The best leadership links to read right now
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January 31, 2023

By Amy Federman, ConantLeadership Editor in Chief & Director of Content

At ConantLeadership, we're committed to lifelong learning and continuous improvement. In service to your leadership growth, each month we curate this digest of timely resources from around the web to
  • Share actionable advice from top leadership luminaries
  • Celebrate a range of viewpoints worthy of consideration (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, & beyond

In this edition of the Leadership That Works Newsletter: Help employees 'speak up,' the motivation science behind procrastination, find your fulfillment, reimagining the corporate cafeteria, and more.  
"Despite the headlines of massive layoffs in the tech industry, the job market is still running hot," reports Jo Constanz in this Bloomberg piece on how to attract and retain talent this year. While "pay is paramount for most people," it's only one piece of the puzzle: "In the current environment companies need to find new ways to distinguish themselves as an employer of choice."

After talking to experts and evaluating data, Constanz reports that the top five most powerful ways to attract and engage employees are:

1. Remote work
2. Flexibility
3. Sustainable work
4. Financial Health
5. Job security

Get the full story on how to offer and implement each of these five key differentiators here.

For more on attracting and retaining talent:
Organizations suffer "when employees stay silent on key issues," and they flourish when employees feel empowered to "speak up to learn from mistakes, challenge decisions and behavior, and request support on issues such as mental health," writes Megan Reitz in this Calm post on helping leaders create psychologically safe environments.

Because the benefits of a vocal workforce are numerous, "HR departments have rushed to roll out 'speak up' initiatives," that invite "employees to be brave and have courageous conversations." But Reitz warns these initiatives will fall flat without leaders "who make it safe for us to speak up," by being "mindful of their conversational habits," and disrupting and changing the habits that are not conducive to employees feeling heard.

To step up as a leader, so that others can speak freely, requires bursting your "optimism bubble," which may have you overestimating the degree to which your subordinates feel comfortable speaking up in your presence. Reitz shares three traps to be mindful of as you navigate this territory, the first of which is, "forgetting how scary you are," and remembering to go the extra mile to put associates at ease. Get the full story here.

As the upheaval from the pandemic continues to settle, it's clear that people's relationships to their jobs has drastically shifted. For professionals from the frontline to the senior leadership level, a top theme is the desire for purpose and meaning. Sandy Cohen writes in this Shondaland piece: "Workers are overwhelmingly prioritizing a sense of belonging in their professional lives. It's not just about money anymore. It's also about meaning." A recent survey found, "86% of employees said that having meaningful work is more important than ever before in their lives." And one expert sees a deeper connection to purpose as the linchpin to overall wellbeing: "When we have that underlying understanding of why we’re doing what we’re doing, it creates this satisfaction and fulfillment not just in our jobs but also in our lives."

So how can leaders connect to their purpose and deepen the fulfillment on their leadership journey? Cohen offers three practical ways to find meaning, one of which is to "take the pressure off." Don't think you have to arrive at a finite definition of your purpose and that you're tethered to it. Rather, think of it as an ongoing process of introspection; many "discover different avenues to meaning throughout their lives," because "your purpose can evolve just like you do." Get the full story here.

"The bad news is that procrastination is bad for your health," writes Susan Fowler in this SmartBrief post. The even worse news is that much of the advice from experts creates "a vicious circle of pressure to perform that perpetuates procrastination," rather than helping busy leaders resist its siren song.

Some popular tactics advise tailoring your approach to your personality style. But Fowler, one of the experts who used to advise this very approach, has now changed her mind and suggests a different path forward: "To solve a procrastination problem, you need to understand the foundational psychological reasons you procrastinate—no matter your personality type." Doing this requires "applying motivation science" to get to the why behind the behavior. Turns out there are three "psychological needs required for optimal motivation," and you can evaluate what's holding you back with a trio of questions in each situation:

  • Is my need for choice eroded?
  • Is my need for connection thwarted?
  • Is my need for competence undermined?

Get the full story and a more robust explanation of each of the three questions here.
While it's never fun to work with chronically cranky colleagues who spread perpetual gloom, the opposite disposition can have corrosive effects on morale too. An insistence that employees always be sunny and upbeat, rather than making room for the full spectrum of human emotions, can be invalidating and exhaustinga phenomenon known as "toxic positivity."

"Toxic positivity is the belief that people should maintain a positive mindset no matter how dire or difficult a situation," writes Cloey Callahan in this WorkLife piece. When employees are facing hard situationsin life or workand they are told to "just be positive," or are waved off with a feel-good platitude, it has the effect of "minimizing, negating, or erasing," that person's experience. In the workplace, a tacit or explicit expectation that employees exhibit unyielding happiness leads to burnout from "feeling obligated to express an emotion that you aren’t actually feeling," and it "diminishes connections between colleagues," because there is less opportunity for empathy.

If leaders want to "foster a sense of belonging," they should create a culture where "showing up as your whole self," is encouraged, "even if you're having a bad day." Get the full story here.

