Chief Executive Officer
This Week in Leadership (July 19 - July 25)
What the Delta variant means for office returns. Solving the labor shortage with returnships. Plus, tips for how to be a great board director.
Gary Burnison is CEO of Korn Ferry and the author of Leadership U: Accelerating Through the Crisis Curve.
On the road again
Goin' places that I've never been
Seein' things that I may never see again
And I can't wait to get on the road again
- Willie Nelson
Three days ago, I was sitting on a curb along a highway in Oklahoma.
It was one of just a few trips I’ve taken in almost a year and a half, and I was driving a rental car along an unfamiliar road. I wasn’t quite sure where I was, cell phone reception was sketchy, and I couldn’t figure out which button did what. So, with a conference call coming up, I pulled to the shoulder and found a place where the signal was strong, and my mind was clear.
That’s when another vehicle pulled off the pavement and rolled to a stop a few feet from where I sat. I saw their concerned faces as a man and a woman got out and approached me.
“Do you need help?” they asked. “Do you know where you’re going?”
With sincere thanks, I assured them I was fine. The whole interaction took only a few minutes, but it was so welcome and refreshing—connecting with strangers who extended a helping hand.
Just the night before, I’d had an entirely different encounter. At a dinner, someone shared a story about a friend’s new voicemail greeting: “I’m making a lot of changes in my life right now. If you don’t hear back from me, then you’re one of those changes.”
At the time, we all laughed. But as I sat on that curb, waving good-bye to the kind strangers, I couldn’t help but make the comparison. The couple had gone out of their way to make a connection, while the other person was humorously echoing the sound of change in our post-pandemic world.
These days, it feels like we all might be harnessing a wide range of emotions. As the world starts opening up, little by little, we’re on the road again—like nomads, wandering and wondering what the world will look like. And as the workscape changes dramatically, many are left pondering what that means for their careers—and where they’re going next.
Right now, some people are on the move merely to escape. For them, it’s any change—just for the sake of change. They’re burned out or bored. They want to do something else—whatever that is (fill in the blank). But often, they may fail to stop and ask themselves: Am I running to something or running away from something? Do I even know why I’m running?
The real reason may be the ambiguity hangover of the past year. After all, the pandemic brought with it more ambiguity than perhaps most of us have experienced in our lifetimes. It abounded in all its forms: uncertainty, obscurity, and vagueness—triggering fear, doubt, and insecurity.
Others, however, are more deliberate in their pursuit of change. One executive reached out to me this week and confided that she has decided to leave her organization after 14 years. “Not to take care of my kids or to give up on my career, and not to jump to another opportunity because of the flexibility, but to stop—be still, take care of myself, self-reflect, and get to my ‘why’ so that I can eventually figure out my ‘where.’”
But today, there are other flashpoints for self-reflection and movement, as well. A recent survey conducted by our firm shows that the No. 1 catalyst for leaving jobs in this post-pandemic world—accounting for a resounding 35% of responses—is company culture and purpose. Add to that another 21% of people who say they are going to quit because they are concerned about leadership. These two responses reveal more than half of what’s putting people into motion.
“People want to understand who they are playing for right now. What team is on the field? Is there a vision? What do the company’s values mean for them,” Marat Fookson, a senior vice president at our firm, told me this week. “For many people, the connective tissue is gone. So, they want a fresh start.”
It all comes down to the people you work with, the boss you report to, and how engaged and inspired you feel. Right here, right now—this is where all of us can extend that helping hand. Here are some thoughts:
· Zoom out. Imagine it’s June 2022—what do we think the world will look like? How do we see ourselves? What do we want to accomplish? Who do we want to become? These questions can create an instant perspective shift. With that broader perspective, we also give ourselves context for what’s driving our desire for change. For the legions of career nomads out there these days, zooming out can keep them from making a hasty leap in the moment, hoping to land somewhere better. They need to think of their careers as a long game composed of many short moves.
· Zoom in. Once we have a vision for our future, we identify what can help us reach that goal. It starts with self-awareness, which precedes self-change and self-improvement. It’s time to take a good look in the mirror—at ourselves and what’s driving the change we want. The science of human behavior focuses on three specific drivers: achievement (mastery), affiliation (relationships and belonging), and power (influence). All are powerful, deep-seated motivations. The more we know about our drivers, the better they can help us navigate toward what we want to experience next—the best fit in terms of culture, environment, and even the type of boss to work for. In the same way, when organizations understand what drives people, they find it easier to connect with them—to understand what makes them tick, creating collective energy. If there’s a mismatch between a person’s drivers and the organizational culture, that’s bad news for all involved.
· Time to shake hands. In the early days of the pandemic, when so much fear was in the air, I heard from an executive who gave me a vision of what the world will look like again. As our conversation ended, the executive told me, “I hope one day to be able to shake your hand—for real. And we will shake hands again.” I never forgot those words. As we search for something, not knowing what it is or even where we are, it starts with us. Indeed, we can be the change we want to see in the world—simply by extending a helping hand.
A year ago, amid great uncertainty and ambiguity, agility was our survival. We had no other choice. Now, amid the big reset, people just want change. Where they live. How they work. Even what company they work for. Indeed, as people are on the road again—in search of the next opportunity—leaders need to join the journey. Sometimes in front, sometimes behind, but always beside others.