Human-Centered Leadership: Managers are overwhelmed. As a result, poor, rushed, or reactive communications and unclear expectations lead to fear-based engagement and performance, performative engagement, hoarding, isolation, inefficiency, burnout, and decreased trust — for both the leader and the staff. Coupled with empathy and listening, adopting a human-centered leadership approach can bring about substantial improvements. By creating intentional space for both leaders and employees to discuss how they are doing in addition to what they are doing, company and personal values, priorities, and goals, and for employees to advocate for themselves, this has been shown to improve employee and company performance, retention, employee confidence, and more.

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 Kea Meyers Duggan.

Kea Meyers Duggan is an award-winning entrepreneur, show host, speaker, and recognized career strategist on overcoming fear.

She has worked with hundreds of driven emerging and experienced leaders globally to help them build the courage they need to create their own holistic vision for success then break that vision down into realistic steps they can take immediately.

With training in transformational coaching and 20+ years of experience in creating and implementing marketing campaigns for companies like Intel and Sony Pictures Entertainment, Kea is widely regarded as an empowering and inspiring coach, mentor and speaker by senior marketing and HR leaders and CEOs. Her insights have been featured in Thrive Global, Elite Daily, Career Contessa, Ladies Get Paid, The Financial Diet, and other digital platforms.

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.

Karen, thank you so much for inviting me to be a part of this. I’m really excited to share my thoughts on the topic of reworking work. With regard to a life experience that most shaped who I am today, this is my all-time favorite story. During the 1984 Olympics, I remember sitting on my dad’s lap watching Mary Lou Retton do her floor routine. In the middle of one of her tumbling passes, he asked, “Do you think you can do that?” I remember shyly saying, “No, I can’t do that.” He quickly responded with, “Bulls**t. You can do whatever you put your mind to.” That affirmation from my dad has been my mantra for virtually my entire adult life. Even today, anytime I feel self-doubt creep in, I start to hear my dad’s words play in my ear.

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?

Wow, 10–15 years from now feels like a lifetime away, doesn’t it? Based on what we are seeing and hearing take place now, though, my prediction for what will be the same at work is that it will still be a huge part of our identities. However, I think the negative connotation of that concept will shift. Our work will not only help us shape our professional priorities, but the rise of more personal development initiatives at work will better help us define our values and our vision for a fulfilling life.

For the workforce, my sense is that we’ll see a continuation of how vocal and undaunted the workforce has been about what the new table stakes are. Flexibility, more holistic support, integrity, and a real commitment to fixing what’s been broken about the world of work for a long time — but we didn’t really have to face it until 2021 — are all what will continue driving this conversation.

In the workplace, I think employers and employees will continue to tussle over where people will and won’t or can and cannot work. The pandemic has forever changed us. As we learn of the pandemic’s longer-term psychological, societal, and financial impacts, I think we should expect decisions on where and how we work to still be a moving target.

In terms of what will be different about work in the next 10–15 years, I think we will see much more automation of the mundane elements of our work responsibilities so we can focus on work that grows our competence and our confidence. Additionally, I think we’re going to see more effective tools for collaboration — especially given the current challenges with the hybrid / virtual working experience — and for tracking people metrics like engagement, wellbeing, and career satisfaction.

For shifts we’ll see in the workforce, I believe we’re going to see a normalization of a multi-hyphenate workforce. Right now, there’s still this predominant mindset that you are to work one type of job, where you make money one kind of way. Then, at the end of the day, you shift gears into your non-work life. The seed that the pandemic has helped people to plant of all the different things they can do that give them joy — and that could be another income stream — is likely to sprout in the coming years. More and more knowledge workers are going to shift into being multi-hyphenate professionals. For example, not only will someone be a marketing director, but they may also run a photography business, while also hosting online trainings on a teaching platform.

Finally, the difference we’ll see in the workplace is that there will be a major systemic shift on working practices and philosophies. Right now, some — not all — of the adjustments we’re seeing in the workplace are happening with middle managers. However, leadership is not always bought in. Alternatively, the buy-in may only happen with some at the senior, executive, or C-suite leadership levels. In either instance, middle managers will run into obstacles that cause them to tire from enacting change. Over the next 10+ years, though, we’ll see C-suite leadership at companies who have chosen to adjust their sails based on what The Great Resignation has taught us, and make significant strides in resetting the purpose, values, and practices that better support their people.

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

My best guidance for employers who wish to future-proof their organizations is to be crystal clear on their vision for future-proofing. What, specifically, does future-proofing mean for your company? Where is your organization at now, what do you wish to achieve, why is that your desired outcome, how will future-proofing support that, and how will the organization and the people within the organization benefit?

