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‘A New World of Work Requires a New Way to Lead’—Stephen M.R. Covey, McKinlee Covey, and Doug Conant on Leadership in 2023

by | Dec 19, 2022

This fall, ConantLeadership held our 4th biannual BLUEPRINT Leadership Summit—a weeklong meeting of top leadership minds and luminaries.

To close out the week, ConantLeadership Founder & CEO Doug Conant was joined in conversation by Stephen M.R. Covey and McKinlee Covey, father-daughter co-authors of the new book, Trust & Inspire: How Truly Great Leaders Inspire Greatness in Others.   

Stephen M.R. Covey is cofounder and CEO of CoveyLink and the Franklin Covey Global Trust Practice and author of the worldwide bestseller, The Speed of Trust; McKinlee Covey is a coach, educator, and contributor to; and Doug Conant is a world-renowned business leader, board director, and former CEO of Campbell Soup Company. Drawing from their rich experience and expertise, the three panelists offer powerful insights into how the world of work has changed, and how leaders must adapt in the new year and beyond. Enjoy the following key takeaways from their conversation. (You can watch the video recording of this discussion here. Fast forward to roughly minute 8:30 to skip intros and housekeeping.)

Coveys at the BLUEPRINT Leadership Summit

Clockwise from top left: Doug Conant, Amy Federman, Stephen M.R. Covey, ConantLeadership (webinar host), McKinlee Covey

A New World of Work Requires a New Way to Lead

The panelists set the stage by echoing an anchoring theme permeating the summit: Change. They acknowledge that the pandemic upended the world of work and the paradigm has radically shifted. Workplaces across the globe are experiencing a revolution in how, where, and why people work—and employees are re-evaluating what they expect from their leaders, their colleagues, their companies, and themselves.

Stephen remarks, “we can clearly see that the world has changed all around us,” yet, “our style of leadership has not—or at least has not kept pace with that changing world.” He laments that too many organizations are “operating out of the old model,” which exalts a “command and control” philosophy and is contributing to a “low-trust world.” He says, “a new world of work requires a new way to lead,” warning that, “you can’t command-and-control your way to a high-trust culture,” or to “real collaboration and innovation.” Today, “people don’t want to be managed, people want to be led.”

McKinlee agrees, noting that Millennials and Gen Z, who account for a substantial and growing proportion of the changing workforce, “don’t just want to comply, they want to commit,” and that “they do not want things to be transactional,” because they desire “meaning and purpose beyond fulfilling the job.”

Doug says these evolving expectations put “pressure on organizations to be more clear about what their higher purpose and mission is,” and to “walk the talk,” to deliver on their promises.  He adds that the pace of change is so rapid, that even the idea of “employee engagement,” a concept which dominated the leadership conversation of the past decade, may no longer be sufficient. Doug cites the language of his leadership contemporary, Deb Cupp, President of Microsoft North America, explaining, “they’re no longer measuring ‘engagement.’ They’re measuring ‘thriving,” and he says “thriving” is the ideal outcome for all parties in the post-pandemic era.

To catalyze “thriving,” Stephen and McKinlee advance a “trust and inspire” approach to leading that stands in contrast to “command and control.” Doug celebrates this because it represents a clear path to better outcomes and offers both “the how and the what,” meaning, “we want you to thrive, we want the organization to thrive, and the way you do it is through trusting and inspiring.”

So how can people evolve their leadership to meet the demands of a new era? The panelists offer two modes of stewardship for moving from command and control to trust and inspire.

1. Modeling – Change Starts with You 

Doug says that leadership, more now than ever, must be understood as “an inside-out process where you have to establish yourself as a leader, and then you have to model that behavior and bring the best version of yourself,” to gain credibility. He observes that many leaders have “trouble finding the courage to lead in choppy seas,” because “their rudder isn’t fully in the water and they don’t know how they want to show up.” In order to model desired behaviors to constituents, leaders must “lead with conviction,” which is impossible, “if you don’t know what your convictions are.” To do this work with intention, rather than “by the seat of your pants,” you must self-reflect to become “well anchored in who you are and how you want to lead,” and he offers his Blueprint process as one structured way for leaders to unlock greater self-understanding.

Stephen reinforces the power of self-reflection as a tool for inspiration, drawing from the principles in Trust & Inspire: “When you’re inspired, it’s easier to inspire others. When your fire is lit, the candle can light other candles.” He says that the process of developing your “inner core,” can help leaders not only connect with themselves but to engage more effectively with everyone: “Someone needs to go first; leaders go first.”

Once leaders have done the work to connect to their self-knowledge and point of view, they can become an example, extending their values outward from within. McKinlee has seen this as an educator: “As a leader, it’s your job to go first in modeling the behavior you would like to see. I know that in my own classroom, the second I step into the room with my students, I am setting the tone for the entire day.” This principle applies beyond the classroom and into any leadership context: “you set the tone through your own actions, through your words.”

