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Goodbye, ‘Great Resignation,’ Hello, ‘Great Breakup’ – The Leadership That Works Newsletter

by | Oct 31, 2022

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
  • 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 – Goodbye ‘great resignation,’ hello ‘great breakup’; mastering the art of ‘micro-understanding,’; creating an ‘ownership mentality,’ in your company, 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.

A Toxic Workplace Is Bad for Your Health

For decades people have joked, with hyperbole, that their stressful jobs are “killing them.” But this Wall Street Journal coverage of a recent warning from the U.S. surgeon general paints the punchlines of world-weary office humor in a new light: Surgeon General Vivek Murthy shared guidance this month “telling Americans for the first time that disrespectful or cutthroat workplaces could be hazardous to their health.” In particular, “long hours, limited autonomy, and low wages” may affect employees well-being and “organizational performance.” The threat is not only to employees’ mental health, which has come to the forefront in the pandemic era, but to physical health as well: “Chronic stress disrupts sleep, increases vulnerability to infection, and has been linked to conditions ranging from heart disease to depression.”

To be proactive about protecting everyone in your organization from the health risks of overwork, the surgeon general recommends that leaders “listen to workers about their needs, increase pay, and limit communications outside of work hours.” And Murthy shares the key hallmarks of a healthy workplace—”growth opportunities, work-life balance, community, protection from harm, and employee influence on workplace decisions.”

The surgeon general’s guidance nests into a trend that began during the pandemic, and continues to impact companies worldwide, in which employees at all levels are re-thinking their priorities and relationship to their jobs. Murthy says, “people are asking themselves what they want out of work,” and those “fundamental questions are reshaping people’s relationships with the workplace.” Get the full story here.

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Goodbye ‘Great Resignation,’ Hello ‘Great Breakup’

In 2020 through 2021, in a phenomenon that was widely dubbed the “Great Resignation, millions of workers left their jobs in response to the seismic upheaval of the pandemic. Today, as the aftershocks continue to ripple through workplaces, the newly released “Women in the Workplace 2022” report, co-authored by McKinsey and LeanIn.Org, points to yet another sea change, the “Great Breakup.”

Research collected from a survey of over 40,000 women across diverse identities, “including women of color, LGBTQ+ women, and women with disabilities,” revealed that “women are demanding more from work, and they’re leaving their companies in unprecedented numbers to get it.” The data is clear: “Women leaders are switching jobs at the highest rates we’ve ever seen—and at higher rates than men in leadership,” effectively “breaking up” with unfulfilling jobs. Why? A variety of factors converge to make some workplaces unhospitable to women, including having to face extra barriers to advancement, enduring “belittling microaggressions,” and carrying more than their share of the work “to support employee well-being and foster inclusion.” It’s important for leaders to take action because “they risk losing not only their current women leaders but also the next generation of women leaders,” who are “even more ambitious” than in years past and “who place a higher premium on working in an equitable, supportive, and inclusive workplace.” Get the full story here including the comprehensive report and detailed action-items for leaders.

Middle Managers Are Burnt Out

“Of all office workers, middle managers are reporting the highest levels of stress and anxiety and the worst work-life balance,” reports this Bloomberg piece on the current plight of “mid-tier bosses.” New global research shows that middle managers are expected to bear the brunt of almost every complex issue created by the pandemic and are offered little support to figure it out: Senior leaders pressure them to “deliver amid economic uncertainty,” and their employees say “compensation is not keeping up with inflation,” all while they’re expected to communicate and enforce unpopular “return-to-office mandates,” that they often disapprove of themselves. Dealing with turbulent demands from a variety of stakeholders is further complicated by the fact that “middle managers often lack the network that executives have,” and are not given sufficient leadership training to manage these new pressures. To give struggling middle-managers a life-line, senior leaders should first “invest in coaching and community-building for managers, and allow supervisors more autonomy in deciding alongside their team” the best approach for transitioning back into offices. Get the full story here.

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Sometimes, More Is More

If you hold back on the frequency of your leadership communication, operating with a “less is more” approach, new research from the Stanford Graduate School of Business shows you may be missing the mark. While it’s admirable to not want to bombard employees with missives and to-dos, and it’s noble to eschew micromanaging, there may be an unknown mismatch between you and your teammates’ perceptions of your communication style. Stanford professors have found “leaders miscalibrating the amount they need to communicate,” and managers are often seen by their employees as undercommunicating rather than overcommunicating.” The professors conclude that it’s better for leaders to err on the side of slightly too much communication, rather than not enough: “Overcommunication may be seen as annoying,” but employees will often extend the benefit of the doubt because they view the influx of information “as trying to meet their needs,” whereas a dearth of communication can be seen as a lack of caring or disinterest in associates altogether. Get the full story here.

