Can empathy, clarity and creativity mould better leaders?

This WORKTECH Wednesday Briefing looks at what it takes to be classified as a creative leader, a reluctance to return to the office, and what the workplace can learn from retail on inclusion

If you thought managing through the pandemic was tough, trying to lead your people into the new era of hybrid working could get even tougher. That’s why there’s so much soul-searching right about how to protect managers who are feeling burnt out and on the brink of quitting en masse, decimating the ranks of middle management.

Equal attention is being paid to the qualities of business leadership in these complex and fast-changing times. The central question: what are the values that can guide leaders to make the right decisions at least most of the time? A new book by British author and researcher Rama Gheerawo, Creative Leadership – Born from Design (Lund Humphries 2022), throws some interesting light on this subject.

According to Gheerawo, who is based in the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design at the Royal College of Art, today’s managers can learn a lot from the creative industries. His book proposes that leaders should focus on three values – empathy, clarity and creativity Without empathy, he suggests, all the clarity and creativity that leaders can muster won’t have the same effect.

However, being empathic does not mean being soft. Empathy, explains Gheerawo, has positive associations in the design sector as being people-centred and actively engaged. In business, however, leaders showing empathy can be perceived as a ‘pushover’, ‘too emotional’, or ‘not professional’. These attitudes need to change – and with hybrid coming over the horizon, change fast.

Should I go or should I stay?

Investment bank Goldman Sachs has been a ‘resolute returner’ leading the back-to-the-office brigade in the global debate about the future of work. Its CEO David Solomon has been a cheerleader for getting everyone back to their desks as soon as possible and highly vocal in dismissing the viability of remote working.

Now, it seems, his own employees are not on the same page as their boss. According to a report in Fortune magazine, just half of the 10,000 people who work in Goldman Sachs’ New York HQ showed up for work in the office last month despite being mandated to return five days a week and given two weeks’ notice to do so.

Attendance numbers at Goldman Sachs are now climbing as the pandemic subsides according to data supplied by the bank, but this story will resonate with companies facing employee resistance to a full-time return to office working.

Solomon’s argument is that his firm’s operating model requires in-person attendance so new hires can learn from experienced bankers as part of Goldman Sachs’ apprenticeship culture. But, interestingly, other large US banks, most notably Citigroup and USB, are not sticking to that line – they are giving the hybrid model a much warmer welcome as way to attract and retain the top talent.

Learning from retail inclusion

As employees increasingly start to pick and choose where and how they want to work, the workplace sector is looking at consumer-driven industries such as retail for clues on how to respond to a new psychology in the workforce. Retailers adapted to an omni-channel commerce approach years ago as physical stores were supplemented with online sales platforms and click and collect. Now the workplace must make the same scale of transition with the advent of hybrid.

Diversity and inclusion is one area common to both retailers and office-based organisations that has grown in importance. So what can the workplace learn from retail on this subject? A new report on diversity and Inclusion in retail by Quinine Design spells out some easily transferable lessons.

Making a physical space accessible (so that it passes building codes) does not necessarily make it inclusive (creating a sense of community). Inclusion is not just about addressing physical differences – neurodiverse users of space must also be acknowledged. All touchpoints in the ‘customer journey’ must be addressed – an aspect all too often overlooked in the workplace. And staff diversity is crucial to any inclusion strategy. Useful pointers as companies redesign their operations and workspace for the new era.

Next stop: Amsterdam

Interested in the issues discussed in this WORKTECH Wednesday Briefing? Then check out our WORKTECH events calendar for 2022 to engage in the big conversation on the future of work and workplace.

After WORKTECH’s SmartBuildings22 conference in London (see review here), next stop for our events is  WORKTECH Amsterdam on Thursday 21 April . Thought leaders from Accenture, EDGE, Unispace and WORKTECH Academy will be taking to the stage. Hear from our workplace experts on ‘The role of extended reality technologies and the metaverse in the future of work’, ‘Global workplace trends for the new workplace and ‘The reluctant returner’. Book your ticket here – limited spaces available

In our WORKTECH Wednesday Briefings, we reach out to our 10,000-plus Academy members, WORKTECH attendees, speakers, partners and sponsors while WORKTECH’s professional conference series continues through our in-person, virtual and hybrid platforms. This edition is posted 16 March 2022.
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