Servant leadership. This will be the path to facilitating employees loving where they work. When people feel psychologically safe they can step out of survival mode and into peak performance. Having developed 6 high performance teams in my career, with all levels of talent within the team, I believe this is the change that can fundamentally alter how we do business. I believe this is the key to untapped performance, innovation and overall employee happiness.

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 Trish Bishop.

Trish helped launch the first Internet Service Provider in Canada and take it public. She has built 6 high performance teams throughout her career. She attributes her servant leadership style to her success and has successfully managed teams in both virtual and in person environments over her 25+ year career in Information Technology (IT).

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.

Early in my career when I was promoted to my first Director position, with a global learning company, one of my peers called me and said, “Trish, stepping into this role you have a choice in how you’re going to show up as a leader. Please think about this quote by Denis Waitley as you choose what kind of leader you want to be: ‘True power comes from empowering others.’” That was one of the most profound experiences of my life as a leader — it’s like the switch was flicked, the lightbulb came on, and everything I did from that moment forward shifted. I have people who reported to me back then who have told me they would come and work with me again in a heartbeat.

While this statement seems simple on the surface, after 20+ years of putting into practice, I find there are so many layers to be uncovered. In essence, however, it is all about wanting other people’s success more than my own. The more I practice this, the more I love what I do as a leader. I consider myself a maestro, with the ability to identify each team members’ gifts and areas of challenge, then bringing the team together in such a way that they create peak performance. I hold them to their ‘10’ (not mine) and facilitate their ability to own their power and their gifts. This translates into ridiculously happy, and productive, team members.

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?

What will remain the same is that there will be leaders. What will be different — what needs to be different — is the kind of leaders we need.

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

Develop a servant leadership model. The belief that corporate culture belongs to Human Resources is absolute crap. The leader is the one responsible for creating, fostering and stewarding their teams’ culture. That is their job. The sooner they figure this out, the better it will be for everyone. I don’t believe it’s OK for people to show up every day doing the work they love in a place they hate. I believe that the great resignation was more about people realizing how toxic their corporate work cultures were and choosing not to step back into that once they understood the toll it was taking on their mental, physical, emotional and even spiritual health.

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 predict that employees will be looking for opportunities that allow them to truly shine. The gap is that current organizational structures and old school leadership models are designed to put people into boxes.

In general, most people are inherently multi-faceted, want to be challenged in ways that meets them where they’re at (i.e. not holding them to a level of expectation they can never meet), want to try new things in a safe environment where failing fast is celebrated as a learning opportunity, and ultimately want to go home at the end of the day knowing they did a great job and contributed to something in a meaningful way.

The best strategy to reconcile the gap is to foster a servant leadership model. There are some misnomers about servant leadership — that it is about being ‘easy on staff’, that supportive actually means no accountability. In my experience it is the exact opposite. My teams hit or exceed their KPIs regularly. Through a servant leadership approach, the team members hold themselves and each other accountable, it is very rare that I need to engage in those conversations. When there is absolute trust in the team, everyone rises to that — they choose to become personally accountable for doing their part to ensure the team’s success. It is a model that creates both employees who truly own and embrace their talents and fosters even more amazing leaders.

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

I believe there are people who thrive in a work from home environment (I’m one of them) and others who truly need the social interaction with engaging in a shared physical space. However, there are definite economies of scale that can be attributed to the work from home scenario including:

  • Access to talent that may not be interested in physically relocating for any number of reasons.
  • Better work/life balance for those who understand how to create the discipline to manage themselves.
  • Shifting away from 8–5 and into accountability-based work. This approach allows for cleaner expectation setting, allowing employees and managers to more effectively manage the work without people having to grind out 14 hour days.

All of this, of course, depends on a shift in leadership style. Leaders need to spend more time with their staff, tracking the team health, ensuring deliverables are being met, holding employees accountable in a way that is supportive. Ultimately, they need to create a team culture where it isn’t about their expectation of the employee, by the employee truly choosing to be accountable for their work. That is the only path to success and employee satisfaction.

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?

While standard business fundamentals (financials, etc.) are foundational, and will remain so, there is so much room for rethinking business. However, if consumer expectations remain the same, there is no driver for organizations to change. We also saw this during Covid — restaurants pivoting to curbside pickup being just one small example. Organizations can take the lead in showing value in alternative ways of doing business, and I believe now is peak time to take advantage of the currently fluid landscape to be innovative in what they do and how they do it.

