Leadership in the New Normal

…leading in the 21st century, I think those competencies look different, communication may not be about inspiring, it may be around helping people understand how to work through fear, because with unpredictability, we have a natural fear that comes in, and I think just the competency of leading an unpredictable moment, that’s a competency that our today-leaders and our future-leaders are gonna need to know…

-Jen Thornton

0:00:00.0 S1: You are listening to Ideas and Leaders Podcast, I am Elena Paweta, executive communication coach and TEDx organizer. With each episode, I’ll share with you communication tips and ideas, from top business leaders to help you excel in your career.

0:00:23.0 S2: Hi, today, I’m speaking with Jennifer Thornton. She’s a founder of consulting firm, 304 Coaching, and she has over 20 years of experience in HR professional. Currently, she is helping companies to create talent strategies by hiring, retaining and developing their top talent. Hi Jennifer. Hi, welcome. I’m so glad to be at the show… Yes, thank you for being here on podcast ideas and leaders, and you are the expert to speak about leadership… about leaders. So I wanted to ask you about leadership in the new normal, because now you know that you were working for quite some time with leaders, but now a lot of things change, so what does leadership in the new normal should look like? In your opinion, I think what’s interesting about the world we live in today is that it’s very unpredictable and unpredictability and change is the way we now lead, and more than likely will lead into the future with a lot of unpredictability, and so I think that… One of the things that we’ve done in the past is we’ve held leaders accountable for very specific competencies, and those competencies, I think are kind of out of date, and you think about leadership should be inspiring and communicate well and…

0:01:44.4 S2: Yes, they should be that, but in the world we live in today and leading in the 21st century, I think those competencies look different, communication may not be about inspiring, it may be around helping people understand how to work through fear, because with unpredictability, we have a natural fear that comes in, and I think just the competency of leading an unpredictable moment, that’s a competency that our today leaders and our future leaders are gonna need to know, because if we come from this way where every quarter you kinda knew what to expect, and so you could plan out one and two and three years and hold people accountable to these big business plans, but that does not work anymore, and yes, you have to obviously create centrist IC lands, but you also have to be really ready to adapt those and change those, be able to take in new information and use that information to change the plan on the spot and then communicate why it’s changing, I think decision agility is gonna be really important for our future leaders because decision agility… I don’t talk about having plan A, B and C, because that’s having plan A, B and C with the information you have in front of you.

0:03:01.1 S2: Well, in unpredictable times, we don’t know what’s coming at us, and so it’s about making the decision that you can with information you know, but being open to gaining more information, more knowledge, more experience, and based on that, being agile and maybe making different decisions because new information has shown itself, and I think leaders, you wanna stay in an environment where things feel predictive, things feel consistent, and they wanna set in this place of consistency, they’re gonna struggle, they just are really gonna struggle, and where the world is going and in the fast pace that we now live in and our pace is never slow down, so there’s no reason to think it will, and so we have to learn how to lead with in that, so we need to be agile. We need to be flexible, and this is a very interesting thing that you mentioned about helping people to overcome fear, so leaders really need to gain some new knowledge about this because we don’t learn such things and we do not know how to speak with people mostly managers they know how to plan, how to make that analysis. This is what they do, but when it comes to people’s skills, I would say that this is what employees expect now from their leaders…

0:04:24.2 S2: What do you think what employees now expect from their leaders… I think that today’s workforce expect, they want to be able to use their… And they want to be able to use their voice in a way that they’re not punished, and I think 20th century leadership was very punished-focused, if you speak up and you say it wrong, you get in trouble if you speak up and the boss doesn’t agree. You get in trouble if you speak up and it doesn’t go well, and because it’s not all ideas are gonna go well, then you’re punished, and so what’s happened over time is we have really created an environment where people are afraid to use their voice because using your voice and telling the truth equals being in trouble, and that obviously equals fear, and today’s leaders have to be able to create an environment where their employees can use their voice in a way that makes sense, obviously appropriate and all those things, but giving some freedom and being able to say, I don’t understand why you want it to go this direction, but change my mind, help me see your viewpoint, instead of saying, Oh, your idea is horrible, no, we won’t do it, which starts to shut down innovation and all those things.

