The way we work is leading to stressed-out employees, unfulfilled leaders and unhappy teams — and author Heather Hanson Wickman is adamant that there is a better way.

On this episode of #WorkTrends she tells us why she wrote her new book — “The Evolved Executive: The Future of Work Is Love in Action” — and why caring matters more than ever in the modern workplace. We also hear from a leader who is completely rethinking the way we work.

Listen to the full conversation or read the recap below. Subscribe so you never miss an episode.

Toxic Workplaces

Wickman says she spent more than a decade climbing the corporate ladder in an effort to achieve a level of success that she thought would ultimately be fulfilling. The journey, however, left her questioning, in a fundamental way, how organizations treat their people.

“Unfortunately what I found, along with a lot of good learning, was a world of work that was full of toxic management practices to keep us in control, to keep our egos alive, to keep status in place in a workplace where we were spending so much time just covering up who we are, covering up what we thought our weakness is, than we were actually doing our work,” she says.

Toward the end of her corporate journey, Wickman says, she started to see these toxic management practices increasingly affecting people in physical ways, such as migraines that sent people to the ER, heart conditions and severe stress reactions.

“I just came to this feeling and realization that the way that we’re working isn’t working anymore,” she says. “In doing some of the research early on for this book, I found a stat that said basically many workplaces today are as harmful as secondhand smoke, and that really sent me back [to realize] we have to do something dramatically different here.”

After taking some time to re-evaluate where she was in her career and what she wanted to do in her life and work, Wickman realized she wanted to be a part of designing a different way of work, helping organizations evolve through better leadership practices.

What’s Love Got to Do with Business?

“Most of our management practices that we use today really are still rooted in this old paradigm of command and control,” Wickman says. “If we dig a little bit deeper in that space, command and control are all based in fear.”

She says if we want to overcome common workplace fears and create a new fundamental experience in the workplace, we have to look in the opposite direction, and that’s where loves come in. “I think about it in terms of embracing love, the beliefs that foster love, practices that embody love and the words that really share love, is the magic for building organizations of the future,” she says.

Wickman acknowledges that the word “love” can carry considerable baggage for some people, so she says some managers successfully employ the concept as “care” or “joy” — caring about their team or finding ways to infuse joy into workplace practices. What’s most important, she says, is to pull away from practices that promote fear.

Creating Change

Wickman says that love in action isn’t a soft, gushy concept, but a real and difficult challenge that leaders need to meet head-on with real effort and policies. “It’s about freedom and autonomy,” she says. “It’s about human connection. It’s about growth.”

She says there are plenty of steps the average manager or the average employee can do, but first they must be willing to experiment together, test new ideas and iterate as needed.

The first step she suggests managers take is to find small ways to give power and control back to team members. “If you’re the average manager and you have five team members, is there a decision you run into this week that someone else can take on … and maybe learn something from the process?” she says.

She says another simple but powerful step is to block out time to actually connect with your team on a human level. “We get so bogged down with emails and just constantly in our office with the door closed, so put your computer away and go out and talk to your team members without any expectation of asking them to do something,” she says. “Just get to know them. What are their passions, desires and dreams? It’s truly amazing how a team can come together when they feel really valued and cared for by their manager.”

Resources Mentioned in This Episode

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