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

That employees have taken their power back and are now forcing leaders to become accountable for how they lead. If you want the top talent, and if you want all employees to show up and give 150%, you better create an environment where they can flourish. I believe that is absolutely, 100%, the leader’s job. A fundamental shift needs to happen to disrupt the current pervasive leadership styles of command and control, micromanagement, people landing in a leadership role because of who they know or due to subject matter expertise. Organizations are going to have to start to realize that leadership is an art and a skill, it is not something someone simply does, or even can do, simply because you give them a title. I am most optimistic about a future where every employee can do work they love in a place they love with people they love to work with.

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?

I think the most important piece of this is leaders recognizing that their employee’s mental health and wellbeing are not the jurisdiction of HR. That it is, in fact, the leaders themselves who have the ability day in and day out to affect the culture of their team and organization.

I believe that the real innovation lies in a leader’s ability to both see, and foster, the gifts each of their employees bring to the table. If leaders focused on this, the innovation they would see as a result, and the ownership of executing against those innovations, would be off the hook. Leaders need to recognize that they aren’t, and shouldn’t be, the smartest person in the room. This recognition alone will help leaders find ways every day to elicit the best from each of their employees. Great leaders see the ‘10’ in others and hold them to that ‘10’ (the individual’s greatest possible potential) until the employee sees their greatness for themselves — that is when true empowerment happens.

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 see the following key messages that organizations will need to understand, acknowledge and adopt:

  • Old school leadership styles no longer work. Employees have spoken. Listen, or lose out.
  • The leadership style they choose to cultivate will create their culture. Employees are stating loud and clear they are no longer interested in a being a cog in the wheel. They will be attracted to cultures that allow them to shine, regardless of the remote or on-site work model. Leaders must understand how to create and foster this type of environment.
  • Corporate culture is not the domain of HR and it is not something you can create because you attended a workshop. It takes time and effort and capability.
  • Be ready to reallocate leaders who are not suited to leadership.
  • Learn to quickly identify, and address, toxic behaviour.

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. Servant leadership. This will be the path to facilitating employees loving where they work. When people feel psychologically safe they can step out of survival mode and into peak performance. Having developed 6 high performance teams in my career, with all levels of talent within the team, I believe this is the change that can fundamentally alter how we do business. I believe this is the key to untapped performance, innovation and overall employee happiness.
  2. Deliverables-based model versus punching a clock. This model requires employees and leaders to work together to define clear deliverables, set expectations and manage to those expectations. It is no longer about showing up at 9am and punching out at 5pm, it’s about leaders knowing the full (reasonable) breadth of what an employee is capable of and ensuring they are delivering to that capability. It is also about employees getting better at managing their work, their estimates and managing expectations — all of which work significantly better when they feel safe with their leader. I’ve worked this way for much of my career and loved it, particularly when my kids were young. I could go to the park with them in the morning and put in time in the evening or on the weekends. As long as my work was completed, everyone was happy.
  3. Shared employee models (the macro model). I see a potential for organizations to share employees with certain talents. There are numerous financial models that can support this, however, it would enable organizations that work together to best leverage an employee’s talents, which also allows the employee to do more of the work they love. This capability takes the idea of leaders acting as a maestro to the next level, where the organization itself is leveraging strengths and talents with partners, suppliers and/or clients.
  4. Fluid organizational charts (the micro model). While org charts will always be a requirement to ensure there is a clear path of accountability and escalation, people do not want to be put into a box while at the same time they also want to know what their boundaries are. Fluid organizational charts is a micro version of the shared employee model, where an employee may be easily moved from one division or team to another, again with the focus on best leveraging their talents. Most organizational charts, and the accompanying model of management, requires so much overhead to second someone into a different role that it’s usually not worth the effort. More fluidity can equate to happier employees and higher levels of productivity, innovation and output.
  5. Location fluidity. More and more organizations who believe they can make a specific stand on either fully remote or fully on site will need to become more fluid in their thinking. These decisions should be based on economics, scalability, productivity and employee satisfaction at minimum. Old school thought processes have already been thrown out the window due to Covid, however, this needs to continue to be an open concept with input from staff versus a leadership team who feels ‘people can’t be productive remotely’. As noted, some employees love to be on site and others thrive working remote. Creativity in honouring both will go a long way in winning employee hearts and minds.

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?

As noted above, my primary learning philosophy is simple, “True power comes from empowering others.” ~Denis Waitley

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.

Marc Benioff, CEO of SalesForce OR Dak Prescott of the Dallas Cowboys. While I have never met either of them, from everything I’ve seen, heard and read, both of them are the epitome of what I consider to be a servant leader. It would be an honour to meet either of them and learn more about who they are and what drives their leadership approach.

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.

My pleasure, these were amazing questions!