Looking Back, Looking Ahead

Updated: Jul 26

Over the last eighteen months, we have endeavored to bring you information about business trends and occurrences impacting individuals, teams, and brands and our ideas about what it takes to negotiate them. We've curated pieces that illustrate elements of human interaction that challenge the status quo and call us to think in new ways. As war persists, economies fluctuate, and markets react, this seems the right time to reflect on some of those ideas and how they stand now.

The tension between corporate demands and human needs has grown stronger.

If one idea encapsulates last year's dynamic, it is the tension between corporate demands and human needs. This red thread runs through all the trends and happenings we've highlighted.

We introduced the thought leadership of Hubert Joly, CEO Emeritus of Best Buy, who championed a focus on stakeholders rather than shareholders. His quest to better the customer experience began by connecting employees with what drives them and giving them the autonomy to act from that center. Joly turned a failing company into a thriving enterprise by embracing the humanity of every individual and their unique purpose.

"That's all well and good—until factors like cultural issues and employee power begin to creep into the picture," writes James Heskett in his article, "Is Stakeholder Management Facing New Headwinds?" He cites Disney's decision to oppose Florida legislation limiting the LGBTQ community in support of stakeholder groups. In response, the state ended some of the company's tax and property authority over Disney World. Heskett highlights the loggerheads of competing stakeholder interests, particularly related to social issues like abortion, and poses provocative questions about how leaders should decide the way forward.

The Great Resignation saw millions of people leave their jobs, led by Gen Z and Millennials demanding fair wages, greater flexibility, clear career paths, and work that served a higher purpose locally and globally. AJ Moore framed the movement as the Great Rejuvenation, observing that the pandemic gave workers time to pause, assess what matters most, dream of what natural work-life balance could be, and – en masse – demand it. Her foresight told us the brands who should be afraid of the Great Resignation were those unwilling to change, to listen, to investigate, to adapt – "squishing new attitudes into old molds."

Several articles caught our attention in the last month related to The Great Resignation. While unemployment rates are slowly declining, Ali Knapp suggests that ripples leading to a possible second wave are well on their way. In an interview with Forbes, "Are We Past the Great Resignation or Is the Second Wave on Its Way?" she posits that people have been waiting and watching how their employers responded to the dynamics of the first wave. "Those leaders who took it upon themselves to take action and truly re-examine their unique people strategies are going to sit much prettier than their complacent counterparts."

But the headline of an article this week in Business Insider tells a different story. In "We Were Wrong about the Great Resignation. Workers Are Still Powerless and the Looming Recession Will Make It Worse." Juliana Kaplan and Meghan Hoff state, "Only certain workers have gained any true bargaining power, and even though the lowest-wage workers have seen raises, soaring inflation has largely canceled them out. As the economy and wage growth continue to cool, they'll be the first to see their upper hand slip away." The authors compel us to consider the privilege of workers who are able to leave their jobs and the reality that structural changes in support of employee needs have not taken hold in many corporations.

Breaking old molds took on new meaning in Gifford Booth's conversation with Banyan Global's Rob Davies about battering the leadership pyramid and old succession planning models. "The reality is that if you want your organization to behave in a younger, more current way, you will want younger leadership." Davies acknowledged the courage and self-awareness it will take for Boomers and Gen X to cede position for the greater good of the company and the absolute necessity that it happens.

A comprehensive study sponsored by American Express, "Redefining the C-Suite: Business the Millennial Way," examines "how the rise of Millennials into senior business roles is set to reshape the role of the C-Suite and the way business is done." It indicates that collaboration and teamwork will define the new C-Suite. This illuminating research explores generational attitudes regarding personal reputation, leadership, technology, and future business challenges. And it explores the challenge for Millennial leaders to negotiate their competing drivers of genuine purpose and drive for profits.

Are people acting with higher conviction? Is there something bigger at play?

The articles linked above mark a trajectory in the ongoing shifts in employment, passing of the baton to new generations of leaders, and leading in the stakeholder era. And while we may not yet understand the dynamics causing these changes, ample evidence supports a skill set necessary for those who will lead their enterprise as the story unfolds.

  • Curiosity – investigating yourself, others, and what's happening around you

  • Self-awareness – knowing what drives you, seeing your impact

  • Empathy – understanding your own and another's vulnerability

  • Safety – creating a consistent, stable, and transparent culture

  • Integrity – walking your talk, doing what you say you will do

  • Agility – assessing, rebalancing, responding in the moment

These are certainly not new skills. For over thirty years in our work with individuals, teams, and brands, we have learned that every leader can access these capacities if they are willing to listen in, do the hard work of uncovering their drivers and imperatives, and act in alignment with them. The biggest challenge for leaders? Stepping outside what feels comfortable, exploring and understanding the thoughts, emotions, and motivators, and making a conscious commitment to act on what they learn.

Leaders' challenges mirror those we witnessed in actors in our early days as The Actors Institute. Deflated and dejected after rounds of unsuccessful auditions, looking for the magic solution, they would ask us, "Who do I need to be?" Our response then, and to this day, was, "Who are you?" Our work has always centered on this inward inquiry, discovering who you are and what you have to say before facing outward to create the impact you want.

Over the last thirty years, we have discovered that success in leadership shares the same origins as success in the performing arts – understanding the unique way you see the world and uncovering the imperatives that have always been with you, seeking to be expressed through you. Personal character is the foundation for every choice, connection, and action, whether on a stage or in a board room. An intimate and active relationship with who you are and what you want to create fosters the integrity, authenticity, and consistency needed to take center stage with presence.

The rewards affect everyone.

Leadership is not a title or a position. Leadership is a choice. Each of us has the opportunity to lead where we are. We must decide whether we are willing to put in the hard work to discover who we are and what we want to cause. We must answer this question: Do I care enough?

If you do, the rewards will emerge slowly but surely. There is no New York Times columnist whose review will make you an overnight sensation or social media influencer that will make your work go viral. But with diligence, patience, and practice, the parts of you that once pulled in different directions come together, and you sense a greater congruence within.

You start to access your authentic and emotional intelligence as easily as your intellect and skills. Flexibility and resilience become easier under challenging circumstances because you act from your true nature rather than changing personas with each new event. A sense of assurance and steadiness takes hold, enabling you to create safety, consistency, and continuity for others. Pretense and falsehood fall away, replaced by a deep sense of grounding and knowing. Eventually, you act with a unity of head, heart, and spirit.

With that liberty comes the ability to drop your defenses and be open to others in a way that transcends day-to-day judgments and superficial differences. In self-awareness, you experience an alignment with others, devoid of self-centeredness or selfishness. One of the most potent shifts is seeing that what you create for yourselves, you create for others.

  • As leaders become more grounded and consistent, they create predictability and stability for others.

  • As they understand their own need for connection, they create cultures of belonging and inclusion.

  • As they experience their shifting priorities, they investigate the changing needs of others.

  • As they hold themselves accountable for their actions and decisions, they trust others to take responsibility.

  • As they express the wholeness of who they are, they encourage that same expression in others.

Joseph Campbell says that at the end of every hero's journey, the benefit of victory is felt by everyone in the land. In our work with individuals and teams worldwide, we have seen time and again how one person stepping fully into who they are is like dropping a pebble into a pond. The ripples created are immediate and soon encompass the whole body of water.


Christine Strong is the Chief of Staff and a Consultant of The TAI Group. Keith Wright is the Chief Growth Officer for The TAI Group.

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