Burnout is not the employee’s problem. Losing top talent is a sign of systemic failure, not a ‘trend’. I’ve already shared my own story about ending up in the ER. There are countless other stories about amazing tech employees and leaders with similar experiences. It’s time the organizational systems focus on what is leading to burnout so they can create a culture that prevents it in the first place.
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 Lisa Duerre.
Lisa Duerre is the co-founder and CEO of RLD Group, a collective of leadership development coaching and consulting experts helping tech companies take culture transformation out of the clouds, banish burnout, and drive bottom-line results. RLD Group is a certified WBENC with expertise ranging from HR strategy and organizational design, developing leadership pipelines, talent retention, burnout prevention, and team performance in the complex hybrid work world.
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?
Eleven o’clock at night in the Emergency Room. I was waiting for tests to come back to make sure I hadn’t suffered a heart attack.
The tests needed to come back quickly because I wasn’t done typing up my executive presentation yet for the next morning.
I even reached out to one of the sponsoring VPs to let him know, “You can count on me!” But what I really felt at that moment was an incredible shame, probably the lowest point of my career.
I’d worked myself to the edge of death and what did I have to show for it? A massive hospital bill, a frantic family wondering if I was going to even make it out of that hospital, and an industry that didn’t care because they could just replace me the next day.
I felt broken, alone, and not sure what to do next. I needed answers.
A few days later, my doctor gave me the official diagnosis: Silicon Valley-itis. He told me, “Lisa, I’ve been doing this a long time, and I see tech leaders like you every single day with the same symptoms.”
Burnout, exhaustion, poor physical health, broken mental health, empty, hollow, and silently screaming for help.
And I wish I could say I’m the only one at this moment who’s felt that way. If you’ve been there, you know what that feels like on a whole different level.
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?
We are no longer in a VUCA world. We’re in a BANI world, as identified by the American anthropologist, author, and futurist Jamais Cascio. The rate of change is accelerating at an unfathomable pace. We need leaders whose leadership muscles are built around a more flexible, intuitive, resilient, and mindful future for everyone in your organization.
Leaders will no longer be promoted simply based on their technical expertise. We see this in the tech space all the time: “You’re our most senior-level team member with excellent technical skills.” There’s little to no thought to the actual people-side of leading a team, but thankfully, that’s changing.
Hybrid workplaces are here to stay. It’s totally nonlinear and incomprehensible where we are as a corporate workforce.
What do I predict will be the same? Businesses that champion people will continue winning over time. Tech firms who value making a difference beyond simply getting to market will be the ones attracting great talent who can change the world.
What advice would you offer to employers who want to future-proof their organizations?
Every tech company needs to update its leadership ops approach. We are no longer living in a VUCA world — volatile, unpredictable, complex, and ambiguous. No, we have launched out of that reality into a BANI world — brittle, anxious, nonlinear, and incomprehensible. Every unimaginable possibility is now the everyday minefield leaders in tech have to navigate — and using the old ‘field guide’ of how to handle conflict, decision-making, talent retention and development, and every other leadership aspect is not working. At least, not nearly as well as it worked in the past if it worked at all.
Leaders in tech need to start understanding who they are and who their rising leaders are in this new BANI reality. You need to upskill and reskill your leaders. Shift how you see the world and the marketplace in front of you, and you will need to decide what you stand for, the non-negotiables as a company.
Who do you want your company to be in the future? With the right changes, you can accelerate your company’s impact, attract top-shelf leaders, and create a people-focused, meaningful movement where your company can be the standard-bearer of good mental health, a truly diverse and inclusive experience, and a world we’re proud to call home.
Command and control leadership that dominated in a VUCA world won’t work. What will is FIRM leadership — Flexible, Intuitive, Resilient, and Mindful — in a BANI world. That’s how to future-proof your organization.
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?
It’s all about cost containment and layoffs. You have to be strategic and flexible so you don’t have to ruin your business’ momentum and the lives of your team members because of short-sighted containment moves.
Life outside of work needs to be a factor when investing in your team. The biggest gaps between what employers are offering and what employees are expecting got disintegrated with the Great Reboot — when over 15 million U.S. employees said, “I’m no longer willing to accept what you’re expecting because it’s so far outside the life I actually want to experience.”
A significant portion of leaders in tech are stuck in an analog mindset — “You have to be in the office these days.” “You can’t live anywhere you want.” “You have to work these many hours.” “Drink carts and recharge days are the only perks we need for morale.” Leaders in tech have to start thinking of the whole person, not just the work side of the equation.
