The Future of Work– WFH, RTO, WTF or Hybrid?

Future of Work

Ok, so I just threw in the WTF to see if you were paying attention.

Sort of. Maybe. I mean, there is some application here.

So, what’s the answer? Do we absolutely work from home if at all possible? Come fill an office that we are still paying for? Work from Starbucks? From the beach? (this is why the WTF reference isn’t entirely unreasonable)

From my way of thinking, the answer is “yes.”

And “no.”

And mostly, “It depends.”

The real issue is Trust. Employees seem to believe that managers are over-controlling ogres wanting to keep their thumbs on everybody at the office by keeping everyone within eyesight. Bosses apparently believe that Work From Home is a euphemism for work out, do the dishes and walk the dog.

Next come the studies and research, all appropriately biased for their viewing public.

Then, like political ideology, both “sides” dig in their heels. That, sports fans, is the crux of the problem.

The effort here doesn’t have to be this win-lose, zero-sum game of chicken. It really doesn’t.

Let’s have less focus on WHERE work can best be done, and more on HOW work can be done best.

After all, that’s what we all say we want from our respective views on this, right? The best way to get things done for all concerned?

Some tasks seem custom-made for remote or working at home. Solo brain work, research, front-of-computer interactions with little need for collaborative or external discussions…

Others feel like an in-office appearance may be better: innovative brainstorming, real time problem solving with disparate entities, creating the foundation for a collaborating team…

Both can coexist. Instead of slugging it out over which location is better, realize first that a hybrid creation may actually benefit all – managers, employees, even the organization. Work through the issues and challenges professionally, keeping your mind open all the while.

So, focus on hybrid first, as that gives us choices. Then allow the discussion and decisions to follow their logical course to help arrive at location.

The result should be a complete conversation before ever addressing the location.

More on this in future articles (feel free to email me with thoughts/opinions).

For more about this, see my video, The Future of Work: More Hybrid Less Remote.

Timeless Leadership… This is NOT Rocket Surgery– Good enough for Patton, good enough for you

Timeless Leadership is not rocket surgery.

I’m a military veteran. USAF. 13 years, 8 months, 13 days. If I was counting.

As such, I frequently read old military books, discourses, and papers to compare corporate leadership today with historical military leadership. The similarities are astounding. A 1941 book published by the Military Service Publishing Company is one such work.

Edited by the staff, it has no specific author, but is a compilation of thoughts, ideas, suggestions and directives from a stream of notable military leaders. Some–just as an example–include the likes of General J.G. Harbord, who began as a private in the Spanish-American war, achieved prominence as General Pershing’s Chief of Staff, and later commanding the USMC’s 2nd Division before assuming the Chairmanship of the RCA Corporation.

Just an example of the caliber of input for this book…

In this book, Chapter II discusses “Orientation.” Of course, it is meant to apply mostly to new officers at a new post or assignment.

Truth is, the advice given there — some 75-odd years ago to junior officers — is as appropriate today for first-time (and/or recently promoted) managers as it is senior-most leadership.

Sections and brief summaries include (apologies in advance for the dated, ubiquitous male gender references – these are quotes, not 2024 sound bites):

Your Brother Officers: “The commissioned officers of the U.S. military are a cross-section of the American Public… as a group, they are subject to the same ambitions, variations in viewpoint, and human frailties as the people they serve.”

This, of course, matches up with our corporate situations today. Managers and leaders have different backgrounds and experiences, bringing different thought processes and judgment. When harnessed for the common good, this is an excellent trait, one we should exploit, not suppress.

Different thinking means more choices. More choices usually mean better decisions. Or, as many would put it–embrace your weirdness.

Performance of Duty: “In the military, the performance of duty to the limit of one’s capacity is a fetish. Striving for perfection is more than a figure of speech… as you demonstrate your capacity for additional responsibility, it will come to you… be not impatient… there is much to learn.”

Wow, is this apropos or what!? The fetish analogy may be a bit much, but… Work hard, smart, and consistent. Do what you say you’ll do. Make well-thought decisions. Those of you who have achieved significant corporate rank: Did you get there through politics, trickery, and slight-of-hand, or was it hard work, diligence, and sacrifice??

This stuff really works.

Get Out or Get in Line (if you don’t read anything else, read this!): “Mind your business. If the concern where you are employed is all wrong, and the Old Man a curmudgeon (I love that word), it may be well for you to go tell the Old Man, confidentially, privately, and quietly, that he is a curmudgeon.