0:05:46.9 S2: So I think employees, when I come to work, they wanna make decisions, they wanna contribute, they wanna think and they wanna stretch their abilities and help the organization, but today’s leaders have to recognize to allow that to happen, we may not all be perfect all day, every day, and a lot of people expect perfection in the workplace, even though we say we don’t, we do, but I think that’s one of the big things is allowing employees to come to work and use their brain and use their voice, so we have certain leadership patterns from the past, as you said, if we do something wrong, we will be punished, and a lot of leaders right now, they started off with such managers working with such leaders, so they have those patterns and they think maybe unconsciously that, Okay, this is how I’m supposed to be as a leader, so how can we get rid of those old leadership patterns? I love that you ask that question, because what’s interesting is, when you think about the human brain, what we know about it, we’ve really only started to collect data and information on the human brain over the last 20 to 25 years, because science had to catch up with studying the brain, you can take a hard out or not, and you can transplant it and you can study it, you can’t do that with the brain…

0:07:08.2 S2: Right, it’s really hard to study the brain, and so science had to catch up with it, and we’re learning a lot about how the brain functions in the workplace and how it takes in conversation and how it handles stress and all of those things. But when we think about how we’ve been taught to lead, we were taught this 50, 60, 70 years ago, and we’re still using some of those behaviors and those directions, those best practices of how to be a leader were created without the knowledge of how does the brain actually work, and how does it function in the workplace, and so I think the first thing to help leaders start to modernize the way they lead and modernize their success as they have to start understanding how the human brain works and rain obviously uses fear as a mechanism to stay alive. Because that’s the brain’s only job, right? Stay alive. And so when we are in fear and we’re in our primitive brain, we’re actually closing down the part of our brain, the prefrontal cortex, a part of our brain that learns is… Comes up with new ideas, collaborate. So when leaders start to recognize that some of their habits are actually preventing people from being better than there’s some motivation, I think to start to learn how to lead different, so the individuals are using the part of their brain that actually does produce the best work, because fear of the primitive brain is never, ever gonna produce great work and just not…

0:08:37.6 S2: So we need to talk about understanding how our brain works, and when we do understand and have this consciousness, what would be the next step, how to adopt those new patterns which are good and which things that employees currently expect. Yeah, it’s a lot about just changing our language, and it’s actually about telling the truth faster, and so, for example, on leadership of a compliment sandwich, right? You tell someone something nice, you tell some bad, and then you tell something nice, it’s not great, but we’ve been told to do that for years, but what if you said to someone, we both recognize that the output on this project wasn’t where we wanted it to be, let’s spend some time to look at how we can move forward to the next time we land this project, it’s correct. And again, we told the truth upfront, we acknowledge it, but we took the opportunity to change the language or not in trouble, you are where you are, and I’m willing to move you forward, and when you’re coaching an employee or you’re helping an employee grow, you want them to be able to see the future, because they will work in between is okay, but the old way is, you missed your deadline.

0:09:55.3 S2: Why did you miss it? What did you do wrong? What happened… And that’s very backwards, right? You can’t change the past, but if you say we both recognize it’s wrong, what are we gonna do in the future, then that allows them to see a future tense and to grow into that, and I could go on and give a million examples I want… Do that, ’cause we only have so much time today, but it’s very simple in thinking about our language, telling the truth, but then being a collaborative, inquisitive and curious leader to help someone move past it and grow. Yes, and thank you for mentioning this, changing the language, I was reading your series of articles on LinkedIn, say there’s not that really interesting about changing the language that if you only change one word or the one sentence, then the meaning, the context will be completely different. So this is what I would recommend our listeners to read the articles by Jennifer on LinkedIn, so going forward, how do you think we can build trust in the mutual setting with our team, how… It’s such an important question right now, it’s interesting, based on my work history, I’ve actually never worked in an office of my entire career, I’ve always had virtual teams, and those virtual teams, sometimes we’re localized here in the US, and then sometimes they were all around the world, I’ve led international teams where everyone sat in a different country and use a different language, and those are always fun times as we supported each other, I think when you go virtual what you struggled with as a leader, you will struggle more with what you were good at as a leader, you’ll find yourself being even better at that, and so to build trust, you have to build consistency, because people need to understand when they can and can’t reach you because they just can’t drop by your office anymore…

0:11:53.1 S2: Right, they just can’t say, Oh, you’re in the office. I’m gonna just go by so consistency is incredibly important, if I know I’m talking to my boss every Monday at 3 o’clock, I can leave a list and just kind of keep that list going, I don’t have to bombard and Nick and pick up something, I can just hold off and now when I’m having that conversation, but if I don’t know if when or whatever my boss is gonna call or not call and I don’t have that security, I don’t have that focus in my work, I think the other thing to do that to build trust in a virtual world, we have to get really clear why do we pay people, we pay people for a result, and that is all we do, right. So what’s important is that leaders stop counting hours in the chair as performance, the person who said longus is the best worker and start really focusing on results, ’cause we pay people for results, so that’s what we need to acknowledge Good work looks like. And in the virtual world, that’s how you build trust, you trust that I’m gonna deliver on my results and that you’re not watching and making sure that my little light on my computer never goes dog, ’cause that means I’m not working and really focusing in on results and that builds so much trust in virtual work environments, and also, I know that you’re speaking a lot about culture of transparency and co-creation in the workplace, how do you think, how such culture can influence team effectiveness and productivity? So one of the things that’s important for teams are innovation, and being able to build an innovative team is definitely a competency of a future leader, our leaders now have to do that, our leaders in the future have to do that to build a culture of innovation.

