Replacing toxic masculinity with heart-centered leadership in the boardroom.

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 Paul Kan.

Paul Kan is a Restaurant Leadership Coach and Consultant, Talent Development Specialist, and TEDx Keynote Speaker. With over a decade of experience managing multi-generational teams and eight-figure portfolios for top Fortune 500 companies in North America-he understands first hand what it takes to engage, lead, and succeed in today’s fast-paced, complex, and ever-changing business environment. He has spent the past three years coaching over 300 corporate and individual clients from Multi-Million dollar Restaurants and CEOs to Olympians to up-level their Emotional Intelligence capability, develop high performing leaders and bring the best out of their teams.

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.

When I was 19, I came out as a Transgender man and it drastically changed the way people viewed and interacted with me. I instantly felt a bias where I was judged on my appearance and identity instead of my capabilities. When I ran for a student office position in University, the Executives had a discussion on whether or not they should take on someone like me. The VP of my team replied (and I’m paraphrasing) “I don’t care who or how he is, I want to build the best team with the most talented and capable person available- and that means I want him on my team.” That decision changed the course of my life and opened doors to me that would not have been available if I wasn’t selected to be on that team. That’s why I’m so passionate about developing leaders and talent today. Because the most important part to our potential blossoming is who we are surrounded by and the environment we grow in. There are so many diamonds capable of incredible things that are waiting to be discovered, we just need to help leaders spot and nurture them to fulfill their potential.

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 the only thing that will be guaranteed to be the same is that the workplace will continue to face accelerating change and a need to constantly adapt. Strong and effective leadership will continue to be needed to innovate and evolve amidst this change. What I predict to be different will be the way people will be utilized. As new AI technology is ushered in, the workforce will shift from being output focused to being input focused. This means aspects that are unique to us as humans, creativity, innovation, empathy, connection, will be increasingly more important and valued than ever before.

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

Invest in developing adaptive leadership capabilities in your employees and foster an environment where they feel seen, heard, and valued. Organizations that take care of their employees and give them a toolbox to quickly learn, adapt and evolve will benefit from better innovation, agility, and longevity.

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?

The biggest gap that I predict is employers want increasingly more output for less while employees will also want to input increasingly less while being compensated more.

A couple strategies to reconcile these gaps would be:

  1. Design the game together. In the past, policies and workplace structures were created solely by owners, executives, and company leaders. Although some companies started bringing in focus groups or a select number of employees to give feedback, the outcome is still largely determined by the company. By heavily involving employees to design the workplace structure and policies in partnership with the leadership team, it allows for the opportunity to build trust, transparency, unity and collective ownership in the process.
  2. Create a criteria that the solution must be a win-win solution. I am a strong believer in how you always end up with what you intend. By setting the unified intention to create a win-win solution, it allows for both employees and employers to function as one team instead of 2 separate opposing teams. However for this process to work, there must be two micro-criterias:
  3. Both sides must agree to be enrolling and enrollable. No one wants to do things because “they have to” or “that’s just how it is”. Both sides must be willing to go the extra mile to enroll each other into the who, what, where and why’s behind each solution. On the other hand, each side must be willing to be enrollable and open to hearing and considering alternative viewpoints and solutions.
  4. Both sides must agree to decide based on alignment instead of agreement. The biggest mistake that organizations make is needing to have 100% agreement before they move forward. It’s an impossible situation. But, 100% alignment is 100% possible. This means that employers and employees may not always fully agree but are willing to focus on the collective movement forward instead of their individual opinion.

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

Working from home allowed all of us collectively to pause, see, and reflect on our lives in a way that we haven’t had time for up until 2020. Since we had no place to go, we had to come face to face with the true state of our relationships with the people closest to us and our health. With hundreds of thousands of lives lost in the blink of an eye, what’s truly most important? I think it was an eye-opening experience for the workforce. This experience will and has deeply impacted the future of work as employee’s priorities have shifted. There is an unwillingness to put up with poor treatment and working conditions. There is a demand for more flexibility to better integrate work without sacrificing life. Lastly, the workforce is now putting family and mental health first. This means that if their current working situation doesn’t support their personal wellbeing, there is less hesitation to find another workplace that better meets their needs.

I believe that many companies that had already put an emphasis on a people-first culture will experience more of a continual refinement than a fundamental shift. However, industries and companies that have traditionally treated their people as expendable from previously deep talent pools will face the jarring need to drastically transform their culture and leadership approach.

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?

One of the biggest societal changes is a shift in the perception of work being about the number of hours to what is accomplished despite the hours. We will always only have 24 hours in a day so the only way we can create more space to accommodate more of life is to optimize how work is done. When employees are measured on quality of work and given the freedom to determine the quantity of hours they input, employees show up more empowered, motivated and productive.

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

The greatest source of optimism is when I see leaders reaching out for support through coaches and consultants saying, “I don’t understand or know how to solve this but I would like to.” It shows that many leaders are open to embracing change and are seeking to not only understand what isn’t working but also evolve who they are as a leader as well. I think all change and evolution starts with a willingness to do so.

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?

  1. Including personal/wellness goals as a part of their year end bonus evaluation.
  2. Allow employees to design their day and their weeks.
  3. Implement flexible work time and location (if possible) policies.
  4. Offer coaches and/or therapists to support with employee’s mental health/wellbeing.
  5. Shorten work hours with the use of technology to optimize of repetitive, menial, or AI-generatable tasks.