Explain to him that his policy is absurd and preposterous. Then show him how to reform his ways and offer to lead the effort to cleanse the faults.

Do this, or if for any reason you should prefer not, then take your choice of these: Get Out, Or Get In Line.

If you work for a man, in heaven’s name, work for him! Speak well of him, think well of him, stand by him and the institution he represents.

If put to the pinch, an ounce of loyalty is worth more than a pound of cleverness.

If you must vilify, condemn, and eternally disparage, why, resign your position and, when on the outside, damn to your heart’s content.”

This quotation is so appropriate in corporate management today that it needs no explanation, segue, or pithy remarks from me. Simply put–work for whomever you work for. Grammatical errors aside, you get my point. Don’t we all get tired of those who work “for” us part of the time, and “against” us the rest?

Bum Phillips, revered Houston Oilers coach, said it best: “Dance with who brung ya.”

Importance of the Word ‘NO’: “As an officer, many questions will come to you for decisions… the choice you make in the mere act of saying “yes,” or “no,” may constitute the measure of your success.

A weak man can say “yes” to troublesome situations, dissipating the efforts of the whole. An unwise man can say “no,” and by mere obstruction, cause the failure of the unit. It takes a happy combination of courage and wisdom to be able to say “no” at the right time and place.”

Simply put, our most significant, regular responsibility–day to day and strategic–is making decisions.

Anyone can make the easy ones… they seldom take forethought, intellect, or wisdom, since they are usually painfully obvious, and accolades are near. No, they pay us for the hard ones. The lonely decisions. The times when we make the “right” decision in the face of dissent and conflict, and where the easier decision is to abide with consensus.

That’s why they pay us the bucks and give us these fancy business cards.

Adaptability: “Adaptability is required. Leadership is a new and different life. He must be equally quick to detect and avoid those things which are abhorrent to military life… the road to recognition and fame may lie ahead. How well and how quickly the opportunities are embraced depends upon the promptness of adapting himself to the new horizons the career provides.”

You can’t always spell out the details of a leadership role in a nice, convenient job description. Our worlds are dynamic, fluctuating, and ever-changing.

We’ve got to know when to “stay the course,” and when to turn on a dime. All the while keeping those looking to us for leadership engaged in our path.

This is what sets us apart.

I only provided these today for two reasons. First, a reminder: Leadership — its theories, concepts, and approaches, really haven’t changed much in a couple thousand years.

Yes, some applications of principles have evolved over time, given our changing workforce, demographics, and societal norms.

The real concepts and basis of leadership, however, remain constant.

And lastly, we can learn a lot from simplicity. Sometimes we make this stuff too hard, when we could get to the same place — maybe even a better place — with approaches that embrace simplicity and ease of thought.

Grace and accountability can coexist.

Conflict Resolution: Why does something so simple have to be so hard?

Conflict Resolution

A tip of my hat to my sister for this month’s inspiration. I’ll call her Kevina to protect her real identity, but she’s not going to read this anyway.

You might be surprised to know my sister can be quite direct and is unafraid to offer her perspective to those whom she believes could benefit from her wisdom. Especially in the workplace.

Or if you know me, you might not be that surprised.

Those qualities haven’t always endeared her to the boss and her peers. And lately (only the last 45 years or so) there have been some conflicts with some peers, and she’s unhappy with senior leadership’s conflict resolution style. In my humble opinion, there hasn’t been any actual conflict resolution and damn little leadership – if any.

I won’t address her conflict resolution style. We’re working on that.

Conflict resolution isn’t fun, but it is a critical leadership skill. Managers hide behind policies and processes to punish perceived inappropriate behaviors between offended parties, but leaders know that failing to resolve conflicts leads to an increasingly toxic work environment, lower morale, higher attrition, reduced productivity, etc. Unfortunately, most leaders don’t get much practice because they don’t want to… it’s so much easier to let HR deal with personnel issues.

But there’s a simple three-step model we can employ for resolving conflict in the workplace – and everywhere else you live, play, worship, and shop for groceries. It works best when both sides benefit, but you can’t always control the outcome, only the process. Not often easy, but simple.

And it might take more time than you want, but if you’re in a leadership position, nothing is more important than taking the time necessary to create a positive work environment where people feel appreciated doing worthy work. Relationship repair isn’t just for therapists.

First step: take all the time it takes to get the facts and issues on the table. That means you have to talk to people individually and together. Unless, of course, you’re the one who’s involved in the conflict, and then you’re going to have to bite the bullet and talk face-to-face with the other person.

