If you read the headlines regarding leadership in the workplace these days, the biggest topics revolve around the Great Resignation, recruitment and retention issues and the war for talent. What leaders in the commercial real estate industry and attendees at BOMA 2022may have been surprised to learn during Tuesday morning’s keynote address by Ginny Clarke, former director of Executive Recruiting at Google and holistic leadership strategist, is that they themselves are both part of the problem and the solution.
“This discussion of leadership is timely because we’re the problem,” Clarke said candidly. “Leaders are both the ailment and the remedy.”
Clarke outlined three key elements that will help propel us into the future of work:
- Building a foundation for talent
- Optimizing talent
- Conscious leadership
Building a Foundation for Talent
It’s a rather dismal fact that one in four employees dreads going to work. Clarke said the fact that 25% of employees don’t want to be in the workplace has less to do with the built environment or company policies and more to do with people.
“The root problem is the leaders,” she said. “It’s you; it’s us.”
She added that the Great Resignation should come as no surprise given these statistics. In order to counteract them, Clarke urged attendees to build a foundation or an ecosystem for how to select talent for their organizations that supports the needs of the business—and the employees.
“If you want retention, you have to demonstrate to people that you value them, that you want them there,” she said.
Providing regular feedback, creating plans to develop talent as well as succession plans are what leaders need to spend their time on, rather than relegate the responsibility to human resources.
Quoting Jack Welsh, Clarke said, “If you’re not spending half of your time on people, you shouldn’t call yourself a leader.”
Clarke asked the audience on what basis they assess candidates for senior-level positions. Responses included things like experience, character, integrity, skill set, attitude and authenticity.
While she agreed that all of those characteristics were positive, they are difficult to discern and “not one of those things, including experience, has ever been correlated to one’s success.” Case in point: a person may have a tremendous amount of experience on their resume but still be incompetent.
Clarke noted that competencies are not the same as skills. Rather, competencies include skills, knowledge and ability. “Do they have the mental, physical and emotional ability to complete the task at the right time in the right way?” Clarke asked.
Part of the problem is that people in the CRE industry, specifically, hire based on familiarity (the “I know a guy” principle). The result, Clarke said, is that you get people you’re comfortable with, but who are not necessarily the best candidates for the job. In other words, it creates homogeny rather than diversity.
Further, given that 40% of the U.S. workforce is now made up of people of color who accounted for the most of the population growth between 2010 and 2020, companies can’t afford to ignore diverse hiring practices. It goes far beyond simply identifying underrepresented individuals, however. Leaders must identify the underlying systems of recruitment in an organization, Clarke said. “It’s not just hiring one person; it’s shifting mindsets. That’s what’s needed when addressing diversity.”
Clarke added that optimizing talent also requires leaders to consider healing and mental health. Given that one in three employees, including executives, is suffering from fatigue and poor mental health due to the pandemic, it’s imperative that they address these issues.
“As leaders, you are responsible for identifying if you’re OK or need help,” she said. “That’s part of this discussion we need to have as it relates to talent in general.”
Lastly, to address retention, Clarke said leaders need to help people identify their competencies to create new opportunities for themselves and redeploying them within the organization. “This is an all-hands-on-deck time,” she noted. “You need to be thinking about, ‘What’s next for my top talent?” For those that aren’t effective who can’t be redeployed elsewhere, it may be time to consider letting them go.
“There is a real burning need for conscious leadership,” Clarke said, because leaders set the tone for an organization—and their mental, emotional and physical wellbeing matters because it informs the decisions they’re going to make.
Citing a Gallup poll, Clarke pointed out that only 18% of respondents indicated that their leaders are good, with an astonishing 82% identified as not having leadership capabilities.
“Eighty-two percent of leaders suck,” Clarke said bluntly.
The problem is that many people in leadership roles are domain experts with experience and success in a particular area, like sales, for example. But many who excel don’t know how to lead.
Clarke identified two core leadership competencies that she believes are lacking based on her more than 20 years of experience in recruitment:
- Decision making. “Make the call. That’s the role of a leader,” Clarke observed. Get feedback from a group, but expect leaders to develop their decision-making skills. “Pleasing others and avoiding conflict are the death knell of leadership,” she said.
- Effective communication. Verbal and written communication is important, but Clarke says feedback is even more critical—which goes both ways. “If you don’t tell your employees what they need to hear, you’re putting them at a disadvantage. Feedback is a gift. If you don’t know how to give it as a leader, you should learn; and you should ask for it,” she urged.
Clarke closed her inspiring keynote by underscoring the importance of leaders to exhibit qualities that are lacking today, such as empathy, self-awareness, humility and consciousness. These traits, along with a zero-tolerance policy on bad behavior and toxic culture, will propel the industry forward to a brighter future.
“You’re part of something bigger, and when we begin to understand that and we move away from the dualistic ‘us versus them’ mindset, that’s when we create a sense of unity as a civilization,” she said. “We can indeed solve the world’s problems.”