Humanity at Work: Mental health is just a part of this. Companies that know how to manage the human experience, and don’t resort to toxic positivity, will thrive.

When it comes to designing the future of work, one size fits none. Discovering success isn’t about a hybrid model or offering remote work options. Individuals and organizations are looking for more freedom. The freedom to choose the work model that makes the most sense. The freedom to choose their own values. And the freedom to pursue what matters most. We reached out to successful leaders and thought leaders across all industries to glean their insights and predictions about how to create a future that works.

As a part of our interview series called “How Employers and Employees are Reworking Work Together,” we had the pleasure to interview Claire Steichen.

Claire Steichen is the Founder of Clear Strategy Coaching, a top executive leadership and corporate culture consulting platform working with today’s most influential leaders. Founded in 2008, Clear Strategy Coaching works with the C-suite executives, senior talent, and corporate teams of Fortune 500 companies, including Visa, L’Oreal, American Express, Coty, Firmenich, Columbia Business School, and more to ignite transformative change and reach new heights of collaboration, productivity, and engagement.

Thank you for making time to visit with us about the topic of our time. Our readers would like to get to know you a bit better. Can you please tell us about one or two life experiences that most shaped who you are today.

After two decades in the beauty industry, I followed my dream and launched Clear Strategy Coaching. My “how” is a reflection of my own experience with burnout and disenchantment. I was a high achiever in what I thought was my dream profession, but I lost the thread of fulfillment and confidence after being disappointed by organizational politics and dynamics. What started as a love letter to help others like myself — ambitious leaders looking for individual coaching to build confidence and empower their teams — has evolved into a multi-faceted practice offering training for high-potential leaders, teams, and companies alike.

Before becoming an Executive Coach and Trainer, I held leadership roles in marketing and business development for top beauty industry players like Givaudan, where I was the account manager for Estee Lauder, Victoria Secret, La Prairie, and others. I led high-profile launches while in-house at Dior and Lancôme. I began my career at Barneys, the iconic New York City-based department store, where I managed their fragrance department.

Growing up in the US with European parents in medicine and the arts, I grew up speaking multiple languages and had the amazing privilege of feeling like a local as we traveled internationally. That cultural fluidity makes it possible to connect with so many people. And my parents’ focus on service taught me how to make supporting others the center of my work. It is a joy and a privilege to do what I do.

Let’s zoom out. What do you predict will be the same about work, the workforce and the workplace 10–15 years from now? What do you predict will be different?

Cascading crises will bring increasing uncertainty and ambiguity, and interpersonal skills are going to be increasingly important. Whether it’s individual career or team and company success, knowing how to deal with others is going to be a key to success.

Connection gives us a sense of safety: Like bread baking during Covid, people will respond to uncertainty by embracing the familiar, and connection is familiar.

As external validation from regular promotions becomes more uncertain, those who succeed will have a better sense of themselves. They will take the time to become aware of their strengths and weaknesses, their impact, and how to enable themselves and others.

And, now that AI has broken out of the gate and we are chasing it down the opening stretch, we will be confronted with communication and personas that are hybrid. We won’t always know whether what someone said is real, and our ability to listen and intuit who and what we are dealing with will need to increase.

In short, the need for connection and trust will remain. How to achieve those may change.

What advice would you offer to employers who want to future-proof their organizations?

The most consistent request I get from corporate clients is for better communication. Inefficiency caused by bad communication and lack of connection/collaboration is like throwing money out the window. As uncertainty and ambiguity continue, and even increase, the likelihood of ineffective communication will increase. To help with that:

  • Make sure you consistently communicate the vision and short and long term goals, at the individual, team and organizational levels.
  • Make sure manager/leaders are trained in how to regularly communicate with their direct reports. They should know the aspirations of each direct report, that person’s style, motivations, triggers and communication style. And they should be mentoring their direct reports in how to advocate for themselves so they feel control over their career.
  • Make sure employees have tools for effective confrontation. Festering frustration leads to giving up, which leads to disengagement, or even turnover. Delivering feedback well, whether it’s positive or negative, can actually increase trust.

We simultaneously joined a global experiment together last year called “Working From Home.” How will this experience influence the future of work?

As hybrid work continues, people will need to master connecting without the spontaneity of an office. That means being more focused about planning time to talk to colleagues about work, and about non work. I started working from home 15 years ago and have mastered the virtual “coffee break” where I reach out to a friend or two and see if they want a 10 minute break. We’ve also discovered a different relationship with intimacy and sharing personal life at work, and that will continue for better or worse.

We’ve all read the headlines about how the pandemic reshaped the workforce. What societal changes do you foresee as necessary to support a future of work that works for everyone?

We forget that the pandemic coincided with an explosive shift in race relations. The killing of George Floyd pulled back the curtain on race relations and major companies have launched Diversity, Equity and Inclusion initiatives since the summer of 2020. Those changes will need to continue. We will need to continue to push diversity at the higher levels of organizations so that middle and junior ranks can focus on their work and feel confident about their futures. The pandemic revealed a similar inequality around gender, as women took on the work of childcare and homeschooling. To stabilize women’s careers and get the most from their acquired knowledge, we will need better low cost childcare and universal pre-K.