The reason I emphasize all is it’s easy to jump to a conclusion that makes it appear you have a bias. Then you’re a part of the conflict whether you want to be or not.

No one gets their own facts! When we focus on what’s right and not who’s right, we might discover it’s just a communication issue (everyone gets their own perception) and not an actual conflict. From the outside looking in, it’s often easy to see how preconceived notions have contributed to the mess we’re dealing with.

In Kevina’s case, one of the complaints is that she always looks angry when she talks to her cohorts. Kevina claims it’s not her fault she had RBF – Resting Bitch Face. And she was accused of only hugging old women at work; she claims she gives hugs to people who seem to need them out of compassion and old women (like her) seem to need them more than others.

Okay, you get the picture. I could fill your day with stories of how Kevina is always being targeted and accused of inappropriate behavior only to have a perfectly reasonable explanation. This crap could have been stopped years ago, but senior management (not leadership) has only dealt with it individually and secretly, so it continues to fester.

Second step: seek to understand both points of view. And then help those involved in the conflict to understand the other point of view, so they can understand what it is the other person needs out of the resolution. Not what they want, but what they need.

I’m not a therapist, but sometimes it helps to remind people what they can control and what they can’t. They can’t control other people’s thoughts, feelings, actions, or mistakes. They can, however, control how they respond to them (albeit not very well sometimes).

Now’s probably a good time to take a break. Not reading this, but time to think about the third step.

Third step: find a win/win solution. And unless you’re blessed with an intuitive skill that makes you a peacemaker, this is the part of leadership that takes practice. Be hard on the problem, not the person.

It’s not a sign of weakness to talk it over with a trusted third party or an executive coach; it’s an indication that you care enough about the resolution enough to do the best thing – for the people and the company. Like I said, leaders typically don’t like to get into the conflict resolution arena, so the skills don’t get honed as often as they probably should.

Resolutions don’t have to be a zero-sum exchange or a give-and-take. See them as a positive-sum exchange where both sides benefit by getting what they need.

That’s it: get all the facts and issues on the table, seek to understand both points of view, and find a win/win solution. I told you it was simple.

And please, don’t hide from the conflict like Kevina’s leadership has. I can only predict that someone is going to be out of a job before this is all over.

But that’s up to you, leaders.

Surprise! I Actually Don’t Know It All! — Lessons learned, circa 2023

2023 Business Lesson Learned

As the coach and consultant, I’m supposed to be the expert; offer advice, coaching, and counsel to my clients, and provide insights and thinking to get “unstuck” and make progress. To help them succeed. They pay me to bring concentrated expertise and specific judgment that likely doesn’t exist in their organization.

But there goes another year-end, and I have to say I learned a ton from my clients this past year.


Some of it completely useless and won’t be shared here (you know who you are); other morsels of wisdom have been found to be surprisingly valuable, and I thought I’d share those tidbits with you today.

Lessons I Learned from my Clients – just the Top 5

1. Don’t let anyone else tell you what’s normal. Normal is a subjective term, no matter how many supportive facts others may include as evidence. Facts may be facts, but using those facts to arrive at a conclusion is something entirely different.

What’s normal for one person or organization may be completely and utterly abnormal to another. And both can be correct in their assessment.

And since the apocalypse, the definition of normal keeps shifting for us all. It’s not a “new” normal as much as a “now” normal.

Take politics for example (watching everyone gasp sharply):

        • Candidate Bob did something. An objective, factual comment. Likely footage available.
        • Candidate Bob said something. Another objective, factual comment. Again, there’s probably a reel.
        • Therefore, Candidate Bob is an asshole. Hmmm… methinks there may have been a logic leap, a bit of subjectivity in arriving at the conclusion, even though facts were the starting point.

You get the picture.

You – personally or organizationally – determine what’s normal for you. No one else.

And anyway, normal is vastly overrated. Strive instead to get better. To change what needs to be changed, and reinforce what you should continue doing. That should be your “normal.”

2. Questions are learning moments. Teach. This one is something I’ve used in the past, when describing leadership traits and such. It’s included in my 5 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership article.

The whole “teach a person to fish” metaphor.

From the article: “If you always answer employee’s every question, you’ll forever be answering employees’ every question. Questions are teaching moments — don’t rob employees of the opportunity.”

True dat. Come to find out it applies to coach/client as well. Whouldathunkit??

Smart employees asking questions is a really good thing. And they want to learn, so let’s do the whole teaching moment thing, shall we?