Tech employees don’t want face-to-face nearly as much as they want trust, freedom, and support to live a life beyond work. No other group craves that level of trust, freedom, and understanding like these three groups: Returners, employees living with disabilities or needing environmental consideration, and people who are caregivers. Returners have a gap in their career and they’re looking to re-enter the workforce and start growing their leadership impact again. They want to make a difference, to learn, to be coached as soon as humanly possible, but not at any expense. Employees need to know their leaders are leading with flexibility and compassion when a parent, a child, or a loved one needs attention. What lens are you using when you consider their needs to thrive and make an impact at work and in life? Do you see the missed hours in the office, how they’re busting their butt to get it all done at often an extraordinary cost to themselves, and the unmet expectations (often unrealistic)?
We simultaneously joined a global experiment together last year called “Working From Home.” How will this experience influence the future of work?
It reminds all of us we’ve always had the permission to be present for the moments that matter. Parents, partners, caregivers, and individuals with disabilities saw this Great Resignation as a Reboot: am I okay with continuing to accept this everyday life as the best I can experience right now?
That experience is already influencing the future of work toward a greater emphasis on health, in all aspects, stress management, and burnout prevention and recovery. Leaders in tech have to understand that burnout is a symptom of a systemic cultural issue, not a cause. People aren’t going back to jobs and companies that didn’t value them or support them with an environment that allows them to thrive. They’re ditching the commute. Resetting commitments to work and valuing their mental and physical health.
Working from Home is creating unbelievable bridges for people with disabilities to be the most productive with their work without the constant fear of judgment, marginalization, and a host of other challenges. For introverts, for people on the spectrum, and folks with compromised immune systems, so many people see more hope and greater productivity when working from home.
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?
Parental leave and caregiver leave must be an understood and supported part of work, not ever seen as a type of inconvenience and loss leader for the company. Returnship programs, like the ones we’re partnering with Women Back to Work to co-create, are essential for helping one of the most underserved parts of the workforce get the momentum they need to thrive.
I could share volumes on why we need a better understanding and appreciation of true Inclusion. We must understand what mobility and other environmental challenges, like lighting, noise levels, and temperature variances, among so many others, actually present for some of our most talented, extraordinary people.
We also cannot continue relying on only doctors and therapists to see where people in our organizations need support. Doctors and therapists are burnt out with waitlists a mile long, far too long for anyone to have to wait to get the care they need. Leaders need to be trauma-informed coaches. Managing your nervous system as a leader in tech — and showing your team members how they can do the same — is crucial for navigating a BANI world. That’s why RLD Group offers core centering, stress relief, and mental fitness support in our engagements.
What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?
We are seeing people normalizing the conversation about mental and physical health challenges at work. Organizations are investing in wellness for their employees beyond a gym membership. They’re bringing wellness into work with natural light, quiet rooms, breathing exercises, and more. Returnship programs are making a difference. Incredible organizations like our partner Women Back to Work are helping Returners find a great place to put down roots and start rising again.
The greatest source of optimism may be how we’re seeing tech organizations shift from “I” to “we” to “us” when talking about purpose. “I” for RLD means self-awareness and understanding yourself, your blind spots, and how you might be perceived by others by just being you. CliftonStrengths® is our foundation to help leaders go from “I” to “We” to “Us”. When leaders in tech make the mental and operational shift from thinking solely about their scope of work and begin thinking about their team’s needs and further shift into a culture of belonging, and supporting each other. That’s where more leaders are making a truly remarkable difference.
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?
When we work one-on-one with leaders in tech, we bring Core Centering into leadership conversations to optimize mental health in well-being in real-time. Emotional intelligence, mindfulness, and awakening conscious leadership are all key concepts we lean into when coaching leaders and teams in tech. When a leader in tech is in their Strengths Zone and able to self-regulate in the midst of unrelenting stress, they consistently report being happier, more fulfilled, and better able to make clear decisions that impact the organizational bottom line.
What’s not innovative is drink carts and yoga classes as one-offs. What is innovative is aligning your inner self with a fully present moment. Normalizing the conversation around self-care for health reasons and creating space to be honest and supportive of our mental health is the path forward.
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?
For leaders in tech, we refer to this movement and our work as the Great Reboot. We reboot leadership drive for leaders in tech. We help take culture transformation out of the clouds — don’t just put your values up on the wall — and implement changes for real people. This approach helps further unlock the collective wisdom of your organization. This ensures every voice is seen, heard, and valued.
Company cultures can’t settle for simply reducing some burnout — no, we have to work toward actively banishing burnout. Care for your employees as people with real problems, real challenges, and real dreams that you as a leader can help them care about in a meaningful way. You don’t have to own their issues outside of work, but you do have to care enough to be FIRM — Flexible, Intuitive, Resilient, and MIndful — as a leader to create an environment where they thrive.
