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  • Heather Polivka

Leadership & Growth Mindset

In this blog series, we continue to explore considerations for the NEW, new normal emerging in the months and year ahead.

In our last post, we looked at what the role of the manager, how they are supported, and how their performance is recognized and rewarded.

We are going to continue our discussion about designing work experiences in the NEW, new normal, and more specifically, leadership and growth mindset.


I am over the default, past-based thinking that is having some Leaders default to believing they need to have their people in the office when we just went thru almost 18 months of proving that isn’t the case.

To those leaders I say, “You challenge your people to have a growth mindset. Where is yours?”

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that a return-to-office isn’t a viable solution. In fact, it is for a number of industries, companies, and teams. What I am challenging is where I see a lack of thinking, willingness to explore, and an openness to trying and practicing new approaches that lead to this conclusion.

You do not need to return to the office for your culture. You can design your culture to be remote-first. There are plenty of organizations that prove this: Lessonly, Moderna, Zapier.

If your solution to talent loyalty is to hold them captive in an office, that is not loyalty, nor is it a solution.

If you struggle to lead or feel out of the loop because you cannot see people physically working, that is on you. You need to do what you ask your people to do: demonstrate a willingness to grow, try new things, and evolve.

Basically, whatever default way of thinking has you come up with an answer…ANY ANSWER….is not how to lead in the NEW, new normal.

So what suggestions do I have?

First, inventory all of the ways you have to communicate and interact with people…including in-person, zoom, loom, slack, text, email, calls, etc. Determine what each channel is best at in terms of what objectives they best meet, what information they are best used to convey, and with whom.

Second, look at the work, touchpoints, and milestones that are foundational to your business. What are the objectives of each? What outcomes need to be achieved? Who needs to be involved? Once you answer those questions, then look at your first list and determine if you are using the right channel or if another channel will help you best achieve the outcomes needed. In many cases, you will discover more than one meeting that should be an email or slack update. Make those changes.

You will likely also discover some work that is best accomplished in-person. They should be in-person.

Last, but not least, you will discover a number that could be accomplished equally well through a variety of channels. NOW you have some options to explore! With this work, given it can be achieved several ways, it is time to consider several aspects.

First, evaluate options through the lens of your values. Your values DO reflect who you say you are, what you value, and how you will work…so that is a great place to start.

Second, evaluate options through the lens of your talent strategy. What talent is critical to your business model and competitive advantage? What does this talent value? What is your competition doing for this talent group? What challenges do you have with this talent group? For example, maybe your competitive advantage happens through your data scientist talent. You struggle to recruit and retain women. Then perhaps the most family-friendly options should be explored in where this work is accomplished or the hours those touchpoints will take place.

Now evaluate the remaining options through the lens of your people. What do they want? What works for them? And warning…it is not likely to be one-size-fits-all!

Lastly, treat your employee like adults. If there are a variety of options that CAN work, then empower them or their immediate leaders to determine what works best for them. If you demonstrate trust, you are more likely to earn their trust.

So now, hopefully, you’ve developed some answers as to how to approach your work in a way that helps the business to achieve its outcomes in the most effective manner possible, while also allowing flexibility where it works.

As a leader, you now have work to do to consciously monitor your unconscious bias as you evolve to achieving your business outcomes in the manner you have outlined, particularly if it involves some changes. You are human, too. It is easy to default to what we know from the past, what we prefer, and what we are comfortable with. Here are just a few moments to pause and reflect:

Are you feeling strongly about promoting one team member over another because you see them more often, or because the quality and quantity of their work supports it?

Do you engage with a team member several levels below you because they happen to be in the office, or because they are the most informed, reliable resource to get the answer you need?

Do you have a perception of someone as not being a hard worker because you always see them in communal spaces versus heads-down at their desk? Or perception of someone as a hard worker because they are heads-down at their office desk versus heads-down at their home desk?

Now that we’ve talked about default thinking, how to achieve our business objectives, and how our own bias can impact how we see things. Let’s discuss how the last 18 months impacted how we led, and should impact how we lead going forward.

One of the many benefits that came from the pandemic is the humanity that emerged with work. Everyone was suddenly working from home, dealing with kids, pets, deliveries, wonky wi-fi, unfamiliar technologies. It leveled the playing field. Out of that, we got to see leaders be more human, more accessible, more vulnerable when their kids ran in to say, “hi!”.

As the pandemic wore one, leaders themselves were dealing with the sustained strain and stress. Out of that, they demonstrated greater compassion and empathy with their people and teams.

The vulnerability, humanity and compassion are aspects of leadership that cannot be lost as we continue to evolve and respond to the NEW, new normal. Your people want it to continue to be demonstrated, regardless of where or how they work. It builds trust. It forges relatedness and relationships. It gives space to your people to be human, too.

At the end of the day, as we explore how to lead in the constantly changing NEW, new normal, the only right answer is with curiosity, growth mindset, vulnerability, humanity and compassion. It is worth asking yourself …. why you became a leader to begin with? Was it to command and control? To do what had always been done? Or would you rather inspire, innovate, and grow?

Discard the default way of thinking. Try on approaches and forums that may be uncomfortable, lead by example. Critically evaluate how to best achieve objectives and outcomes, as well as what is informing and shaping your own thinking. Look thru the lens of your values, talent strategy, and talent. Continue to demonstrate the humanity that guided all of us through the most challenging times and can be even more powerful when leveraged to thrive.

We were all changed and impacted by the past 18 months. So is our leadership. Or, at least, it should be.

Interested in exploring what’s next for your organization? Schedule a no-obligation 30-minute strategy call with Heather by clicking here.

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