As we turn the page on 2021, it’s important to check in with ourselves and identify what we are leaving in the past and what we are taking with us into the new year. To some, that exercise might translate to forming resolutions. I’m taking a slightly different approach, however, by opting to reflect on wise words and research that have shaped my career path and how I can draw from these in 2022.
If you are a people manager or leader within your organization, you’ve likely faced new hurdles due to the pandemic; leading a transition to a fully virtual workforce, keeping the team culture alive, maintaining operations and productivity while leading with more empathy and compassion than ever before, as COVID-19 challenged everything we held dear.
While weeks turned into months, we settled into a “new normal” of Zoom calls, virtual events and happy hours that were the “next best thing” to the water cooler conversations we used to have at the office. As I reflect on the past year, while looking forward with optimism and excitement for what’s to come, there are several concepts I keep coming back to as I look to refine my own leadership approach. I’m sharing these with my fellow leaders in case they are helpful as you take inventory of your own leadership styles and what you’d like to leave behind or take with you into 2022.
- The Athena Doctrine – Nearly 10 years ago, I was introduced to a concept that has played a role in my career growth and helped to frame what I consider to be a brand of leadership I aspire to embody and under which, I thrive. “The Athena Doctrine,” a study and book co-authored by John Gerzema and Michael D’Antonio, shows “why femininity is the operating system of 21st century prosperity.” Diving deeper: Gerzema and D’Antonio surveyed 64,000 people in 13 countries over two years. What they found from their data was that two-thirds of respondents thought the world would be a better place if men thought more like women. From there, they decided to take a closer look at masculinity and femininity and the character traits that were most valued in leaders by creating two separate studies from their global sample. In sample one, they asked 32,000 people to classify 125 traits as either masculine, feminine or neither. In sample two, another 32,000 people looked at those same traits without discussing gender but rather, how these traits translated to making the world a better place. What they found was that those skills and competencies culturally and historically identified as feminine — flexibility, collaboration, sharing credit, fairness, nurturing, etc. —were increasingly important to people, which is a diversion from more traditional leadership styles of yesterday. The key takeaway: Anyone, regardless of gender, can lean into these skills and competencies as they look to hone their leadership skills in 2022.
- Weak ties – Reflecting on my life and career, I’ve realized how important “weak ties” have been to opening doors to new opportunities and ways of thinking for me. In 1973, Mark S. Granovetter published a paper titled “The Strength of Weak Ties.” Up until then, he — like so many others — assumed that people learned of career opportunities through their inner circles of family and friends but what he discovered was actually the opposite. For new information and ideas, weak ties or casual contacts were more important than stronger ones. Granovetter surveyed nearly 300 workers and found that most (84%) got their jobs from their weak ties. While this study is over 40 years old, it has gained newfound importance during the pandemic as virtual workforces have threatened weak-tie interactions that happen more organically in traditional office settings. As leaders and people managers, we should be aware of how this can impact employees — their career growth, mental health, etc. — and think through how we can boost weak ties in authentic ways. For example: starting mentorship programs across business lines, developing virtual affinity or special interest groups or increasing team and skill-building activities (virtual or socially distant), etc.
- The Great Resignation – In August 2021 alone, more than 4 million people resigned from their current roles. It’s difficult to pinpoint, exactly, why they are leaving in droves. A life-alerting experience — like a pandemic — can cause many to rethink what is important in life and in work and serve as a catalyst to striking out on a new career path entirely. Additionally, as emerging variants threaten family health and well-being, in addition to causing some day care centers to close again due to outbreaks, this could mean that more people are taking time off to care for loved ones who need them at home. Additionally, as the economy rebounds, employees may feel more comfortable exploring their next big role as so many companies vie for talent and look to fill open requisites. Additionally, women have reported feelings of burnout at higher rates than their male counterparts and some women — 1.8 million of them — are exiting the workforce altogether as they often bear the brunt of managing child care, schooling from home or caring for sick or elderly family members. All of these compounding stressors on employees in the past year and a half illustrate why it is so important — crucial, even — to check in with employees and their mental health and well-being. It goes back to the first concept above — the importance of leading with empathy.
This article was first featured in the Dec/Jan HousingWire Magazine issue. To read the full issue, go here.