People + Strategy Journal, 45.4 (Fall 2022): The Balancing Acts of Leadership
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The challenges of leadership have grown exponentially since the start of the decade. For many leaders, 2022 was supposed to be different—an emergence from crisis surfing, and a restoration of some level of stability, or at least more familiar tensions. But the pandemic, heightened awareness of racial injustice, inflation and scarcity in the both the talent and “hard” supply chains, and the war in Ukraine have actually expanded the demands upon leaders.
For organizations, leadership has become an endless series of balancing acts—weighing decisions for which there is no obvious or right answer, and that involve trade-offs that make consensus virtually impossible. Employee health and well-being or aggressive performance milestones? Shareholder returns or stakeholder/societal concerns? Remote-hybrid-virtual? Pace of change, or engagement? The responsibility for working through these balancing acts has fallen disproportionately onto HR leaders. They have become responsible for not only challenging strategic people issues, but their C-suite peers are also looking to CHROs and their teams to weigh in on countless other challenges that have implications for a blend of the business model, cultural health and employee sentiment.
For this issue, we want to explore those balancing acts. Not only to identify them but also to provide practical approaches and frameworks for successfully navigating these universal challenges. Topics for exploration may include, but are not limited to:
Inclusive and distinctive: Organizations must balance competing messages on culture. On the one hand, they face greater pressure to be inclusive, and to create a greater sense of belonging for all. On the other hand, as companies weigh in more on social issues, and as they take unyielding stands on issues such as gun control or immigration, they are sending a clear message to employees: We are not for everyone, and so if you disagree with our policies, we invite you to seek employment elsewhere.
Empathy and accountability: As the pandemic has brought down the wall between the personal and professional, leaders are being told to see their employees as human beings, and to be compassionate, empathetic and respectful of the challenges they are facing in all aspects of their lives, whether it’s coping with mental health issues or home-schooling children during pandemic lockdowns. And yet the work must be done, deadlines have to be met and performance standards have to be maintained. What is the compass for leaders to help guide them to be understanding vs. demanding?
What we can do vs. what we should do: Advances in AI and machine learning make it possible to overlay an organization’s data to drive consumer behavior in ways at once sophisticated and extremely basic—often by triggering some of the most primitive drivers of humans as a species. Tribalism, exclusivity and survival mechanisms that are hardwired into our brains can be massive triggers to engage with a platform or buy a product—but what does responsible use of this influence look like? What hard conversations are organizations having regarding not just what’s technically possible, but what the responsible use of such power entails?
What safeguards keep our own data from clouding our decision-making? The underlying purpose of much consumer-focused AI is to help humans bypass logic and to reach for a specific product or service or piece of content. What safeguards exist within your organization to ensure that internal use of data analytics are structured to enhance logic in decision-making? How do you ensure breaking out of a closed loop of analytics that serve to reinforce organizational blindspots, rather than break through them?
Listening and being directive: Employees want to be heard. They want to feel that their concerns are being addressed and honored. Companies cannot afford to ignore them, or they risk losing their talent to more responsive competitors. And yet organizations cannot function as democracies. As much as employees want to have a say, they also want and expect their leaders to make courageous decisions and provide clear direction. The challenge is to do both.
Innovation and structure: As companies grow, they face competing impulses—to build structure and processes to increase efficiencies while also maintaining an entrepreneurial spirit. Since innovation involves risk and a widening of guardrails to explore new ideas, how do companies do both?
Optimism and realism: Employees follow confident leaders who can provide inspiring visions of ground-breaking and meaningful growth. And yet, as we have learned since the start of the pandemic, planning has become increasingly difficult, given how hard it is to account for events like a pandemic. How do leaders strike the right balance of being both ambitious and realistic?
Articles should be strategic, impactful, actionable, grounded in research or practice, offer another point of view, and be readable with minimal jargon.
Submission ProcessWe encourage submissions of article ideas to the editors first, prior to submitting the completed article. All proposals will be reviewed by the editors and returned with comments. If accepted, we will then guide you on the development of your article. Criteria for evaluation include significance of contribution to the field of human resources, timeliness of content, originality, provocative nature of content, and quality of supporting data.
Writing GuidelinesArticles should range from 2,000 to 3,500 words. Please include high-resolution graphics or charts to help present any complex information in a visual format. Limit references to no more than 10.
Submission InformationAll proposals are due by July 18, 2022, and should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please designate in the subject line that the submission is for the Fall 2022 issue.
Copyright PolicyThe SHRM Executive Network retains the copyright to all material published in the People + Strategy Journal.
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