0:13:32.0 S2: You have to remove the opposite of that, and the opposite of innovation is fear of rejection and judgments, if I’m not worried if someone’s gonna think it’s a crazy idea, and I’m not worried if it’s gonna fail or succeed, I’m just willing to say I have an idea and we’ll flush it out. When you’re able to do that, you create a ton of innovation in the workplace, but unfortunately, because like we talked earlier, we’ve created this perfection mentality and every idea has to be the right idea, and everything you say has to be the correct statement or the correct comment and feelings are getting hurt because that’s the boss’s pet project, all of that is holding us back from innovation, and when I think about what cultures need to have today is they’ve got to have innovation, but again, to build innovation, you have to remove the polar opposite and that is fear. Yeah, so if we remove this fear and introduce the culture of innovation, why do you think it is more beneficial for organization if we focus on this and if we’re not just focus on the results, for example… Yeah, so when we just focus on results, eventually how we get those results will be outdated, what worked two years ago to get the same result doesn’t work today, and so when you focus only on results and you don’t add innovation to that, then eventually you will…

0:14:54.0 S2: No longer get the results you’ve always gotten, and so when you focus on innovation, your results will follow because people are finding ways to do things better and faster, they’re finding ways to sell to your customer in a way you never thought possible. They are excited to use their brain, so they’re coming up with new ideas and new ways, and they’re using their voice, so they are engaged and they wanna come to work, and so results will follow innovation, but in high performance environments where it’s only results, but no innovation that team will eventually start to fail because how they’ve got their results will not work in the next next year, next two years, next five years, that will eventually fell. So I always say, Focus on innovation and the results will follow. Perfect, perfect. So what would be your advice to the business leaders who are listening to us now, and they have teams now, mostly this virtual teams, and they need to motivate them, and of course, to make sure that they achieve their KPIS and results. So what would you recommend to them? So I think if you are helping teams focus on KPIS, get really clear what KPIS are important, and so oftentimes leaders will over-complicate KPIS and they’ll have 10 things you have to chase, but at the end of the day, there’s probably only one or two in there that really drive everything.

0:16:23.6 S2: And in fact, I had this exact conversation with a client two weeks ago, and they were really focused on PNL results, but what was happening is the main revenue driver wasn’t being focused on and they were losing business because the team was focused on the wrong thing, and when I was talking to the CEO and COO, I’m like, Tell me if this isn’t happening, tell me what you talk about, and they’re like, We talk about PNL, P-N-L, P and L, and they’ve gotta do this to make the P and L work. And I’m like, Then stop talking about the P and L, talk about that. If that makes the P and L work, then that’s the only thing we talk about, and so we started changing our language again, when you change your language, you change your results, we started changing our language that day to talk about the one KPI that really at the end of the day drove the entire P and L and guess what, two weeks later, their business is up is not surprising, and so I think when you are in a KPI-focused environment, just whichever one or two at end of the day truly drive your business, that’s all you talk about all day.

0:17:28.4 S2: Every day. And it will move the needle. Perfect. So focus on the proper Apis and what else? How can we combine those two things, talking about KPIS all the time and building the culture of trust to the culture of co-creation, the culture of innovation, how would you balance those things… Oh, good question, I love that question. So I think that to balance those two things, you have to obviously get the clarity around the KPI, but then you have to add the innovation into that, and so if you have 10 people that are all ten tells, maybe there are sales managers, but they’re 10 different personalities at the end of of the day, everyone’s focused on that one KPI, so when you have someone who is focused on KPI, say it’s a sales team, you also have to bring an innovation. And how do you combine those two? It’s such a great question, and I think what’s important as you allow people to do it in a way that makes sense for them, often times we tell people You have to do it exactly this way, and if you’re working process plant, then that may be true, but the office setting, that’s probably not true, you maybe have a best practice, but let people get innovative and do it in a way that it’s getting the results for them, and not place your viewpoint of how it has to be done, ’cause again, that stifle innovation and you never know, someone on your team may actually figure out how to do it faster and stronger and better than you ever imagined, but you won’t know that unless you allow them space to be innovative.

