These are the pillow worries for 2024, of the leaders I work with as a Leadership Coach and registered Psychologist.
While these 5 ‘watch-outs’ may at times seem to have no clear solution, and create stress and anxiety, I also see them as the biggest opportunity for leaders to go from good to great. Winston Churchill said “Even a small step brings lasting change”. I am therefore providing you some small and bigger steps you can make, to be better prepared.
1. Hybrid Workplaces + Autonomy. Are you in our out when it comes to employees working from home? Most of us understand that the pandemic arguably sped up more flexibility on where we do our work. The key findings in the 2023 – Future of Work report identified that working from home every day is bad, being in the office every day is bad, while a mixture of both is …well good! The core to the finding was that people want autonomy. They want to choose. However, this may not suit every business. And most leaders tell me the biggest problem with remote working, is communication and accountability (see the suggestion I offer in point 2, for more effective communication). Your business may not be in a position to offer a hybrid working arrangement due to the types of services you offer. However, if your business did manage to navigate the pandemic with people working from home, expect more push back on this issue.
My suggestion: Trial a hybrid. I had one executive leader tell me recently that 2 of their younger employees trial working from home, but decided they were happier being in the office. My view is that their ability to choose was key. Do a survey and find out what your people prefer. You may be surprised. And, notice when your own personal opinion or bias gets in the way of what might be better for some employees. Try and flex that mindset, otherwise you may have disgruntled employees leave, which can also block attracting replacements. Negative employee exits spread feedback faster than positive ones.
2. Performance Management. Most leaders are confronted with having to address bad performance, yet many leaders have no training on how to do this well. I get it, I was there myself. And no one wants to be the grinch who sacks someone just before or just after Christmas. See my post HERE on how to manage that chestnut.
The best approach, is to intervene before an employee ends up in a performance management process. What I have found helps leaders the most, is a lot more contact with your team (sorry introverts), but in short spurts.
My suggestion: Have you heard of the ‘tap tap’ meeting? A meeting where your team gets together daily for no more than 10 minutes (in-person or remotely) and you lightly ‘tap’ on any issues people have, getting in the way of their day. Deeper dives are done after the meeting. This process builds visibility, trust, momentum and connection. Most importantly you are likely to pick up on any red flags, before they become performance nightmares.
3. Artificial Intelligence. I will admit, I have been avoiding this topic, hoping I will somehow sail through the rest of my working life, without the need to know much about it. If that’s you, I get it. The problem with that approach is that it’s not helpful to those who are going to be faced with how AI may impact their job and work. In the Future of Work report I referred to above, most employees are not worried about losing their job to AI, however they are worried about the lack of professional development to keep them up to date with technology advancements that may impact their job, now and in the future.
My suggestion: Get your head out of the sand and start playing with some simple AI tools. I only recently downloaded Chat GPT, and I have to say, it is very helpful! Speak with your team about what professional development needs they believe they need. They have probably already researched it, and are a step ahead on this. Be curious here!
Before I move on to the next 2 issues. I wanted to summarise the 3 points above with this view. Most employees, want to do good work. And if you have a good level of trust, healthy conflict, and clear accountability, employees will commit and get the job done, no matter where or how long they work. We rarely set out to fail or underperform.
4. Leadership Burnout. I have assessed more leaders in the past 12 months with potential burnout than last year. I found this interesting as I had expected that once we got past the pandemic, and talking about it (yes, I know I keep mentioning it), that external stressors would have eased therefore seeing less issues of burnout. My view is that there is a ‘longer-tail’ or lag, from the impact of the pandemic, that is now being realised. Long-term stress often leads to burnout, but often a leader doesn’t know they are heading to, or are in burnout, and/or doesn’t feel safe to ask for help or take time off, for fear of consequences, and how it looks. Also, every leader, like every human being is unique in the way they navigate stress.
My suggestion: Understand the difference between burnout and stress. Have a professional explain to you what needs to be in place to have a psychologically safe environment. This creates safety for any employee or leader (including the CEO or anyone one the exec by the way) to say “I am not coping, I might need some help”, without consequence. And don’t rely on an EAP program alone. I used to do counselling through EAP programs, and the clients I met, were using the program a last resort, and it was often too late to intervene. If you think you are experiencing burnout, you can use my free screener HERE. Please follow the advice on the form.
5. Gender-Smart-Leadership. The Workplace Gender Equity Agency report card released typically in December had some promising results last year, suggesting some movement towards better gender equity in workplaces. However the report highlighted there is still a lot more work to be done, to see more women in leadership roles and how we get them there, (I will be doing a post soon on the upcoming report). In the 2022 report they found “just over half of employers have conducted a gender pay gap analysis and, of those, over 40 per cent took no action as a result.” Interesting. While some industries appeared to have had made far more progress towards creating gender equal workplaces than others. I have been speaking about gender-smart leadership at conferences the past 3 years. What I hear, and see, is some organisations want to change, but don’t know how to.
My suggestion. As simple and trite as this sounds, actions speak louder than words. No point in putting in a great new policy if it isn’t accepted, operationalised, and measured. Run some surveys, or workshops to get all views. Secondly, educate ALL your leaders to be gender-smart. This is not something offered in most leadership programs. However, a gender-smart leader can intervene with any issues before they escalate, and worst case end up on news-dot-com. What have you got in place next year to help your leaders be gender-smart and support greater gender equity? If you don’t know where to start, this LINK may help.
In summary, if you would like to be better prepared for 2024, with less stress for yourself and your people, take some time to reflect on the above issues. Get together with a peer, your leader, your board members over a cuppa and have an open conversation about how you believe your organisation is addressing the above, and what small or big steps you can put in place. Equally, and probably more importantly is, what is your plan to better navigate stress in 2024?
I have researched stress and leadership for many years now, and the two things I know to be true are that stressed leaders = stress teams = bad results. Secondly, we don’t have control over most things that cause us stress. And we need stress to survive (called Eustress). However when stress turns into distress, leaders can behave badly, cause unwanted resignations, and not achieve important goals. Leaders (and all of us frankly) need to unlearn unhealthy coping strategies, and learn healthy stress strategies, which in my experience moves a leader from not so good, to great! And they are more likely to identify the ‘watch outs’ above sooner, and manage them more effectively.
My hope is your 2024 is great! Margie Ireland.
Margie Ireland is the author of The Happy Healthy Leader – how to achieve your potential even during a crisis. Margie is a registered Psychologist, Leadership Coach and Workshop Facilitator, highly sought after to help Leaders and their teams navigate stress and change with healthier coping strategies, leading to happier, healthier and high-performing teams. For more information visit www.margieireland.com