A Letter to Leaders
Michael DeVenney
April 11, 2022

Hello …

You weathered an incredible time, and although there is more uncertainty and ambiguity ahead, the road is lighter and brighter. You are optimistic and can see the opportunity.

You have a vision of a bigger future for your organization and want to bring people together to achieve an outcome that truly matters and will make a difference. You see a competitive position, with innovation and growth, differentiating the organization and what you do. Culture is critical to you, and you understand the perspectives of people throughout the company, knowing what it is like to work here. And you see how to have a positive social impact, beyond creating value for customers. You can lead in supporting needed change for a better world.

You see this future! You are excited by it. Now, you want to inspire people’s commitment to collaborate, being engaged with their energy invested in the results.

But the world has changed, people have changed. Are they ready to being their best to deliver on your strategy, and create value for customers? Are you ready?

You know people have had more independence, time to reflect on how they want to work, dealing with stress, and wondering about the purpose they gain from their job. You question if they are prepared to bring their best. And you have read the reports that show trust is at a low, although people have the most faith in you. They are looking to you.

One thing you do appreciate is the compliance will no longer engage people to perform (if it ever did) and appealing to their willingness to contribute, individually and collectively, is what matters. You need to create value for your employees, just like with your customers. You are partnering with them.

So, what do they need from you?

Leadership has been studied for decades. There are hundreds of models outlining what style or type might fit you, or what competencies are desired by the board or consultants. But the real answer lies in the context, the strategy you set and the culture of your organization, the impact you want to have.

To be the leader your people need, bringing them together to achieve the vision, you need only to ask them. In talking with thousands of employees, there emerged five essential qualities they are looking for from you.

First and foremost, they want to know the purpose of the business. And not just a slogan, they want to know what the organization stands for, the identity of the  business. This provides stability, as purpose remains true over time. You need to define the purpose and apply it as the framework for decision-making and behaviors throughout the organization. The purpose you communicate needs to live every day. You need to clearly outline what it is that the organization does, for who, and why it matters. The purpose brings one consistent message in a rapidly changing world, enabling people to find how they can bring meaning to their work.

A foundation you set as leader is a working environment of psychological safety, where people are comfortable to voice their opinions, and be themselves. They can bring who they truly are to work and be recognized and welcomed for their unique talents and skills. People know they belong. From here, you build a healthy culture, resilient and inclusive. Without it, troubles will bubble up.

These two qualities are part of being a great leader, timeless in their need. The next three are timely, based on the world we are living in.

As a leader, you need to make sense of what is happening, and where the company needs to go. People want you to set a competitive direction, one that will create value for customers and communities, with a positive impact, with logic that makes sense. Everything is shifting, and being a leader is about reasoning the trends and patterns that make a difference for the organization, and also what does not.

And you need to be forward-looking, seeing what is ahead, and communicating a path to a bigger future. People want to believe something positive is in front of them and be inspired to be part of it. Learning from the past is admirable, living in the past will lose the way, and the organization will lag and fall behind. No one wants to be stuck in what was, they want to be shown the future.

Lastly, people want a leader with empathy. They want someone who is real and cares about them. You have shown who you are in the past year, and everyone wants to keep seeing you, the real you. And you showed concern for them and their families, their well-being. You asked questions and listened. They want to know you care and seek to understand them.

And, a little thing that would help greatly for people to commit their best, is a picture, a drawing of your vision and strategy that shows the reasoning. Images are important. They draw people in, and much easier for everyone to get, and understand.  

The path ahead to bring people together is about being self-aware. You understand why you want to go down the road ahead, now you want to actively seek out and appreciate the perspectives of others. And not just the usual suspects around the boardroom table, but everyone in the organization. You are bringing change, and most change initiatives fail from employee resistance. But resistance can be mitigated from the combination of inclusion and data. If you ask them, they will tell you. And if you ask the right questions, you will gain unbiased data. With that quantitative and qualitative data, you can have constructive debate and engaged conversations. You can then reflect and make informed decisions with confidence.

Leading well is about being open and curious, always learning. With this approach, you find ways to create value, making sense of how people work well together, and have a positive impact through the business for customers, the community, and the economy. You make a difference.

Communicating a clear, memorable, and compelling message will bring people to commit fully to your vision, ready to change and grow. Following the five leadership qualities people need today, you provide clarity, confidence, and meaning.

On the road ahead, take time to reflect, and be present. People want you to succeed. We all want you do to well. What you do has an outsized impact on the world beyond your organization.

Take care, and I am always open, to having a conversation as you make progress on the path to your vision.


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