The best leadership links to read right now | The 'Leadership That Works' newsletter
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February 28, 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: The four types of thinkers, how to fight 'empathy' fatigue, why 'energy management' trumps 'time management,' the state of DEI, and more.
"Effective leadership isn't about giving or taking responsibility—it's about sharing it," writes Pia Lauritzen in this strategy+business article on shifting your mindset. Many leaders want employees to take ownership of initiatives without waiting for directives from on-high; conceptually, they comprehend the power of "distributed responsibility." But Lauritzen warns, comprehension alone is "not sufficient if leaders don't understand what it means to demonstrate responsibility themselves." One way to transform leadership behaviors and model shared responsibility is found in the way leaders ask questions.

There are three ways of distributing responsibility in conversation and the framing of questions reveals each of the three types:

1. I am responsible (for knowing the right answer). Leaders who use questions with this implicit framing imply there is a "correct" answer and the conversation has the feel of a quiz intended to "confirm the respondents see the world in the same way the leader does." Employees are unlikely to "feel comfortable asking their own questions and sharing their unique perspectives."

2. You are responsible (for providing your own answer). Leaders who use questions with this implicit framing often "impose responsibility on others" and imply that, "each individual needs to find their own answers and make their own decisions," which can leave people siloed and unaligned because everyone is focused on their own projects.

3. We are responsible (for co-creating the best possible answer). Leaders who use questions with this implicit framing often "reinforce shared responsibility," and imply that everyone is equally responsible for the work and "on the same page." This questioning mode encourages everyone to collaboratively "pay attention and contribute," and is the most effective of the three.

A simple way to begin shifting your behavior towards shared responsibility is to swap "I" for "we" in the questions you ask. Research shows that questions posed with "we," had "a higher response rate," provoked more thoughtful answers, and "inspired new questions and conversations." Conversely, questions with "I" often "went unanswered" and didn't spark productive discussion. Get the full story here.
"We think about productivity in a really one-dimensional way," says psychotherapist Katherine Morgan Schafler in this Entrepreneur interview about her new book, The Perfectionist's Guide to Losing Control. In the collective imagination, productivity is often discussed in the context of "time management"the breathless rush to accomplish as many tasks as possible in a particular day or week. But Schafler says a focus on time management is a limiting frame. True productivity is contingent upon us managing our energy well: "It's not that we don't do things because we run out of time," but rather, "we don't do them because we run out of energy." Therefore, leaders should consider "whatever you do to protect, build, restore, or save your energy as a productive activity." This means taking a walk, feeling the sun on your skin, catching up with a friend, anything that helps you feel "alive," can be productive.

Schafler explains: When you are coming to your work restored, the quality of your energy is betterand you can accomplish more with "one hour of premium energy," than with multiple hours of "rushed, exhausted, confused" energy. Ultimately, "you're going to be able to articulate your ideas, execute the actions, connect with who you need to connect with," and follow through when you have tools to calibrate your energy and understand "what makes you feel good, alive, energized, motivated, and connected." Get the full story here.

Multiple studies show that empathy is the linchpin that separates "good bosses from bad ones," says this Insider piece on how to lead more empathetically. Sadly, research shows most managers fall short: only 29% of workers report having a "human leader," who displays "authenticity, adaptability, and empathy." This is partly because many leaders, especially middle managers, are too burned out and overwhelmed themselves to rise to the challenge of helping employees feel supporteda phenomenon called "empathy fatigue." The result is dissatisfaction at every level of the organization: "People don't have the sense that their managers care about their circumstances."

Fortunately, there are solutions. Experts say, "empathic behaviors can be learned," even in tough environments. Progress begins with understanding that employees are not "vessels for accomplishing tasks," but people with "full lives outside of work." And a powerful way for even the busiest leaders to develop more empathy is to show grace first "to yourself," and then extend that grace outward to others. This helps you to remember, "everyone is doing their best under the circumstances." Get the full story here.

There's a consensus among researchers studying the future of work that "our jobs will become increasingly creative," explains this Harvard Business Review article on creative thinking. Professionals across job functions should consider "creativity as a core competency," and leaders need to understand their own strengths and the unique strengths of their colleagues in order to get things done.

Cognitive neuroscience points to four kinds of creative thinkers. Most people tend to exhibit one of the four types and leaders can benefit from knowing their own thinking style as well as the styles of their teammates.

The four thinking types are:

  • Integrationseeing how two things that appear different are actually the same or similar
  • Splitting—seeing how things that appear the same or similar are actually different
  • Figure-Ground Reversal—seeing that what is crucial is not in the foreground but in the background
  • Distal Thinking—seeing and imagining things that are vastly different from the here and now

To learn more about each type and reflect on your thinking style, get the full story here.
"This May will mark three years since the murder of George Floyd. In the aftermath of his untimely death, diversity, equity, and inclusion progress remains tenuous," writes Kelsey Minor in this Senior Executive piece which assesses the current state of DEI initiatives. Although the DEI landscape is always in flux, and "even as DEI leaders report influence across corporate America and begin to demonstrate progress," a closer look reveals, "not nearly enough is being done." As layoffs sweep big tech, data analysis shows DEI recruiters are significantly "more affected by layoffs than other professions," and the availability of roles in the DEI space is down "19% compared to three years earlier." And even as companies make strides in hiring, corporate cultures still need to "create a foundation of inclusivity to support and retain high-potential hires from different backgrounds." To continue to make progress, leaders must ensure that DEI initiatives are "aligned with a company's goals to have a long-lasting impact," and take care to allocate "a healthy budget towards DEI so the work can continue." Get the full story here.

