When asked what skill leaders most need to cultivate these days, workplace consultant Tamala Blalock, CAE, doesn’t hesitate: “self-introspection,” she says.
The past two years have so thoroughly disrupted how people work, where they work, and how they’re treated in the workplace that it’s more crucial than ever that leaders recognize their blind spots, says Blalock, principal at Blalock Consulting and VP, cooperative relations, at the National Cooperative Business Association CLUSA International. You can’t address disruption if you’ve trained yourself not to see it.
“The conventional wisdom is that we’re trying to be as objective as possible and inclusive as possible,” she said. “But the reality is that we’re incredibly subjective people all the time. We need to be aware of our preferences and biases.”
Pamela J. Green, president and CEO of Pamela J. Green Solutions, says that kind of introspection hasn’t really taken hold, however. Case in point: the urge to return to “normal.” Leaders are “still trying to solve current problems or challenges with outdated ways of seeing the work and doing the work,” she said. “They are living off past successes, thinking it will just blow over.”
But the workforce churn of the past two-plus years is evidence that conventional leadership tactics may not be working. In 2021 and the first half of 2022, people quit their jobs in record numbers, and a March 2022 survey from Willis Towers Watson found that more than 40 percent of the U.S. workforce was looking for a new job. While pay is a key consideration for many job seekers, the survey also found that a substantial proportion of workers were thinking about factors beyond compensation when considering their employment options, including job security, flexible work arrangements, and an organizational culture in which workers feel appreciated.
Look Inward, Then Outward
In light of that, Blalock says, CEOs and other senior leaders need to make an effort to be better tuned in to employee concerns. She suggests that leaders conduct a self-assessment, such as DISC, to better grasp their leadership approaches and blind spots. That’s the first step to developing a management approach that creates a positive environment for staff. “In leadership, it’s our responsibility to empower our team rather than make them conform to what we’re most comfortable with,” she said.