From how you start your meetings with real check-ins, not just “Everybody’s doing good, right? Okay, let’s get down to business…” No, we need to create space at the beginning of every meeting to let each other be not okay — and pivot if needed to focus on what really matters. Getting curious and asking generative questions like “What do you love about the work you are doing?”, “What can we celebrate with you right now?” and “What would you like to see more of?” is a great way to open up and connect.
Companies who embrace and reskill their leaders to bring the heart into work and focus on the humans at work will absolutely elevate their bottom-line results.
Let’s get more specific. What are your “Top 5 Trends To Track In the Future of Work?”
1. Burnout is not the employee’s problem. Losing top talent is a sign of systemic failure, not a ‘trend’. I’ve already shared my own story about ending up in the ER. There are countless other stories about amazing tech employees and leaders with similar experiences. It’s time the organizational systems focus on what is leading to burnout so they can create a culture that prevents it in the first place.
2. Organizations that will last are the ones that will better support and upskill in-house, high-potential leaders to grow into their new roles. One of our executive coaching clients Keven was promoted into his new role as Director of Competitive Intelligence and Analysis. He was experiencing greater anxiety and self-doubt — even considering leaving the company to deal with anxiety and doubt. He got the support he needed to get executive coaching and realigned his energy with a more insight-driven strategic approach to presenting data for greater competitive intelligence. More importantly, he has less stress, greater fulfillment, and newfound confidence to be the leader he needs to be.
This is an example of why upskilling and better supporting your leaders matters and what will trend in the future of work. Supporting leaders in building their confidence and reducing anxiety and self-doubt when they get that promotion is one of the most effective risk management strategies available.
3. Externally hired leaders will need more coaching and consulting support to accelerate rapid integration and the ability to lead their new organization. According to the Corporate Executive Board (CEB), “50% to 70% of executives fail within 18 months of taking on a role, regardless of whether they were an external hire or promoted from within.” In many cases, the candidating and onboarding processes are wildly insufficient for appropriately preparing the new executive for success. Executive coaching is proven to help navigate that learning curve so the executive can lead with greater confidence and more buy-in faster.
One of our coaching clients Dani is a new tech exec at a new-to-them company who inherited a senior team, lost a critical team member, and tried doing both jobs while sourcing and hiring a replacement. The drain on their mental, emotional, and physical energy was staggering. They wondered if they were simply ‘checking boxes’ or making a more strategic difference. After working together, this executive is better at their job, more relaxed, and more focused with their decision-making. They’re making better high-risk decisions faster with less internal debate. They do a far better job identifying relevant areas of opportunity. Their team has a better retention rate and is more effective at hiring top-tier talent. Their team’s morale and engagement are considerably better Dani was promoted to the C-suite within 18 months of starting our work together.
4. Distributed teams will need better leadership skills and intentionality for everyone to feel connected, included, and engaged. Appreciative inquiry skills and meeting facilitation to ensure all voices are heard and it is safe to share thoughts is critical. What used to happen around the lunchroom table or ‘watercooler’ will not work now — intentionality and facilitation skills are key.
Intentional connection is what an HR business partner Jackie realized when she recognized that two of their newer team members were not prepared for leading a fully distributed team. Through executive coaching, we helped these leaders better connect with everyone on their distributed teams so they could create the needed impact. Without that support, the HR business partner believes those two teams would no longer exist, let alone many, if any of those team members would be with their organization.
5. Executive leaders who want to build a culture will need to understand better that burnout is a symptom, not a cause. This is not just a leader-specific responsibility — it’s an entire company and industry responsibility for us to elevate together. Everyone needs to work together to build a healthier culture for all.
Take Disha, one of our coaching clients. She is a highly qualified, experienced field ops and support team leader who was needing to exponentially grow her team without causing any customer-facing issues or team burnout. Disha’s organization was under tremendous pressure and her HR VP brought us in for an executive coaching engagement. We saw that the patterns of Disha’s team were unsustainable.
We helped Disha put her oxygen mask on first and then address the systems and processes in her world that she could improve to prevent burnout. Through coaching, we helped them create a more sustainable leadership model that 5x her team. Disha was promoted into the role of VP of Business Development — and is actively protecting herself and her new direct reports from burnout.
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?
“Be curious, not judgmental.” — Walt Whitman, by way of Ted Lasso. I love Ted Lasso!
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.
Sir Richard Branson. Truth be told, I’m inspired by Sir Richard’s mission to humanize work. As my friend Jon says, “Knighted billionaire space pioneers are still pretty rare nowadays.”
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?
Find me on LinkedIn, subscribe to my podcast Ctrl+Alt+Delete with Lisa Duerre, or go #oldschool with email to [email protected] (and yes, that’s my real email address, so if you send me a message, I’m the most likely person to see it.)
Thank you for sharing your insights and predictions. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and good health.