3. Ask for help. When you need help, knowledge, casual assistance, or a full-blown life preserver… ask for it.

We (global leadership) are not good at this one. My friend and partner-in-crime Kevin Ross discusses this better than I can in his article, HELP!

We have somehow convinced ourselves that asking for help is akin to an admission of weakness of some sort.

Which is truly weird, if you consider that:

a. We are forever telling those we lead to do exactly that – ask for help when you need it. We know, intuitively, that it’s too much for a person to know all things, so we jump up and down when they don’t ask… like what the hell were you thinking?

Then we, sometimes sanctimoniously inside, do the exact same thing.

Weird, huh?

Asking for help, when you need it, is clearly seen by subordinates as an indicator of strength and confidence – the very opposite of a weakness.

b. When we ask others for help, we are both admitting that we do not/can not know it all, and that the appropriate thing to do in that situation is ask someone who knows more about that than I do.

Wins all around.

Ask for help when you need it. And trust me, the “when” is more frequent than you think. Really.

4. Offer assistance when you know you can. Here’s where it gets tricky, since it may butt heads a bit with the advice above about asking for help.

When you see clearly (or even not-so-clearly) that someone could use your help, offer it. In the moment. Right then when you see that you can add value.

Now the tricky part: I don’t mean to immediately offer a solution to something that they’re working diligently on, solving problems like a puzzle. They are making solid progress, leave them be.

Nor do I mean stepping in with the white-horse attitude of, “Here, let me fix that for you.”

I tell family, friends, and clients all the time, “It’s only help if the help you’re offering helps the person needing help.” Read it slowly, it’s not nearly as confusing as it looks initially.

Also, to be clear, I certainly don’t mean waiting until someone is near-drowning before stepping in with the offer. I do mean you need to read the room, and offer when it can actually help. Simple prompts, like:

        • Hey, can I give you a hand?
        • Can I offer a suggestion?

Don’t be that leader who, after failure, insists, “Well, if she needed help, she should’ve asked for it.”

5. Expand your reach. One-deep functional relationships are simply inadequate for anything useful. I’m talking here about functional relationships, not personal ones.

Personal relationships are, and forever will be, one-on-one. No one can sit in your stead, and no amount of peripheral or tertiary connections will make up for unsuccessful, one-on-one personal relationships.

Functional relationships, however, are different. And as a leader, you really need to consider broadening yours.

If you have a single go-to in Operations… that’s great, but insufficient. Not only are the inputs you may receive inadequate (or insufficient) to actually get a bead on what’s going on, but if you really need that go-to, and they aren’t there, then what?

Or your single contact in Accounting goes dark. Maybe they’ve taken a week off (called “vacation.” Google it). Maybe they quit, and left you in a lurch. Maybe they got whacked for using the corporate zoom account for some sketchy interactions.

Don’t care, doesn’t matter. It’s not their issue, it’s yours. And you’re in a bind because of a one-deep functional relationship.

Expand your reach. Meet, interact and connect with multiple folks in functional areas. You can combine those interactions if you simply must, meeting with all your Accounting peeps in one lunch, but expand your reach.

You can’t succeed as a leader without it.

Leadership is a journey, not a destination. You stop learning, you stop leading.

As I implied above, this list is far from all-inclusive.

This I merely a top-5 list of myriad lessons that I learned from clients this year. We are forever teaching each other – that’s a good thing, and exactly how it should be.

Some of my clients, it seems, are pretty sharp.

Shhh, don’t tell ‘em I said that.

HELP! I hate to ask, but…

Ask for Help

“Can I do something to help?”

“No thanks; I’ve got it.”

Sound familiar? It should. That short conversation takes place millions of times every day across this country in the workplace, in stores, in the kitchen, between co-workers, bosses and employees, spouses, and parents and their children – basically everywhere.

And it’s not going to be any different in 2024.

Since this newsletter is about leadership, let’s start in the workplace. As leaders, we certainly don’t expect our employees to know everything; yet because many of them think and feel like we do, they’re hesitant to ask questions. And then we get frustrated with team members who wait until the last minute to ask for help – or don’t ask for help at all – and things go to hell in a handbasket.

Ever considered that your boss feels the same way when you don’t ask for help? They do!

Okay, I hear you. You don’t need help. All I can ask is that you keep this in mind next time you get frustrated at someone who won’t ask for help.

So, why is it so dammed hard to ask for help? Easy… we have egos.

Successful people are helpers, not helpless, right? We think asking for help makes us look weak, undermining our credibility as a (insert self-description here). We may think that, but it’s not true! Pretending we don’t need help when it’s obvious that we do is what undermines our credibility.