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 loudest message is that how businesses operated in the past will not work if they want to exist in the future. Leaders need to hear that they need to evolve their leadership and learn how to build structures and cultures that encourage learning, foster inclusion and are committed to putting their people first.

Company cultures need to evolve from having busyness as a badge of honor and to focus on taking care of their people first. By encouraging employees to optimize their work hours while focusing on quality of work, it fosters an environment of constant innovation and creativity while encouraging flexibility. Emotional Intelligence and heart-centered leadership will be more important than ever as the leaders who are able to best foster an environment where employees feel valued and empowered will be the winners in the talent market.

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

  1. Diversity and inclusion in the workplace will become integral to success, not a nice to have.

In the past, D&I was a nice to have option. However, the upcoming generation will be the most diverse in history, it will be imperative for organizations to create an environment where diverse talent feels seen, heard and valued. Up until now, leadership principles and conventional training is based on Western/white culture, upbringing. It was applied as a blanket solution and traditionally minority workers had to adjust and acclimate to it. It resulted in ceilings, bamboo ceilings, glass ceilings, and largely white males rising to the top and thriving. Currently, there’s more women but they are still white in majority. As the numbers have shown, minority employees are considered fantastic workhorses, producing great output and results but not considered as highly for leadership roles. However, this will soon drastically need to shift as the new census projections indicate that, for youth under 18–minorities will outnumber whites in 2020 for the first time. For those ages 18–29–members of the younger labor force and voting age populations–the tipping point will occur in 2027. In order to adapt to the shifting workforce, companies will need to shift the diversity of their leaders and culture to not only capture the multi-billion dollar buying power of the minority population but also attract talent amongst the “minority-majority” talent pool.

2. Emotional Intelligence will be the most valuable skill set.

As technology continues to accelerate in advancement, there has been increasing concern about what types of jobs will become obsolete. However, the general consensus is that while technology will continue to become better and better at following directions and creating output, what will never be replaced is the ability to understand and empathize with human emotion. Jobs that require high levels of human interaction, strategic interpretation, critical decision making will not be replaced any time soon according to Arjun Jolly from Athena Executive Search & Consulting. With that said, the ability to successfully comprehend emotions and lead with empathy will become an increasingly sought after trait in the workplace.

3. Replacing toxic masculinity with heart-centered leadership in the boardroom.

I was working with an executive and one of his biggest concerns was about how the “old boys club” was becoming problematic in the retention of talent. With an Executive team of predominantly white, 50-year-old men that grew their careers with an authoritarian style, results-driven leadership, there were complaints from employees that felt the workplace environment lacked empathy, collaboration, and creativity. This was becoming a much bigger issue as top talent was resigning and employee morale was incredibly low. In exit interviews, there was a common thread that employees were looking to work for leaders that created an environment of authenticity, transparency, humility and service. This has been a theme that I predict will soon become the norm as employees are no longer willing to put up with organizations that put results before its people.

4. Switching out ping pong tables with mindset coaches and therapists.

A couple decades ago, we started seeing a shift in company cultures. We started seeing how it was modern and forward-thinking to have workplace perks to attract talent. We started seeing the ping pong tables, beer on tap and even meals served in offices. But since the pandemic, most companies have shifted to either a hybrid or virtual space which means all the workplace perks that used to make a company more appealing are now not needed anymore. What has emerged is the need for mental health support since burnout, stress and anxiety levels rapidly rise. An innovative approach I saw recently was a restaurant that has brought in a therapist to support employees adjusting and working post-pandemic. I foresee this as becoming more and more common in the workplace and the new type of benefits that employees will be looking for.

5. Integrating people with AI.

Currently, most businesses have to rely on marketing or PR firms to grow their business unless they are able to afford one in house. This has created a financial challenge since marketing often requires significant time, energy and resources to keep up and maintain. One of my clients was paying $5–6K a month for marketing yet was seeing little to no returns. Yet as busy business owners, most don’t have the time to learn the platforms and maintain the content themselves. New AI technologies like ChatGPT are leveling the playing field to give businesses access to wildly intelligent tools at their fingertips. So in the next several years, we are going to see some current jobs become obsolete. Most people focus the narrative on how technology is taking away jobs but the reality is that there will always still be aspects of human interaction and intelligence that are needed. The key is to reinvent how people are utilized. Instead of humans being needed to create an output of goods and solutions, humans will now be more heavily focused on the input of what goes into the technology to create the output.

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?

“If it’s to be, it’s up to me” — This quote has been a constant reminder that instead of waiting for my circumstances to change or for someone else to create the change, I always have the choice to be the leader and create the change I have been waiting for.

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.

Danny Meyer. He’s a pioneer in creating thriving restaurants that focus on hospitality from the inside out. His visionary thinking has led him to being a stand-out thought leader in this space long before people-centered leadership was a buzzword. I think the restaurant is due for a transformation and reinvention especially after the pandemic and would love to have a conversation with him about how we can pave a new road to create space for both excellence and an equitable, people-centered workplace to co-exist.

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?

They can connect with me through my website, my email [email protected] or through IG at @yespaulkan.

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