Bring energy and enthusiasm to work every day. Are your leaders the most positive and engaging people in the company? Why not? They should be.

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 Eric Harkins.

Eric Harkins ( is the president and founder of GKG Search & Consulting, a Minneapolis-based consulting firm that helps organizations acquire and retain top performers. He is the ForbesBooks author of Great Leaders Make Sure Monday Morning Doesn’t Suck: How To Get, Keep & Grow Talent. During his 25-year career in corporate America, Harkins has held leadership positions ranging from manager to chief talent officer and chief administrative officer. He is a motivational speaker, executive coach, and an expert in helping companies create a culture that high performers want to be a part of.

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.

I spent 25 years grinding my way through corporate America before starting my own firm. I’ve had a great journey and worked for Fortune 500, privately-held, family-owned, and private-equity owned companies. I learned the value of hard work from my parents, and the importance of staying humble. I was very lucky in my career because I worked for some good leaders, but I was even luckier because I worked for some really bad ones, too.

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?

I think one thing that’s always been true, and always will be true, is that a bad leader will never create a good culture. The importance of having great leaders in your company is, was, and will always be the only thing that sets you apart from your competition.

I think great leaders are great leaders and it doesn’t matter if you’re in an office, on Zoom, or have a hybrid model — a great leader knows how to create a culture that high performers want to be a part of.

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

Set expectations for how you want your leaders to lead. Not what their job is, but how you, as an organization, want anyone in a leadership position to show up and lead people. Companies don’t do this and it’s the biggest gap to building a great culture.

Tell the leaders in your company that they only have one job: to make sure Monday morning isn’t miserable.

What do you predict will be the biggest gaps between what employers are willing to offer and what employees expect as we move forward? And what strategies would you offer about how to reconcile those gaps?

Employees want three things when they go to work: a cool place, with cool people, and cool projects.

  • Cool place: There is something about the company that makes me proud to say I work there.
  • Cool projects: The work is engaging and rewarding and I’m recognized for my contributions.
  • Cool people: This has to be the company’s commitment to not allow bad leaders to hold leadership positions.

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

I think a lot of companies realized that it was actually okay to work from home. I think companies need to be okay saying that they are returning to the office if that’s what they feel is best for their business, but need to realize that there has been a shift, and the availability of talent willing to go into an office five days a week is much smaller than it was a couple years ago.

Ultimately, I think this shift brought visibility to leaders in a different way: Great leaders knew/know how to create a culture that high performers want to be a part of in person and on Zoom, but bad leaders have struggled even or to keep the engagement of their team.

I also think this shift had a positive impact on employees who were “remote” prior to COVID, as the effort put into their engagement and ability to stay connected was typically very bad. This shift brought technology forward in a way that made everyone visible … even if it was in a Brady Bunch style.

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

I truly believe the pressure for companies to have good leaders leading people is finally at a point that it should have always been. Companies that allow bad leaders to lead people will lose. They’ve always lost, but now more than ever.

It also forces companies to focus on all that matters — the work getting done, and not getting caught up in the “how” and “where” the work gets done. There’s no reason to care where someone sits, as long as they are getting the work done, but the “where” it gets done has always been a barrier to companies focusing on the right things. Employees who showed up every day and sat at their desk for eight or nine hours underperforming were often rewarded more than the high potential employee who was exceeding expectations but doing it remotely.

Our collective mental health and well-being 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 well-being?

·Mental health is a growing concern in the country and world for sure. But in the workplace, as with anything, it comes back to the leaders you have. Do they care about their employees as much when they aren’t in the office or on Zoom as when they are? Do they get to know them at an individual enough level that they know how to show empathy and compassion when employees are dealing with real-world issues? Do they even notice and do they have the courage to ask, “How are you doing; is there anything I can do to help”? Great leaders do these things because they are great people.

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?

I love this conversation. We are not experiencing a great resignation. We are experiencing a great exodus caused by bad leadership. People are not going to tolerate bad leadership anymore. The last two years confirmed what we already knew — that life is too short. Why would I put up with a bad leader, who has never given me a compliment or let me know how I’m doing, when I can go somewhere where my new boss will? That’s what’s happening.

Cultures need to evolve the same way they have always needed to: be the company that doesn’t tolerate bad leaders; be the company that sets an expectation that the only job of the leaders in your company is to make sure Monday morning isn’t miserable; be the company that tells your high performers they are high performers and addresses poor performers. That kind of company is not experiencing a great resignation.

Let’s get more specific. What are your “Top 5 trends to track in the future of work”?

Create a culture high performers want to be a part of.

Poor performers don’t quit voluntarily. Show your high performers you value their work by addressing the poor performers in your company. They are waiting for you to do that — every single day.

Bring energy and enthusiasm to work every day.

Are your leaders the most positive and engaging people in the company? Why not? They should be.

Build relationships at all levels of the organization.

Everyone remembers the last conversation they had with you. Especially if you’re a leader. Was it one that fostered excitement about meeting again, or one that left the person hoping they never have to talk to you again? Ever.

Support the direction of the company with no hidden agendas.

When the leaders in your company need to communicate a message to their teams, do they communicate as “we” or “they”? Such a great thing to look for. Great leaders know that their job as a leader in the company is to support the direction of the company with no hidden agendas.

Help the company grow by developing people.

Are the leaders in your company excited about the idea of having their backup on the team, or threatened by it? Great leaders love the idea of having their backup on their team. But I promise that a bad leader will never want someone who is capable of taking their job working for them. They are threatened by the idea and will never hire someone that qualified.

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?

“It is never too late to be what you might have been.” (George Eliot)

Do what makes you happy. Life is too short to work for bad leaders. If we all made the decision, every day, to simply do what was going to make us happy, the stuff we spend most of our time worrying about wouldn’t seem so important anymore.

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.

GaryVee —

You learn something every time he speaks. He’s a humble, down-to-earth genius who is helping people every day. I admire his work.

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?

Eric Harkins | LinkedIn

GKG Search & Consulting: Overview | LinkedIn

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