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?

I think the biggest gaps we’re seeing now, and will continue to see, between what employers are willing to offer and what employees expect are empathetic, courageous leadership, and authentic and widespread support for holistic talent development and support.

My three recommended strategies for closing these gaps are:

  1. This feels absurdly simple, but ask your employees what they need, how those asks will benefit them, and actively listen. In the long run, it will cost your company less in time, effort, and in talent acquisition. Also, over the long term, the effort to surface needs and concerns now, and co-create solutions with your staff will pay bigger dividends on the employee engagement, satisfaction, and productivity fronts.
  2. If employers are resistant to making adjustments based on new or existing data, start with what the triggers for that resistance. What’s causing you to push up against the needs employees are asking to be addressed? What are you afraid will happen? How could you mitigate that?
  3. Consider hiring external experts who can take an unbiased look at the gaps and what’s happening within your organization, your organization’s long-term goals, and work with you and your staff to devise a plan that can help you start closing those gaps.

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

COVID-19 unearthed what already wasn’t working in the world of work, or were no longer able to escape or explain away, and poured gasoline on that fire. We’ve already seen how it’s influencing work trends, i.e., the demands for more flexibility, accountability, boundaries, fulfillment, work that matters, career advancement opportunities, and support for burnout and other work/life challenges. We will continue seeing employees use these demands and desires to assess current and future employers.

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?

I love this question, Karen. Thank you for asking it. Simply put, the societal changes necessary to support a future of work that works for everyone is a shift in how we assign value to people. In the United States, specifically, a great deal of value is placed on performative activities, how much you work, how much you endure, and what and how much you produce.

If you are in the office putting in 10–12 hours days and responding to emails and texts late into the evening or on weekends, but not actually getting meaningful work done, that is still seen as more valuable than working from home and getting substantive work done in as little as five hours, for example.

There’s something terribly wrong and unhealthy about that — and I know because I was that person in the first scenario. That approach to work landed me in a doctor’s office with left-side numbness and an ultimatum from said doctor to get my stress under control…or else.

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

Honestly, what we are seeing take place now is really encouraging. The way employees feel empowered to voice their concerns and demands that support healthier and more fulfilling work-life integration, and the larger, more well-known companies that are going public about the shifts they’re making to meet their employees where they are, give me a great deal of hope for what’s to come.

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?

In my work, I am seeing companies take a wide range of approaches to improving and optimizing their employee’s wellbeing. I have come across employers who are making sweeping company-wide shifts such as moving to 4-day work weeks, implementing a slate of mental health days for all employees, expanding benefits to include mental health support, or empowering leaders to adjust their one-on-one check-in process to discuss how staff is doing versus what they are doing, and giving them the freedom to co-create solutions with individual employees.

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?

The most important messages leaders need to hear from these headlines that are being talked about by well-respected publications, researchers, and thought leaders, are to actually listen to or believe the headlines.

As Larry Price said, “Evolve or dissolve…it’s your decision.” That may sound fatalistic, but historically, organizations, brands, or products that didn’t adapt or heed the writing on the wall because they insisted on doing things the way they’ve always done them either went away or fell out of favor. I think that’s the case here. The times and employees are clearly telegraphing what’s acceptable and what isn’t.

The organizations that are paying attention and making shifts — even if they’re small shifts — are thriving, having better retention or talent acquisition numbers, have a more engaged and productive workforce, lower cases of burnout, are ending up on “best places to work” lists, and more.

On the other hand, the organizations or leaders within organizations who are resistant and doubling down on the stance that people just don’t want to work, are having a hard time filling or keeping positions filled, they likely have an environment where there’s little to no trust, are home to employees who are experiencing high rates of burnout and absenteeism, or have low employee engagement rates, just to name a few likely results.