You’re not a failure if you ask for help. You fail when you need it and don’t ask for it – and the consequences create a crisis. Self-reliance can be both a strength and a self-limiting weakness. Especially at senior levels. We develop this huge blind spot about letting someone else lighten our load.

Well, here’s a hint on what your first clue should be that you need help:

Someone says, “Can I do something to help?

They obviously see something we don’t.

How about in 2024 we start building a culture where our people aren’t intimidated to ask for help by helping them understand the “when” and “how” to ask for it. I’ve heard it said that there’s no such thing as a stupid question, but I know better… I’ve heard some.

Let’s start with when. Here are five good reasons to ask for help:

    • When you don’t know – you encounter a new process, new situation, new technology, new project, etc. Again, the world doesn’t expect you to know everything.
    • When deadlines are in danger – someone else is usually depending on you to complete your part of the project or process on time; don’t disappoint them.
    • When you don’t understand what’s expected – when you accept an expectation, you own it. Sometimes you have to gain clarity afterwards on just exactly what is being asked of you.
    • When you’re curious – not in a judgmental way, but actually trying to learn why things are done in a certain way, where what you do fits into the larger effort, or when you don’t understand a decision. WARNING: watch your tone of voice when you ask.
    • When you see an opportunity to develop someone – asking your team to help when you’re overwhelmed (or when you’re not) is an opportunity for you to practice empowerment and for them to grow in the organization.

Great! We’re almost there. Now that your team knows how to ask you for help, here are some tips for how to ask without sounding incompetent:

    • Make sure you need it – you have to have explored the possibilities before your boss offers a simple solution. It’ll help if you start the discussion with “I tried…”
    • Bring solutions, not problems – I wish I had a dollar for every time my daughters heard me say that. You need to be able to say “Here are the options I see…”
    • Be S-M-A-R-T – ask for the help you need, or you’ll get more help than you want. Make your request for assistance specific, meaningful, actionable, realistic and time-bound.
    • Don’t be a martyr – just because you wait until the last minute doesn’t mean it’ll only take a minute. The last thing you want to hear from your boss is “Why didn’t you come to me sooner?”

I know, you didn’t ask for my help, and you don’t need it. That doesn’t surprise me. Almost everyone I talk to says they don’t have a problem asking for help… and almost everyone does.

Let’s teach and model it in 2024, ok?

(and if you need my help, just ask)

It’s up to you, leaders.

1:1 Meetings aren’t for you — You know that, right?

One on One Meetings aren’t for you

Look, nobody is saying you guys don’t talk to each other. Really.

I mean, think about it… with some of your direct reports, you speak multiple times each day. Hell, some of them all day. Like it or not. And no, that wasn’t a question, so stop nodding your head.

And anyway, that’s not the point.

The point is, we sometimes speak so much and so frequently that we never seem to get around to the conversations we should be having with those we lead.

The conversations that are about them. Not about what you want, but what they want. Not about your needs, but what they need to move forward. Not about your grandiose vision and plans for the future, but their ideas on what their career, life and future will look like.

Enter the 1:1 meeting.

Everyone likes to talk about themselves. You get to do it all the time – mainly because we like to believe that the rapt attention we receive when doing so means that those in front of us are pining away, wondering what future you have mapped out.

In reality, they’re listening to you discuss the future to help them determine how (or if) they fit into it. Or even if they want to fit into it.

What should be happening, if it isn’t already, is that you sit down with your folks, individually and regularly scheduled, and listen to them talk about themselves. Things like, what they want, how things are going (really), their expectations, and how you might fit into their future.

How you might fit into their future?

Crazy stuff, huh…?

1:1 meetings, solo gatherings between you and your direct reports on a regular (read: scheduled) basis are not just any meeting. For instance they are not:

    • Routine status checks,
    • Repeats of operational updates, or even
    • Personal performance assessments.

They are, however, about:

    • Their priorities,
    • Their targets,
    • The challenges they face, and
    • What actions they (or you) might take to better help them do their job and achieve their goals.

(If you need a template, click here.)

Totally centered on “they” and “their,” not “me and “my.”

We don’t do 1:1 meetings just for the hell of it. As a leadership tool, they foster engagement, improve relationships, give us early warnings, and create that sought-after discretionary effort.

No visible downsides.

Wins all around.

Added resource: A more in-depth, instructional look at 1:1 meetings can be seen here.

At C-Level Newsletter

Join our mailing list to receive our newsletter jam-packed with info, leadership tips, and fun musings.

You have successfully subscribed!