Leadership in the Modern Workplace

One of the most glaring and challenging aspects of leading the modern-day workforce is the modern-day workforce itself! Four (and in some cases, five) generations were value-programmed by global events spanning from World War II to COVID, and everything in between!

Some Gen Z and millennials grew up with technology, and are not only comfortable with it, they also consider it an inextricable dimension of their very being. On the other hand, traditionalists and boomers have been known to break out into a cold sweat when someone asks them to share their screen during a Zoom meeting. Not surprisingly, Gen Xers frequently fall somewhere in the middle of these generational extremes when it comes to all things “technology.”

What Does It Mean to Be a Leader?

And those are only the generational challenges! What happens if you throw in every conceivable subset of diversity, alongside individual preferences for where and when work takes place, and top it off with the ever-increasing need employees have to integrate their personal priorities with their work-related responsibilities? These values provide you with a partial description of the modern-day leadership landscape: Daunting, highly personalized,  complex, and multi-dimensional!

By the same token, leading today bears at least some similarity to leading in less complicated times. Leaders have long been those who could get us to think less about our differences, and more about what we have in common. They are still the people who are energized by the prospect of true achievement, and they recognize the power of a unified collective. By way of analogy, leaders take on the characteristics of an eye doctor that has us look through a lens, and ask us which line we can read with at least moderate confidence. Then, they rotate the outer potion of the lens and ask us, “Is it better…or worse?” This conversation continues until the vision and path forward has a reasonable level of clarity.

With that clarity almost assuredly in a constant state of flux, the leaders of today get busy driving engagement! They take imperfect information, connect people to it, and serve as an energy ambassador tasked with the responsibility of creating movement in a desirable direction. The work is iterative, and obstacles emerge with ever-increasing regularity. Here are some thoughts on how today’s leaders tackle three of their many challenges.

Engaging a Multigenerational Workforce

One strategy that leaders are successfully employing to engage employees is to put them in charge of their own engagement! It is basically a challenge that suggests “who knows more about you than you?” Embedded in this challenge is the reality associated with the downside of passively waiting in the wings until someone in a formal leadership position figures out how to get employees more involved and connected.

Own your readiness to perform! Take an active role in contracting for a leadership style with your boss! Does this tactic translate to a “hands-off” approach that completely empowers everyone to do anything that makes them feel good in the moment? Certainly not! But if nothing else, issuing the challenge demonstrates that you, as a leader, are willing to listen and implement suggestions that foster the relationship you are forming with each employee around the work that needs to get accomplished.

Leadership In Hybrid and Remote Work Environments

If you think in terms of the normal distribution curve, comparatively few organizations supported remote or hybrid configurations pre-COVID. Today, organizations that don’t are, by definition, outliers. Is it more challenging to lead people from a distance? Of course, it is. As organizations battle for talent like never before, do leaders have a choice? No, they do not!

So, how do leaders lead from a distance? It depends – but these three skills are prominently in the mix:

  1. Compassion – When you lead people from a distance, you have to recognize and respect that they will be interrupted by any number of unwanted or unexpected intrusions. Understanding and adjusting to this reality can go a long way in establishing trust.
  2. Culture – Working in most organizations entails more than simply “getting your stuff done.” There is a cultural component to “work.” Effective leaders are intentional when it comes to the importance and the impact of a positive and collaborative culture within the work experience.  
  3. AuthenticityFeedback and Feedforward are the engines of productivity and culture. In this regard, effective leaders provide both – in a timely and specific manner – for everyone on their team, whenever they see an opportunity.

Work-Life Integration vs. Work-Life Balance

Balance is defined by equitable separation. Whatever is “on the right” needs to exist in proportion to whatever is “on the left” to achieve a state of approximate equilibrium.

Integration is defined by coexistence. The “right” and the “left” surge and stream, as the forces of each ebb and flow.

Modern-day leadership has evolved to favor integration over balance. It is no longer about encouraging leaders to create a partition of sorts between work and life for their team members. It’s about identifying leaders that are willing and able to invest the time necessary to truly understand how the demands of the job can be assimilated with the priorities of each employee’s personal circumstances.

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Learn More About Leadership in the Modern Workplace

The Center for Leadership Studies (CLS) is the global home of the Situational Leadership® Model. Through programs like Situational Leadership® Essentials for managers, and Situational Performance Ownership for individual contributors, CLS is helping leaders at all levels hit productivity targets, enhance employee engagement and retain key talent.

Although leadership in the modern workplace is besieged by challenges that are a product of the times, Situational Leaders continue to be armed with strategies that have turned organized common sense into common practice for over 50 years!  At CLS, we build leaders and drive behavior change!