Gabriela, a director of marketing at a tech company, was visibly upset. She felt constantly frustrated by her boss. Her complaints included micromanaging, needing approval for small decisions, and her boss taking credit for her work. Suddenly, Gabriela realized why she was so exhausted. She had the accountability of a director-level role, but none of the authority to go along with it. By her own account, it was time to start looking for a new job.
The Great Rethink
The war for talent is hotter than ever, and demand vastly outstrips supply. As the Great Reshuffling continues, people are upgrading their lousy jobs for better ones. Former U.S secretary of labor Robert Reich tweeted the current situation this way: “Instead of: No one wants to work anymore. Try: no one wants to be exploited anymore.”
COVID-19 forced a shift in where we work. Business as usual was put on hold. Yet, a startling consequence of living through a years-long pandemic was how it forced a shift in thinking about why we work. Employees questioned if they’d be willing to return to the status quo of the pre-pandemic days. The resounding answer turned out to be no.
Once people have a taste of the autonomy remote work brings, most don’t want to go back to the office full time. Recent data shares that only 8 percent of Manhattan office workers are back in the office five days a week. Smart leaders recognize their companies need to change or they’ll be left behind. For example, PwC is in the middle of a three-year, $2.4 billion investment to create a more flexible work culture. This move will permit much of their workforce to go permanently remote. Other companies that are shifting to full remote or remote-first work include Adobe, Upwork, and Twitter.
Remote work is just one item on a long list of employees’ updated expectations. A new Pew Research Center survey finds that low pay, a lack of opportunities for advancement and feeling disrespected at work are the top reasons why Americans quit their jobs last year. The survey also reported that “those who quit and are now employed elsewhere are more likely than not to say their current job has better pay, more opportunities for advancement and more work-life balance and flexibility.”
Leading today is harder than it’s ever been. The traditional levers of power and authority aren’t working the way they used to. Rebecca Givan, an associate professor of labor studies at Rutgers, said, “Now workers are saying, ‘We’re going to hold our bosses accountable and demand more from them.’”
To meet employees’ increased demands, leaders need to do two things. First, they need to know what those demands are. Then, they need to prioritize their energies on which demands matter most.
What Matters Most
According to recent Glassdoor research, the most important workplace factor for overall employee satisfaction is the culture of the organization.
Culture can be thought of as the combination of the underlying beliefs, assumptions, values, norms and behaviors of how an organization operates. It’s the water in the company fishbowl that everyone swims in. Consultants Terry Deal and Allan Kennedy famously explained it as, “Culture is the way we do things around here.”
As a leader, through words and actions, you create a culture where your people succeed or flounder. You have the biggest effect. Gallup has found that 70% of the variance between lousy, good and great cultures can be found in the knowledge, skills and talent of the team leader. Not the players, but the team leader.
Leaders are the ones who are charged with bringing culture to life. This is the true burden of leadership. After all, as leadership researchers Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner eloquently wrote, “If you don't believe the messenger, you won't believe the message.”
It’s one thing to post a mission, vision and values on your office walls. It’s another thing to live them. For example, Gabriela’s leader did not live out the company’s values of respect, integrity, and collaboration. Instead, he created a culture of control, ego and fear. It was so toxic that Gabriela needed to leave.
Living the Culture: Build Your Credibility
Credibility comes from the Latin credibilis, meaning, "worthy to be believed." Establishing credibility starts with understanding the connection between your actions and their impact on others. While there’s no one-size-fits all solution to leadership, there is a central principle that all great leaders apply: align your actions with your words.
When you open your mouth to promise to do something, you immediately create expectations for those who are listening to you. For them, that promise is now a psychological loop of tension that seeks resolution. That loop keeps them questioning, “Will she do what she said? Or won’t she?”
Every time you do what you say you’ll do, you strengthen the connection between your words (I’ll see you at 8:00 am) and your deeds (It’s 8:00 am. I’m here.) This is what’s meant by “walking your talk.” When you walk your talk, you’re seen as congruent. When you don’t, you’re out of integrity. This is what Ralph Waldo Emerson meant when he wrote, “Who you are speaks so loudly I cannot hear what you are saying.”
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