era
**Then explore our piece in Chief Executive, “Leadership That Works: It’s All about the People

The 4 Types of Leadership Listening

“All of us are guilty of having a listening gap at least some of the time,” writes Nancy Duarte in this MITSloan Management Review article. A listening gap occurs when there is a “difference between the speaker’s interaction goal—what they’re looking to get from the conversation—and how the listener actually responds.” As hard as we might try, sometimes our default listening style doesn’t align with the needs of the person speaking to us. It’s difficult to get it right all the time, partially because, as Duarte says, “there isn’t one right way to listen.” Fortunately, there are four primary listening styles that can help leaders adapt to their constituents effectively in most situations. The four styles are: “Immerse, when the speaker needs you to absorb without judgement,” “Discern, when the speaker needs help identifying options,” “Advance, when the speaker needs assistance getting work done,” and “Support, when the speaker needs you to be a confident cheerleader.” By using this framework to assess which of the four styles a speaker needs from you in each interaction, you can become a more effective communicator and leader. Get the full story here.

Write Your Own User’s Manual

If you’ve ever spent months trying to figure out your new boss’s quirks and preferencesor, on the other hand, if you’ve invested hours trying to convey what kind of leader you are to your teamyou may have wished there were a manual that could spell things out and make mutual understanding easier for all parties. Well, in this World Economic Forum article, Banks Benitez, a CEO, explains how he took control of the situation and wrote his own “personal user guide” in an effort to build awareness of his personal working style while accelerating collaboration. In the manual, he included things like his preferred communication styles, his work cadences and preferences, how he best receives feedback, and more. Everyone at the company followed his lead. Now, new hires are required to write their own user guides to share with managers and peers as one of their first tasks. Banks finds that the guides act “as a conversation-starter for direct reports and their managers,” and provides “a reference point to improve partnerships and outcomes at all levels.” Get the full story here.

Just Say No to ‘Productivity Paranoia’

“There’s no returning to the way we used to work in 2019,” declares this piece authored by Jared Spataro, a VP at Microsoft, which addresses the troubling trend of businesses surveilling their employees. As hybrid work becomes the most prevalent current model, he says “leadership needs to keep up,” which requires a “whole new mindset,” that leads “with data not dogma.” That means paying attention to “the right data–numbers that measure outcomes, not just activity.” Surveys show that 85% of leaders don’t have confidence in hybrid employees’ productivity. But research shows that workers are more productive than ever before. Microsoft calls the disconnect “productivity paranoia: Leaders are worried their people aren’t working enough, while many employees are working more than ever.” And, Spataro warns, while spying on employees may deliver a high volume of data, it’s the wrong data. Moreover, “surveillance doesn’t just lead to bad data–it undermines trust, a critical factor in organizational success that, once lost, is incredibly difficult to regain.” Instead of measuring the wrong things and creating a surveillance atmosphere in your workplace, Microsoft’s research “reveals three key ways leaders can act more like scientists to drive business impact.” First, “focus on outcomes not output.” Then, “measure what matters.” And finally, “listen to understand.” Get the full story here.

Equity v. Equality

“Workplace equity and equality are often used interchangeably, but they mean different things,” says this explainer from Get Ahead by LinkedIn News. Equality “refers to giving everyone fair treatment and equal rights to pursue opportunities,” but it can be insufficient because its premise “ignores that all workers do not come from the same starting position.” By treating everyone the same, equality may fall short of addressing unique, “employee-specific needs,” and “does practically nothing to eliminate issues like unconscious bias.” Equity however, “refers to fairness in outcomes, not just in support or resources,” and is tailored to “individual needs,” sometimes offering specific accommodations to employees based on their unique situation, rather than merely providing everyone with the same resources. The goal of equity is for all team members to “feel institutional support to do their best work.” There are several steps leaders can take to increase workplace equity, the first of which is to “prioritize wage equity.” Get the full story here.

Susan Cain on Forging Deeper Team Connections

“We connect with each other more deeply when we embrace the range of human experience: the joyful and the difficult,” explains this Forbes interview with Susan Cain, author of the book Bittersweet. Cain contends that “many people have a difficult time when workplace cultures demand 24/7 optimism and positivity.” While optimism has its place in energizing people to make progress towards goals, it’s also essential to embrace “bittersweet” emotions if leaders want to relate more authentically to colleagues. She advises leaders to “create space for teams to share their emotions,” as a way to foster connection that enables teams to do their best work. The advantages to honoring the “bittersweet” side of life extend beyond team-building: Adversity can be a catalyst towards “powerful change,” and “provides fertile ground for creativity to emerge,” so increased candor around difficult topics may spark innovation. Get the full story here.

Insights & Resources from ConantLeadership

Mastering the Art of Leadership Abundance

In this new blog, learn why leading with an abundant mindset can unlock better outcomes at the personal and organizational level.

The Power of Asking ‘How Can I Help?’

In this recent blog, learn why the four simple words, ‘How can I help?’ can immediately kickstart a transformation in workplace dynamics.

Learning, Once Again, to Practice What I Preach

In this recent blog, ConantLeadership Founder Doug Conant shares his personal story from the pandemic era. Learn how he re-connected with the joy, fulfillment, and impact of leadership.

The Leadership Mindset That Sparks Miraculous ‘Aha!’ Moments

‘Aha!’s are no accident. In our recent blog, learn how to train your brain to internalize this leadership mindset that sparks miraculous ‘aha!’ moments and allows you to meet the world with wonder.

August’s Leadership That Works Newsletter

In last month’s newsletter: Don’t call it ‘quiet quitting,’ start measuring ‘thriving,’ adopt a ‘dual-growth’ mindset, and more.

Did You Miss The BLUEPRINT Leadership Summit?

This September, ConantLeadership hosted the 4th biannual BLUEPRINT Leadership Summit, a week-long special event that brings together the top leadership minds and luminaries in the business space.

This landmark leadership summit, hosted by ConantLeadership Founder and Award-Winning Fortune 500 CEO, Doug Conant offered daily live webinars featuring Conant in conversation with today’s most respected CEOs and thought leaders.

If you missed it, no worries—we’ve linked to the recordings of all five summit sessions below. And you can also access our library of previous summits’ sessions here including conversations with Brené Brown, Susan Cain, Indra Nooyi, Amy Edmondson, Dan Pink, Hubert Joly, and many more.

RECORDINGS (Fast forward to roughly minute 7 to skip housekeeping and intros)

Day 1: ‘Here Forever’—A Conversation with John Pepper & Rob Garver

Day 2: A Conversation with Fran Horowitz

Day 3: ‘Anti-Racist Leadership’—A Conversation with James D. White & Krista White

Day 4: The BLUEPRINT Power Panel (note: this recording will appear in dropbox)

Day 5: ‘Trust & Inspire’—A Conversation with Stephen M.R. Covey & McKinlee Covey

Amy Federman

About 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 acircleblue on Unsplash)

Doug Conant is remarkable—and so is this work.
– Stephen M. R. Covey
Author of The Speed of Trust

The Blueprint

The Blueprint

6 Practical Steps to Lift Your Leadership to New Heights

By Douglas Conant with Amy Federman

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