0:19:01.0 S2: Yes, it sounds great, but what would you say to such a manager, to such a leader who says that I don’t have time to allow people to be innovative, I just need to achieve results fast, I know how to do it, just do it fast, and I know what the best… So what would you recommend to such people, so there are gonna be environments for… That might be true, but the other side of that is, is chances are you’re gonna burn and turn through people, so if you wanna lead that way, then you need to know that your retention is not gonna be great. Today’s worker doesn’t want to sit in silence, doesn’t wanna just do what’s been told to them, and so if you want to lead that way, sometimes people make that decision, but you’re going to have to have some plans around dealing with high turnover, dealing with burnout, dealing with fatigue and overwhelmed, and so if you’re too overwhelmed to change, then chances are your overwhelm will grow, and I always like Trey, my clients, overwhelm is just a chemical reaction to your body telling you don’t change, it’s too hard, it doesn’t work because your old self doesn’t like to go away, it wants to stick around and to your uneconomic mind uses the feeling of what we’ve put the word too overwhelmed to keep you from evolving and changing, and so if you’re feeling overwhelmed, you can either accept that and stay in overwhelm and know the problems with that, or you can say, You know what, I am overwhelmed, but I’m not gonna let the chemical reaction of my brain stop me from evolving and moving outside of overwhelm.

0:20:39.9 S2: Yeah, that’s amazing. Which is sad, because I know that a lot of leaders, they want to change, but still they say, I don’t have time for all of this, but eventually focusing on people is always the best decision. So Denver, can you also give us a couple of examples from your articles, how can we change our language, and you give out to our listeners a couple of tips, how can we make small changes in our language to make a big impact? So I think some of the ways we can change our language or some of those things that were in the habit of saying… So we’re in the habit of saying, Great job, and absolutely. When someone does a great job, we should tell them they did a great job, but change your language and tell someone why they did a great job so that they can repeat it so you can say you did a great job on this report, what I liked about it is, you didn’t think about the immediate response, you thought futuristic, ally, and you thought about what would this decision mean for us long-term, and I appreciate that, and I want you to think like that more, and that’s just a great way to start to build culture and help people understand how you want them to work and yes, if you’re busy a great job, it’s better to say Great job than nothing, but what the best thing to do is, is tell someone what specifically was great about it so that they can repeat it and they can do it more often.

0:22:02.9 S2: Another thing I think that we do a lot as someone comes to us with a really… They think is a great idea, especially new employees, new employees have those fresh eyes and they have all these ideas, and we probably hired them and told him, Tell us what you think. And then they tell us and then they get in trouble. We say things like, Oh, we’ve done that before. Or, yeah, that’s not gonna work here. Or, yeah, no, that’s gonna upset the CEO, go back to your desk and the new person is like, Wow, I thought I was told to give my ideas, I guess they really don’t wanna hear ’em, and then from day one, we’ve told this person, yeah, we don’t want you to think so say someone comes to you with those ideas and maybe they are wrong, and that’s okay, because at least they’re talking about ideas. And you may say something like, We tried that in the past. It didn’t work. It’s a different time. Tell me why you think it would work now, and then that person is allowed to use their cognitive thoughts, allowed to walk through why it could work now, and who knows it might work now, but you haven’t shut them down or closed off their mind from thinking you’ve actually engaged in that thinking, and again, you’ve created an environment where ideas and collaboration of ideas is important at the end, you might have to say, You know what, I see it from your viewpoint, but it’s not gonna work because of this this…

0:23:19.9 S2: Go try to solve that and come back at it, and it may be a no, but it could also be a yes, but no matter what the end answer is, how we use our language encourages someone to continue to talk and to continue to bring ideas to the table and to innovate for your future success. Yeah, small changes in our communication can bring through huge results, I’m a personally a huge fan of communication, and I love this concept that tweaking our language a little bit, we can achieve a lot. So thank you for my Jennifer, for being here on the podcast, ideas and leaders. How can our listeners contact you so you can find me at our website at 304 coaching dot com, or you can find me at LinkedIn at Jen Thornton ACC, thank you, thank you very much for being here today. Thank you for having. It’s been a lot of fun.

0:24:12.0 S1: Thank you for listening to ideas and leaders podcast. Did he enjoy the second… Let me know that you listen by TAG meeting a lion profile and using hash ideas and leaders. See you in the next OE.

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