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‘Deep Purpose’ v. ‘Convenient Purpose’

Many leaders reduce purpose to a “PR tool,” writes Ranjay Gulati in this blog covering his work on “deep purpose.” When leaders rush-order a slapdash purpose statement for the company website and then “deploy their announced purpose in superficial and peripheral ways,” they are operating with a “convenient purpose,” which doesn’t help performance or engage stakeholders. However, when leaders practice “deep purpose,” they “commit to a reason for being that encompasses both financial and societal goals,” and they take great care to “embed their purpose in the very operating system of their organizations.” Enterprises that are anchored to a deep purpose, while they may suffer temporary setbacks in the short-term, are shown to deliver better “long-term financial performance” because “deep purpose provides focus and consistency when the path ahead is unclear.” Gulati has found that deep purpose “operates in four dimensions, all of which serve to deliver long term benefits.” The four levers are “directional,” the purpose guides strategy and innovation; “relational,” the purpose builds stakeholder relationships; “reputational,” the purpose engenders loyalty and trust; and “motivational,” the purpose inspires employees and turbocharges productivity. Get the full story here.

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This Is Your Brain on Desk Work

Why can it feel equally as exhausting to slog through sustained, focused cognitive work—usually performed while sedentaryas it can to exert ourselves physically? New research from the Paris Brain Institute, covered in this The Conversation post, may offer fresh insight. A recent study showed that “high-demand tasks which require intense, constant concentration can lead to a build-up of a potentially toxic chemical called glutamate.” While glutamate in normal amounts is harmless and is used by our brain to “send signals from nerve cells,” glutamate in large quantities “alters the performance of the brain region involved in planning and decision making.” This may help explain the sometimes disastrous effect of mental fatigue—including a propensity across professions for more errors and impaired judgement towards the end of a grueling day. Leaders armed with this new information may want to rethink the flow of their workday, making sure “to break up high-demand cognitive control tasks” and to “take into account the fact that performance takes a hit at the end of the day.” Overall, it’s best to avoid making complex decisions when you’re mentally fatigued because your brain “will be inclined towards low-effort actions with short-term rewards.” When in doubt, it’s best to sleep on it. Get the full story here.

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Create an ‘Ownership Mentality’ at Your Company

Understandably, leadership advice is often directed towards the C-suite, as senior leaders are accountable for setting an agenda and owning its outcomes. However, this Fast Company Daily newsletter highlights the importance of creating an “ownership mentality,” in which employees collaborate with management on co-creating the direction of an organization. The piece explains that “great companies aren’t sustained by the mentality of a few executives,” but rather they are “built around employees who are empowered to take ownership” of the mission and of each other’s shared success. The difference between a good company and a great one often boils down to the employee experience. Leaders can cultivate more engagement by evaluating the “chain of influence,” to ensure critical directives are not merely flowing top-down from the C-suite to the frontline, but are also being generated between departments and across job-functions: A “mission-driven culture requires an environment that encourages employees to speak their mind,” and “employees must allow themselves to be influenced by other people and parts of the company.” Get the full story here.

Don’t Micromanage, Do ‘Micro-understand’

The best remote leaders are “present, hands-on, and operationally vigilant without being intrusive,” says this Harvard Business Review article on how to manage teams who are working from home. A new study shows that remote workers, while they value autonomy, still desire leadership presence and support. However, expectations have shifted in a key way: “employees don’t want their managers to micromanage them; they want their managers to micro-understand their work.” Micromanagement is overbearing and riddled with “heavy managerial meddling that undermines trust, disempowers employees,” and stifles productivity with mountains of bureaucratic reviews, checklists, and approval processes. Micro-understanding on the other hand is about “integrating yourself into your team’s workflow and problem solving” from afar—meaning you extend trust while also staying connected enough to mitigate bumps in the road, and you delegate while also offering sufficient resources and encouragement. The “micro-understanding” remote manager should become an “enabler,” not an “enforcer,” and they can do that by mastering key competencies including “being in the game without being on the field,” “setting priorities and clarifying,” “problem solving,” and “checking in and showing compassion.” Get the full story here.

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September’s Leadership That Works Newsletter

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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.

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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