Underlying these changes, we need to trust that change doesn’t mean taking from one person to give to another. With more diversity, we solve bigger challenges and create more for everyone.

What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?

A couple of things:

  • The pandemic highlighted the importance of human connection and well-being. We had been moving away from the top-down approach to leadership for a long time. The last three years accelerated a collaborative approach to leadership. In the long run, that approach will get more from each person, and that will yield better results.
  • The killing of George Floyd pushed us closer to having more diverse teams. Diverse collaboration will be the key to finding the solutions to the very big problems we are facing.

Our collective mental health and wellbeing are now considered collateral as we consider the future of work. What innovative strategies do you see employers offering to help improve and optimize their employee’s mental health and wellbeing?

Interestingly, I see spiritual health as an important piece of well-being. I’m not advocating bringing religion to work, but people regularly meditate, alone or in groups, and/or take three collective breaths at the start of meetings. That fascinates me. No one calls it prayer, but it’s pretty close. And to me, that’s spiritual health, which is as big a part of well-being as physical or mental health. So to that, I say, “Party on!”

As far as mental health, I see companies and leaders finally stopping to deal with people. My kids’ school was so focused on academics the first year of the pandemic. Literally no one reached out to ask how anyone was doing. By year two, it was all about mental health — the kids’ and ours. So just the fact that people are asking how you are, and stopping to listen, is a huge step forward. Managers are learning to not fear emotional outbursts or meltdowns. Just bearing witness to another person’s emotional experience is so important.

It seems like there’s a new headline every day. ‘The Great Resignation’. ‘The Great Reconfiguration’. And now the ‘Great Reevaluation’. What are the most important messages leaders need to hear from these headlines? How do company cultures need to evolve?

What amazed me was the huge numbers of people who quit work the minute the government started giving out PPP money. It said to me that they were so, so burnt out. If there’s one thing we needed, it was The Great Break. I believe in hard work, and I think most people thrive on it. The problem we have in Corporate America is that we confuse the need to restore with a lack of commitment, interest, or effort. That is just not true. No matter how committed or passionate someone is, they need to pace themselves.

The most productive team I ever worked with was one where we stopped for an hour long lunch at a huge conference room table (there was no cafeteria with the little tables) every day. The dialogue, and the work pause, made the afternoon feel just as energetic as the morning. We were growing double digits in an industry that was saturated. It was amazing.

Let’s get more specific. What are your “Top 5 Trends To Track In the Future of Work?”

  1. Solving Hybrid: We will be watching who does what. A few companies will optimize the opportunity, and others will try, with varying success, to match them.
  2. Childcare Solutions: Many companies already offer on-site childcare. The need to hang on to the talent you have will continue to be a pressure. Because of that, smart companies will create more career paths for moms to keep them instead of losing them and then on-boarding them 10+ years later.
  3. Diversity, Equity and Inclusion: We made a big lurch forward the last few years. Now the work is to normalize these changes. The business case for more diverse viewpoints is proven, but for most companies it requires a lot of energy over an extended period. The companies that have the resources will make it happen.
  4. Humanity at Work: Mental health is just a part of this. Companies that know how to manage the human experience, and don’t resort to toxic positivity, will thrive.
  5. Complexity Gap: By this I mean that some organizations will do the work and figure out the complexity of soft and hard skills and how they live together. Those will pull ahead farther and farther.

I keep quotes on my desk and on scraps of paper to stay inspired. What’s your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? And how has this quote shaped your perspective?

“I do not fix problems. I fix my thinking and then problems fix themselves.” ~ Lousie Hay

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” ~ Marcel Proust

As an entrepreneur, you are constantly on a steep learning curve. You need to be able to adjust your thinking, while staying in integrity with yourself. It’s a high stakes dance that makes it terrifying and stressful, but ultimately a huge thrill.

The last quote is:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” ~ Marianne Williamson.

The first time I read this, my kneels buckled. Ambition and vulnerability are so closely connected. When you want to live up to your full potential, you must confront the fear within yourself.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He, she, or they might just see this if we tag them.

Paul Polman: I love that he took the next step to challenge the world’s biggest organizations. Companies like Patagonia were setting a good example, but their size made them just the tip of the iceberg. If we are going to fix climate change and economic inequality, business is going to have to have a role, and it can’t be only because of regulation. We can lead.

Ken Chenault: I’ve worked with American Express, and I’ve seen first hand what can happen when an organization makes individual development a core focus. I am so impressed that Ken was able to keep that focus in an enormous organization.

Mike Brezinski: I attended an all-day session that was hosted by Mika Brezinski and was amazed by her expertise, as much in the performance as in the subject matter knowledge. Charisma is a huge responsibility and Mika manages it so well.

Mary Barra: Amazing! To be a woman CEO in the car business. Wow! It’s not a surprise that GM was the first American auto manufacturer to pledge all electric vehicles. I do believe that women see the interconnectedness of things and take a long view.

Peter Schwartz: I’ve been following Peter Schwartz since long before his time at SalesForce. What he does is fascinating and I would love to spend the afternoon with him.

Our readers often like to continue the conversation with our featured interviewees. How can they best connect with you and stay current on what you’re discovering?

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Thank you for sharing your insights and predictions. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and good health.