Archives February 2023

As Work Changes, Leaders Must Adapt

work remotely

Do bosses realize the world has changed?

Everywhere I look, from The Wall Street Journal to CNBC, managers – I hesitate to call them leaders – are demanding that knowledge workers return to the office. After years of freedom and flexibility, employees are, not surprisingly, pushing back.

From Alaska to Florida, from Disney to Apple, employees believe they are more productive, have better work-life balance and are happier with remote or hybrid options. And you know what? The data backs them up. Fortune reports that productivity jumped when offices abruptly closed in 2020, stayed high through 2021, then dropped in 2022 when bosses started ordering their charges back to the office.

Face it. The definition of work – how we get things done – has changed. So the definition of leadership has changed. Therefore, leadership’s role has changed. Remote leadership is a different beast than leading everyone in office/cubicle world, so leaders must adapt. Remote work begets higher productivity and less time on meetings and commuting. The definition of work is different; therefore the definition of leadership must be different.

My latest book Insightful Leadership has an entire chapter on this (“Paradigm Shift: Sorry Boss, Your Office is Dead to Me”). At Tompkins Leadership and Tompkins Ventures, we have onboarded two companies virtually in the last three years.

I long ago came to the conclusion arrived at by Fleetcor CHRO Crystal Williams. She told Chief Executive magazine that the “‘five-days-a-week, nine-to-five in your office’ cubicle model is dead – or at least, it’s dying. If you don’t provide some flexibility, you’re not going to attract the best and brightest.”

I want the best people in the best roles, unlimited by geography or commuting time. Today’s technology allows that. Really, remote/hybrid work could have accelerated years ago if the bosses had allowed it.

Work-life balance is not about the hours at the office vs. the time at home, but about the harmony and satisfaction people have both in work and personal domains. It is a balance between home and family, health and well-being, career and community. Spending hours commuting does not fit that model, and the free coffee and doughnuts at work do not change that equation. Free coffee vs. your family? Get real.

Many of the company executives interviewed by Chief Executive’s C.J. Prince seem to have it right. See what you can learn from AllState, Embrace Pet Insurance, Blue Yonder and others.

At home, I can wake up, prepare for meetings, fix tea, have breakfast with my family, and then walk back to the office. That’s a quality of life I did not have for years.

Tompkins Leadership, Tompkins Ventures and many other insightful organizations are not going back to the past. Neither should you.

Flexibility Keeps Staff Happy – Especially Underrepresented Populations

employee retention

The evolution of business has added another “R” to the Insightful Leadership playbook.

No, I’m not talking about the reading, writing and arithmetic many of us grew up with in the U.S. public school system. I’m talking about Retention – the ability to keep good, productive employees once you have found them, particularly if you are expanding your organization’s DEI (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion) efforts.

Since beginning Tompkins Ventures in 2020 and Tompkins Leadership in 2022, I attribute much of our substantial growth to our embrace of the post-pandemic virtual world. Our staff is spread across multiple states, and our partners cover every continent except Antarctica.

But first, let’s go back to the 20-year supply chain evolution of EERR, which in 2023 has evolved into EERRR:

  • Efficiency: When coined in the early 1990s, supply chain’s entire concept was reducing costs.
  • Effectiveness: By at least 2005, most organizations used visibility to work together, collaborating on sales, out of stocks, snags in deliveries, adding value to your partners and your customers.
  • Respect: In 2020, when the pandemic, decades of digital innovation and geopolitical/financial crises combined to break the world’s supply chains, leaders gave supply chain the respect they deserved – respect, in this case, means paying attention to and elevating Chief Supply Chain Officers (CSCOs) to the C-level.
  • Resiliency: In turn, those CSCOs are adding resiliency to their organization’s supply chains, aiming to handle the perpetual disruption mentioned above.
  • Retention: The above 4 points of evolution matter not at all if you do not have the organizational muscle – RE, staff members – to get work done and serve your customers.

We have tackled staff Retention with a lot of the tried and true – treating workers as humans, not cogs, listening to their concerns, communicating through a variety of tools. But we have also embraced the virtual office, much to the pleasure of our staff. We could not have assembled our roster of international talent by requiring them to schlep to a downtown office every day. In my view, there are only three reasons to go back to office:

  1. To entertain your boss. Bosses want people to boss around and micromanage.
  2. To let your boss practice the ancient (2019) ritual of staff meetings.
  3. To gossip and spread rumors.

I mean really, if you want to talk to me, isn’t 1-on-1 better? And can’t we do that on Zoom, Teams, Slack, Webex, etc.? Half the people you talk to will be on one of those platforms anyway, so it does not matter if they are in the office next door or half a world away. And if your workers require micromanagement, you should not have hired them in the first place.

Embracing this flexibility will be more important as organizations expand their DEI efforts. Data from Future Forum reveals that underrepresented groups desire more flexibility: “88% of Asian/Asian American respondents, 83% of Black respondents and 81% of Hispanic/Latin respondents report preferring hybrid or fully remote work arrangements, compared to 79% of white respondents.”

So if you want happier, more productive staff – not to mention wasting less money on office leases – look for ways to add more remote work to your organization.

Want to Be a Good Leader? Survey Says Get Ready for Ambiguity


What does good leadership look like in a world of perpetual Disruption? A study by Korn Ferry gives us some clues, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Leaders must build “a more caring and empathetic workplace” to thrive, according to the study, which blended the Drucker Institute’s statistical model for corporate effectiveness with 34 separate metrics and more than 20,500 psychometric assessments of CEOs and other leaders.

The results? As Rick Wartzman and Kelly Tang report, a list of 20 traits and 30 competencies deemed common to companies who rank high on the Drucker Institute’s model.

Important for an age where Assumed Certainty has transformed into Known Uncertainty, ambiguity now places in the top five for both categories. “Tolerance of ambiguity” still “had the strongest positive correlation … with the Drucker Institute’s best-scoring companies, just like it did in 2020’s top five traits. But “manages ambiguity” was a new entry in the top 5 list of competencies.

Other new entries in that top five list of competencies included “Global perspective,” “interpersonal savvy” and “instills trust.” They replaced “builds effective teams,” “drives engagement,” “communicates effectively” and “cultivates innovation.”

The report defines traits as “personality characteristics central to who a person is,” while competencies “are observable skills that come naturally to some but can also be attained and honed with experience.”

Personally, I think “cultivates innovation” remains a top competency. And I find it extremely interesting that “curiosity” replacing “openness to differences” was the only change among the top five list of traits.

Either way, the results are clear. In a world where Disruption is the new normal, leaders must be prepared to handle ambiguity.