Let’s get more specific. What are your “Top 5 Trends To Track In the Future of Work?” (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Resist the Shoulds: I have heard from recruiters that HR leaders are really resistant to shift their approach to practices that meet current or potential employees’ expectations. Instead, they are adopting the assumption that people simply do not want to work. While this may be true in some instances, I invite these leaders to consider a few things. First, what else could be true? Could there be outdated, unhealthy, unsafe, or exclusionary practices you’re tied to because you think that’s what you should do or it’s what your company has always done? Second, if you do feel bound to a practice, consider doing some courageous exploration into what could be possible if you resist the “shoulds” and let a new perspective or approach in. The trends and actual statistics from the last 7–8 months clearly illustrate that something is amiss. It’s absurd to think that all of the 40+ million people who left their jobs in 2021 quit because they don’t want to work.
  2. Empathy + Listening Will Win: According to Gartner’s 2021 survey of HR leaders, 68% of HR leaders believe their managers are overwhelmed, yet only 14% of organizations have taken action to address the overwhelm. Surely, if you look at productivity and engagement levels, the number of sick days people are taking, resignation numbers, the categories of people who are resigning, and exit interview inputs, and pair them with the frustration and feelings of burnout staff have shared, there will probably be some correlation. People yearn to be seen and heard. They want to feel like they matter and that their feelings and perspectives count for something. Are you creating space for people to be heard? When they do speak, are you listening? How do you let them know they’ve been heard? When people feel heard and supported, they are 2.5 times more likely to stay at the company for two or more years, 5.6 times more likely to trust a company and its leaders, and are 2 times more likely to feel a sense of belonging.
  3. Human-Centered Leadership: Managers are overwhelmed. As a result, poor, rushed, or reactive communications and unclear expectations lead to fear-based engagement and performance, performative engagement, hoarding, isolation, inefficiency, burnout, and decreased trust — for both the leader and the staff. Coupled with empathy and listening, adopting a human-centered leadership approach can bring about substantial improvements. By creating intentional space for both leaders and employees to discuss how they are doing in addition to what they are doing, company and personal values, priorities, and goals, and for employees to advocate for themselves, this has been shown to improve employee and company performance, retention, employee confidence, and more.
  4. Top-Down Buy-In for Holistic Support: In Mindshare Partners’ State of Workplace Mental Health in 2021 study, 84% of employees surveyed reported at least one factor negatively impacted their mental health. Of that group, 37% said stressful or emotionally-draining work impacted them, 32% indicated that a lack of recognition effected their mental health, and 22% said that the lack of growth opportunities was the thing that negatively impacted their mental health. A big takeaway was that 91% of respondents believe that the workplace culture should support mental health. Work can be a stabilizing force in people’s lives and play a big part in shaping them. When leaders at all levels in an organization create a pathway for healthier work-life wellbeing and integration through skill building, support with defining personal and professional growth opportunities, and guidance with assessing personal and professional priorities, the outcomes, according to Garter’s 2020 survey of HR executives, include 23% higher mental health levels and employees are 23% more likely to sleep at night. Additional outcomes include higher retention, higher productivity, more innovative ideas and diversity of thought, improved career satisfaction, and more.
  5. Courageous Reinvention: After all of the information gathering, take what you see, hear, and learn, and actually do something about it. Of course, it’s easier to keep the status quo. However, in the case of The Great Resignation, maintaining the status quo will continue bringing about high turnover rates, lower levels of productivity, sustained levels of burnout, and more. The employees have spoken. They feel more comfortable and confident about speaking up and voicing their concerns. The trends show that people are truly fed up and they won’t take it anymore. Flexibility, courageous and people-centered leadership, empathetic, inclusive, and psychologically-safe workplaces and practices are the new deal makers…or breakers.

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?

Ha! I’m glad to know that I’m not the only one with Post-Its and scraps of paper with notes and quotes to stay inspired. I have so many life lesson quotes that keep me going, but my favorite and most often-quoted wisdom is from Joan Baez, “Action is the antidote to despair.” Strategies for overcoming paralyzing fear is what I speak about and coach on more than anything. Besides the story of what my dad said to me, Ms. Baez’s quote has shaped me because she gets down to the simple brass tacks. When you are afraid or feeling discouraged, taking one little step will feel like the moment when you crack open the door of a dark room. That one little opening can be illuminating. Similarly, that one little action you take in the face of despair or fear can be illuminating, too. You will feel empowered, bigger than the fear and despair that paralyzed you, and ultimately a sense of possibility; that there is a way out, up, and forward.

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.

So many great questions, Karen! If I could have a private breakfast or lunch with someone, it would be Luvvie Ajayi Jones. Why? Well, for starters, she’s a fellow Chicagoan and a fellow University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign alum. Those are biggies in my book. Also, Luvvie is a truth-teller with a witty, hilarious, and unapologetic take on the world. But what captures me the most about her is her take on fighting fear. Her book, Professional Trouble Maker: The Fear-Fighter Manual is so important and should be required reading. The way she breaks down common fears, shares her personal experiences with those fears, and her strategies for dealing with and fighting those fears is truly marvelous. I’ve underlined passages on, taken notes on, and dog-eared so many pages. I would absolutely love to meet her! P.S. I’m not a stalker!

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?

People can connect with me and my insights on my website:, on LinkedIn, or via my podcast, Courage Permission Slip (YouTube, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts).

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

It was my pleasure, Karen. Thank you so much for this amazing opportunity.