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Leadership Development, NSLS Blog

What Leaders Can Learn from the Past Year

In 2022, we continued to make strides toward a more equitable and diverse society and we increasingly leaned into a people-first mindset.

However, repercussions from the pandemic ultimately shifted our culture and it has since remained, but there are also some positives that came along with it.

Remote and hybrid work are still the norm for many organizations, and decision making for the health of organizations and their people has improved.

I want to share four key takeaways from the past year to promote a people-first leadership approach. As we believe at the NSLS, all leaders are learners and this is what we’ve learned.

Transparency Eliminates a Toxic Work Culture

The gap is closing on the days of sly corporate maneuverings, unfair workplace environments, and a behind-your-back way of doing things. Ironically, the more we went remote, the more transparent we became.

Employees rightfully took their spot in the driver's seat and a servant leadership attitude was embraced by leaders in many industries. The fastest way to create a positive, engaging, and successful environment was to be truthful and cultivate trust.

In this "post-pandemic" environment, organizations were forced to look closely at their human resources management, and create a workplace that would attract and retain top talent. This meant recognizing the new hand we were all dealt and being upfront and honest.

Work-life balance took center stage and the best leaders didn't oppose it. Instead, they embraced it and offered employees balance, allowing them to work more flexible hours.

In a way, this moment in history was predicted. Why, in the time of supercomputers, are we still restricting people from living more balanced lives? The best leaders in 2022 made sure not to revert to their old ways. Instead, they took a step toward embracing a people-first attitude and the technology we have at our fingertips.

Trust Is Earned, Not Given

We’ve all heard of quiet quitting and I've discussed my own thoughts about it. A key takeaway on this subject is not that it’s some generational rift but it's a rift within leadership itself. The issue isn't Gen Z; it's the people in leadership roles leaving a generation behind. 

Lack of transparency is a major contributing problem. With workplace surveillance technology seeing a boom during the pandemic, it’s clear that not every leader leaned into trust and transparency. Instead, they decided to micromanage and spy on their employees. 

The quickest way to inspire quiet quitting or receive the bare minimum is to deflate trust. By being transparent, setting boundaries and work-life balance, and providing clear direction that encourages growth, results will follow. 

Earn trust as a leader by having confidence in your team and providing a roadmap for them to succeed. Earn their respect and you’ll see your bottom line and company culture improve.

Mental Health Is More Important than Efficiency

Unfortunately, this one still needs a lot of work. The fast growth and super efficiency of Amazon is something to be admired, but their attitude toward their people is something to question. As "Amazonification" takes hold and companies model Amazon for efficiency, they lose sight of something more important.

It's important to be a leader who can step on the brakes when necessary to put your people first. In fact, it's been documented that Amazon's fast turnover rate may lead to their downfall as they'll run out of people to hire.

Unstoppable efficiency may be good in the short term but investing in a people-first culture is imperative for the long term. This is especially true for the next generation. A recent study showed that nearly two out of every four Gen Z employees would choose unemployment instead of working a job where they don’t feel valued.

Plus, we were already in the midst of a mental health crisis and the pandemic only worsened the conditions. Research shows that 76% of American workers have at least one symptom of a mental health condition. It's important for the future success of businesses and our country to prioritize satisfaction and good working conditions over efficiency ratings.

In 2023 and beyond, leaders must advocate for connection and community, leadership development opportunities, and instilling a sense of purpose for the people they lead.

Leadership Development Leads to Inclusion

Remote work and the independence that has been awarded to many can actually leave people behind if not addressed properly. Individuals with less opportunity may need more direction for their own growth.

By offering leadership development, you open the door for anyone with a growth mindset to stand up and walk through. If you decide to prioritize efficiency over human connection, you won't create a culture that nurtures growth and levels the playing field.

An estimated 15 to 20% of the global population can be described as neurodivergent. This includes people with Asperger’s, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Autism, and Dyslexia and Dyspraxia. Not only can neurodivergent employees be beneficial to an organization's success, they can be more productive than employees who are not neurodivergent. Leadership development opportunities are vital for them to have a clearer path to success.

Of course, leadership development isn't just one thing. It's complex but there are some key signs of a good leadership development program. It's about investing in future leaders, advocating for mentorships that drive success, and learning the soft skills that make for an effective leader.

Providing such opportunities create a more diverse and robust work atmosphere, and shine a light on underrepresented individuals.

In Summary: People Matter

As we push forward in 2023, let's remember why we're here and who we're here with. We must invest in our people and lead with a people-first attitude. We've made great strides but there's still room for improvement. The good news is, we have the tools to get it done.

Many factors, including a hyperfocus on efficiency, have moved us away from this approach and we're starting to see the cracks. It's time to lean into what makes us great and what makes us unique. By leading with a people-first mentality, we can create a better future.