Doug offers a simple practice for modeling: “Give yourself an extra 15 minutes in the morning,” to think “with great intentionality about how you intend to show up that day.” He says a little forethought can transform the entire course of your workweek, and ultimately, of your contribution profile. Over time, as you set an example in small moments, people follow in your footsteps, and the culture shifts.

2. Trusting – You Get What You Give

In the spirit of modeling desired behavior, the panelists urge leaders to earn trust in the new year by first extending trust to others. Stephen quotes Maya Angelou’s aphorism, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” The panelists are unanimous that it’s essential to consider how your actions may be impacting your stakeholders and to lead with a “people first” orientation.

Stephen reminds leaders of the stark difference in the empowering feeling of being trusted versus the stifling feeling of being controlled; overwhelmingly people respond better to a vow of confidence: He explains, “in many languages, trust and confidence are the same word,” and both are earned by consistently demonstrating “both character and competence.”

McKinlee adds that being trustworthy is only one part of the equation; you won’t get far unless you are also trusting of others, otherwise it “causes a disconnect that leads to lesser outcomes.” As the axiom goes, people don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care. Behave thoughtfully.

Doug agrees that putting your faith in people is critical and says that taking the initiative to extend trust requires “vulnerability,” which can be “scary in a culture that doesn’t encourage vulnerability.” Although he acknowledges the risk involved, he says there is no alternative and no excuse: “You open yourself up, and it then opens up new pathways for relationships with your associates, your peers, and even the people that you work for. You have to lead on that front if you want to make change. You can’t look around you and wait for everybody else to change.” The math is simple: You must first invest trust in others before receiving trust in return.

While the panelists agree that there is discomfort in being vulnerable, extending trust, and in doing things differently, they are unanimous that these trusting skills, like any other competency, are learnable—and increasingly, they’re essential.

Putting It Together: Old Versus New

The panelists say that leaders looking to implement these ‘Modeling’ and ‘Trusting’ tips in 2023 should first understand some crucial differences as they brave the new paradigm.  They draw a distinction: A thriving culture that gives people ample autonomy to perform is the ideal; an anarchic free-for-all without rules is not. To illustrate this, McKinlee draws again on the example of the classroom: “If there were no rules, no regulations, you can imagine” how that would devolve. Extending trust is not about doing away with guidelines altogether, it’s about “seeing the best in people,” and communicating “regulations in a way that inspires people” to uphold them.

Stephen builds on this, explaining that the opposite of “command and control,” is not “trust and inspire,” but rather, “abdicate and abandon.” The old, controlling model is “excessively hands-on,” while the contrasting abandoning model is “excessively hands-off,” with “no direction and no vision.” The third option—the newer, trusting model—is neither hands-off or hands-on, it’s “hand-in-hand,” representing collaboration between leaders and employees.

Contrary to outdated perceptions, Stephen explains that this more egalitarian model is “a very strong style of leadership.” He explains, as a trust-and-inspire leader, “I can be authoritative without being authoritarian,” and “strong without being forceful,” as well as, “decisive about giving direction without being exclusionary or autocratic.” If you’re not sure whether you’re defaulting to one style or the other, he says the fundamental question you should ask yourself is: “Am I trying to see and unleash the greatness inside of people, or contain and control it?” If you’re calibrated towards unleashing, you’re on the right track.

Doug adds further clarity by emphasizing that context matters. Evolved leadership styles that meet the needs of the future must be highly agile and flexible. He cites the “situational leadership” philosophy which requires leaders to adapt depending on each unique circumstance: “If people need help on the task,” offer help, whereas if they’re experienced and want autonomy, “give them freedom to operate.” He says you have to become “fluent and able to move around,” smoothly—meeting the needs of “task management, as well as inspiration.”

The panelists close the conversation with a thought exercise: Think back on one mentor, coach, parent, boss, colleague, or friend who inspired you, who had a positive impact on your journey.

They ask—

  • Didn’t that person have high standards for you?
  • Didn’t they have deep confidence in your ability to meet those standards?
  • And didn’t they unmistakably care about you as a person?

The panelists invite leaders in the new year to pay it forward—to become that inspiring person for others in kind. The first step, fittingly, is a leap of faith: You must believe there is greatness in others waiting to be set free. Then—model trusting behavior, be vulnerable, and extend confidence with a generosity of spirit.  And remember, you get what you give.

Enjoyed these insights?

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.

For more leadership content from ConantLeadership, enjoy our library of summit sessions here, including conversations with Brené Brown, Indra Nooyi, Hubert Joly, Amy Edmondson, Bill George, and many more. Engage with ConantLeadership’s suite of written leadership resources here, or start your Blueprint journey by getting your signed copy of the book here, or by downloading the first chapter free here.

Ready to step into your full leadership potential?  Apply to our signature leadership development program, The BLUEPRINT Boot Camp by ConantLeadership, a 2-day leadership intensive offering elite level, highly interactive training with Doug Conant and a community of your peers. Learn more about this premium tier of transformational leadership development here or set up a complimentary consultation call here.

(Cover photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash)

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

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