"While our well-being is meant to fulfill and sustain us, it can also become a chore—or worse, a burden," and "conventional well-being advice can add additional tasks to our already-overwhelmed schedules," writes Katina Bajaj in this Fast Company post on beating burnout. That's often because people choose "linear tasks and goals," or try to shoehorn "healthy habits" into busy schedulesand end up feeling guilty when they can't keep up with the goals or habits. To build sustainable wellness, it can help to have a holistic understanding of the three "pillars of psychological well-being," which are:

  • Hedonic well-being is our ability to enjoy and experience pleasure
  • Eudaimonic well-being brings us meaning, fulfillment, and purpose
  • Resilience helps us think creatively and problem solve effectively

Rather than adding a litany of to-dos to already jampacked agendas, leaders can begin by finding small ways to prioritize the three pillars of "enjoyment, purpose, and resilience," and take a break from "setting unrealistic standards" for well-being. Bajaj recommends three ways to begin, the first of which is to "exercise autonomy," by rejecting a "robotic, linear way of being," and finding "a more expansive perspective." Get the full story here.

  • For more on this, explore this piece in Fortune about using reflection and recuperation to reset ambition.
A Successful Trial for the 4-Day Workweek
The results of a pilot program in the United Kingdom, in which dozens of companies trialed a four-day workweek, are in: "A majority of supervisors and employees liked it so much they've decided to keep the arrangement," reports this Washington Post coverage. Participating companies took a variety of approaches to shortening the workweek but all agreed to "ensure the employees still received 100 percent of their pay." Now that the experiment has concluded, participants report substantial benefits to "their sleep, stress levels, personal lives and mental health," and companies enrolled in the trial showed revenue while "broadly the same," did rise "35% on average." Employee retention also improved. Most of the organizations who took part in the pilot will continue to implement the revised work schedule: Out of 61 companies, "56 said they would continue to implement four-day workweeks," either by extending the trial period or making the shift permanent. Get the full story here.

Leaders Should Think 'Like a Scientist'
"One of my biggest fears when I think about the future of work is that the experimentation is going to stop," says Wharton Professor Adam Grant in this interview with The Wall Street Journal on leadership in the post-pandemic era. He explains, "Covid forced us to run all these experiments, not just in where we work, but when we work and how we coordinated," and the results have been largely positive; we've learned a lot about the conditions that help employees and organizations thrive. For example, Grant says, "every experiment I have seen on reducing work hours suggests that people are as productive, if not more productive." But we wouldn't have that data if leaders hadn't been forced into experimentation by external circumstances.

The message for leaders moving forward is to heed the virtues of trial-and-error, and to not be stifled by "fear of opening Pandora's box." Be open-minded. Grant warns, "there is a failure to understand that you can actually run an organization thinking like a scientist," by "recognizing that every opinion you hold at work is a hypothesis waiting to be tested." Rather than feeling like every decision is permanent, leaders should get curious, try different avenues and say, "we're going to test and learn."
Get the full story here. (This article may appear behind a paywall.)

The DNA of Trust
The importance of workplace trust is long-established and evergreen. Trust has again moved into the forefront as layoffs in big tech roil employees and middle managers buckle under increased workloads and pressure. People don't trust their organizations or leaders and job security worries are rampant. So it's worth revisiting the notion, "what makes a trustworthy leader?" That's the question three leaders in this Raconteur panel convened to answer. Their responses are a helpful reminder of foundational leadership behaviors and are anchored by the theme of respect. Panelists urge the importance of "fostering a culture where employees feel comfortable speaking up in meetings," and "offering ample opportunities for progression." Leaders should ensure conditions that facilitate "autonomy, mastery, and purpose," for workers and never "demean or disrespect" subordinates. Most importantly, trust is reciprocal, and must be extended by leaders first: "In companies where employees feel their CEO trusts them, 87% trust the CEO in return." 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 last month's newsletter: Help employees 'speak up,' the motivation science behind procrastination, find your fulfillment, reimagining the corporate cafeteria, and more.  

April 24th - April 28th

Back by popular demand: Join us for this free week-long special event hosted by Doug Conant and featuring top leadership luminaries & CEOs.


Save the Date: Doug Conant & Malcolm Gladwell in Conversation at the Catalyst Summit 'Breakthrough Business Breakfast'

March 9th, 2023

A real leadership conversation about attracting and retaining talent in a changing world.

Live stream info here:

Yours in leadership,

- Amy Federman and the ConantLeadership Team

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