Eric has more than a quarter-century of experience in successfully leading employees and teams through periods of revenue growth, new product development, and re-engineering. He is an experienced mentor and coach and holds an MBA Degree from Keller Graduate School. Eric’s passion is helping individuals to become effective leaders at work, within organizations, and wherever they are called upon to lead and inspire.
Recently, Eric and I had a conversation about the changing nature of leadership based on a series of interesting and timely articles, and highlights follow below. For more about Eric, visit his Blog at https://ericjacobsononmanagement.blogspot.com/ and follow him on Twitter @EricJacobsonKC.
QUESTION: A recent article in Fast Company reported that the post-Covid office is not dead. What are your thoughts on this topic?
“After almost a year of remote working, we’re seeing a slow decay of connection. According to Gallup, remote employees are 7% less likely to see their connection to the mission of a company. Staring at a laptop screen with six other faces is inherently transactional, less spontaneous, and less human than working in an actual room with actual people.“
ERIC JACOBSON: This article mentioned, Susan Lund, PhD, a leader of the McKinsey Global Institute, who believes the return to offices will be about interaction. She said, “You’ll go into [the office] to meet with other people doing brainstorming and innovation, with more collaborative spaces, team rooms, and maybe individual phone booths for [private] conversations.”
The article also said that right now, there are too many unknowns (in public health, in the economy) to determine exactly when many employees will return to shared workplaces, but the advantages of human connection at work are so profound that a return to the office in some new, creative form is inevitable.
My thoughts are that many businesses will benefit from some type of physical office situation post-pandemic for the very reasons Lund stated in the article. I also believe that office space, at least for the foreseeable future (and where budgets permit), will and should look very different. Leaders will also need to help ensure employees feel comfortable and safe in a shared space, and employees will need to believe that space is purposeful.
The pandemic taught us that many businesses can function without employees being in a shared office space every day. It taught us that many employees can travel less often for work. It taught us how to use technology more effectively.
Post-pandemic, I advocate for leaders to offer flexible work schedules and flexibility as to where employees work – perhaps allowing a blending of working in a shared office and working from home.
And, in the meantime, while employees are working from home, leaders should go out of their way to be extra communicative – doing all they can to create a sense of teamwork, belonging and inclusion via a combination of Zoom (or similar platform), email, and phone conversations.
QUESTION: In a recent McKinsey article entitled, “The Vanishing Middle Manager,” several leaders discussed the loss of middle managers during the Covid era. How do you envision the impact of this phenomenon on the post-Covid workplace?
ERIC JACOBSON: Loss of middle managers during the Covid-19 era disappointments me. Because, as the article pointed out, middle managers are more often than not the individuals who are providing employees daily coaching, real-time feedback, and training.
Most importantly, middle managers are also an organization’s next generation of leaders. I believe, as the article stated, that middle manager roles should be coveted and nurtured and curated, not eliminated. If you want to eliminate something, eliminate tasks—tasks that are administrative or bureaucratic and don’t add value. Hopefully, if an organization eliminated its middle managers during the pandemic for budget reasons, better future financial times will allow that organization to reinstate those roles.
TWEET THIS: Middle managers are an organization’s next generation of leaders. –@EricJacobsonKC #Leadership #EmployeeExperience #EmployerBranding
QUESTION: A recent article by Knowledge@Wharton was titled, “Why You Need a ‘Challenge Network.’” What are your thoughts on this topic?
ERIC JACOBSON: Here are my two main takeaways from this article:
First, the ideal members of a challenge network are disagreeable — critical and skeptical. They’re fearless about questioning the way things have always been done and foster constructive conflict. Second, we learn more from people who challenge our thought process than from those who affirm our conclusions. I agree with both takeaways and see great value in having a challenge network within an organization, team, group, etc.
Leaders don’t have all the answers. Strong, effective leaders know that, and they value input from employees who question the status quo, play devil’s advocate, ask “what-if,” and, collectively, provide the opportunity for everyone to consider all sides of an issue.
Key, though, is that the challenge network members must be both constructive and respectful in their approach. Healthy conflict, discussion and evaluation are both critical and valuable when done in that manner.
QUESTION: I read an article by Paul LaRue (@Paul_LaRue on Twitter) that shared excellent leadership advice: Don’t lead from the rearview mirror. What does this advice mean to you?
ERIC JACOBSON: This advice reminds me of what one of my first supervisors taught me. He told me, “if you make a decision I disagree with, I’ll tell you so and why, and let’s use that as an opportunity to learn, and then let’s move on.” I’ve done my best to live by that advice ever since in my leadership roles.
This leadership practice is quite similar to what LaRue shares in his article (his analogy), that cars have a large windshield and a small rear-view mirror. As drivers need to check behind them once in a while, they need to focus on the road ahead to ensure that they can successfully get where they are going. Great leaders know the wisdom of focusing on the present and future and spending very little time on the recent past.
He adds that when a leader works hard to train their people to get ahead of situations and prevent errors or poor execution, that leader becomes more effective than the one who would rather wait and pounce on an issue in arrears.
LaRue’s advice is so valuable, it is worth repeating here: People that are rear-view managers tend to be reactionary. They would rather jump on an issue after it occurred. Usually those issues are ones in which an error or poor performance took place, in which case the manager reprimands, then takes steps to correct the individual through steps such as remedial training or formal discipline.
Windshield leadership is quite the opposite mindset. A windshield leader is always looking ahead and doing whatever it takes to avoid the hazards and potholes up ahead. They set clear expectations, build reminders of what the goal and vision are continually, and train incessantly to ensure their people are on top of their game and perform at a high level at all times.
Finally, as he states, “We learn from our mistakes so we can succeed better,” rather than “You messed up, here are the consequences.”
QUESTION: A quote by Lolly Daskal (@LollyDaskal on Twitter) stands out: “Leaders sometimes think the more they withhold, the more power they hold. But I believe the opposite is true: the more you communicate, the more power it gives you.” What do you think about this advice?
ERIC JACOBSON: I agree with Lolly Daskal’s advice to be a communicative leader. As she explained in her article, a leader’s lack of communication has the potential to harm teams, businesses, workplace dynamics, and the processes that keep everything moving.
More specifically, she adds that an uncommunicative leader and ineffective communication leads to employee frustration, distrust and confusion, a lack of respect, and a decrease in employee morale and motivation. In addition, when a leader doesn’t communicate, employees typically create a dialog and stories in their own minds, often assuming worse-case scenarios.
Leaders should communicate often and regularly, sharing both the good news and the bad news – good news to help celebrate, motivate, encourage, and inspire. And bad news to help build trust, to be truthful, and perhaps most importantly, because employees very likely have ideas and solutions to help turn a bad situation into a positive outcome.
While workforces are remote working from home, leaders should make a deliberate effort to communicate not only in writing, but also via Zoom (or similar tool). Good news or bad, it is important that employees receive communication from their leaders visually and verbally and not only through email.
My gratitude to Eric for appearing on my Blog a record fifth time and for sharing his always inspiring and thought-provoking leadership insights.
To read previous Q&A’s with Eric, see below for titles, dates, and links:
The Importance of Training, Customer Connections & Leadership (March 21, 2011)
The Importance of Mentorships (March 11, 2013)
Leadership Doesn’t Have to Be Hard (May 3, 2016)
How Leadership Crafts the #EmployeeExperience (May 1, 2018)
Image Credit: Real Leaders (Twitter and Instagram: @Real_Leaders).