How to Sponsor Others to Greatness
"Sponsors leverage a vibrant mix of connection and action to advance high performers into leadership," write the authors of this Harvard Business Review article on how to develop great leaders in a sponsorship role. Increasingly, companies are investing in "sponsorship initiatives to improve the career advancement of their diverse hires." Sponsors differ from mentors, "who offer moral support or coaching," in that they "spend their own political capital to advance more junior sponsees, through advocacy and other tactical moves." As sponsorship is relatively new, leaders need practical guidance for how to make these special leadership development relationships a success. The authors talked to people from dozens of companies and found six key things leaders can do to sponsor others to greatness. The first thing is committing to showing up for sponsees: "Chronic rescheduling sends a message, however unintended, that the relationship isn't a priority." Get the full story and explore all six key things that great sponsors do here.
Is It 'Quiet Quitting' or 'Calibrated Contributing?'
After an impassioned plea to stop using the term 'quiet quitting' in a previous edition of this newsletter, hopes that the phrase would fade from the lexicon have been in vain. For better or for worse, the terminology has persistent staying power, and continues to spark conversation in the leadership space.

One thoughtful addition to the ongoing conversation is this post by Jim Detert in MITSloan Management Review. Detert observes that, in the pandemic era, millions discovered "that what they were getting out of work—be it their financial compensation or a sense of control or respect—didn’t match what they were putting in." In short, some employees realized they were "giving more than they were getting," and may have scaled back their efforts commensurate to expectations and rewards. He argues "quitting" is a "derogatory, adversarial" way to describe the behavior of what he calls "calibrated contributors—employees who are rationally matching their effort to what they get in return." The reframe doesn't deride or imply a moral failing, but rather acknowledges "calibrated contributors" as people "trying to enact their views of fairness," while continuing to perform their jobs. Get the full story here.

Reimagining the Corporate Cafeteria
"As the American office emerges from its pandemic slumber, can the cafeteria survive layoffs, a workweek that sometimes requires only a few days in the mother ship and a new, more demanding generation of employees?," asks Kim Severson in this New York Times article on the state of the company meal.

Although one expert warns that, "the traditional big cafeteria is dead," the reality remains that office workers still need to eat, and "eating together fosters interaction." So, "companies are blowing up the cafeteria," in favor of more creative ways to attract young talent, including redesigning corporate dining offerings around "respite and recreation," and upgrading meal programming with perks like "cocktail bars," "sunset oyster-shucking parties," and perhaps most creatively, "restaurants that function like subsidized corporate cafeterias but are open to the public."

While some of these modern initiatives may seem frivolous, experts say it's wise to participate in the cafeteria's evolution: "Smart leaders know that informal interaction can keep corporate culture from eroding as remote work persists, and may be the main purpose for coming to the office in the future," and food has become "an important recruitment and retention tool" in the new hybrid work milieu. Get the full story here. (This article may appear behind a paywall.)
The Cost of Layoffs
Why have there been so many layoffs recently despite a strong job market and a growing economy? In this Stanford Graduate School of Business piece, Professor Jeffrey Pfeffer says the layoffs are "copycat behavior," that amounts to a "social contagion," wherein "behavior spreads through a network," whether or not it is wise or beneficial: "Layoffs are the result of imitative behavior and are not particularly evidence-based."

The trend of layoffs worries Pfeffer who says, "layoffs don't work to improve company performance," and academic studies show that "workplace reductions don't do much for paring costs." In fact, larger companies participating in the social contagion of layoffs may actually be incurring added costs, rather than accruing savings: "Severance packages cost money, layoffs increase unemployment insurance rates, and cuts reduce workplace morale and productivity as remaining employees are left wondering, 'Could I be fired too?'" Ultimately, while there are exceptions, Pfeffer says that usually, "layoffs are basically a bad decision," and "do not solve what is often the underlying problem, which is an ineffective strategy, a loss of market share, or too little revenue." And, he warns, "layoffs increase mortality by 15-20% over the following 20 years," and "increase the odds of suicide by two and a half times." In the wake of the pandemic, he says, "we ought to place a higher priority on human life." Get the full story here.
Insights & Resources from ConantLeadership
In this new blog, learn why integrity must be at the heart of your choices and learn four practices that will help you move towards integrity in your leadership behaviors.
In this recent blog, 3 top leadership experts explain why leaders in the new world of work must evolve from a "command and control" model to a "trust and inspire" approach.
In this recent blog, learn from the authors of the book, Anti-Racist Leadership why "inclusiveness isn't simply nice to have; not being inclusive will lead to failure."
In this new podcast interview, learn how important it is to be intentional on your leadership journey, especially as you navigate a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous) world.
In our final newsletter of 2022: Don't call them 'soft skills,' how to 'invite' people back to the office, the power of a 'clearness committee,' understanding 'burnout,' and more.
Yours in leadership,

- Amy Federman and the ConantLeadership Team

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