What Kind Of Leadership?
Are they leading, asking questions, thinking ahead… or just telling others to follow orders?
Quote of the Moment
It is a rare elite that is willing to think in the long term.
| M. T. Anderson, In Medieval Europe, a Pandemic Changed Work Forever. Can It Happen Again?, which I discussed in Lessons From The Black Death.
1 Welcome To The Postnormal
Some more evidence that 2005 was an inflection point — when we turned a corner into the postnormal — and how that is setting the stage for the radicalization of the American workforce.
In The Revolt of the College-Educated Working Class, Noam Scheiber collates various research threads:
Data from the past 30 years collected by the economists Jaison R. Abel and Richard Deitz at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York showed that unemployment for recent college graduates shot up to over 7 percent in 2009 and was above 5.3 percent — the highest previously recorded — as late as 2015.
Jesse Rothstein, a former chief economist of the U.S. Labor Department, found in a 2021 paper that the job prospects for recent college graduates began to weaken around 2005, then suffered a significant blow during the Great Recession and had not fully recovered a decade later.
The recession depressed their employment rates “above what is consistent with normal recession effects,” wrote Mr. Rothstein, now a professor at the University of California, Berkeley. “Moreover, this change has persisted into the most recent entrants, who were in middle school during the Great Recession.”
While there is no simple explanation for the trend, many economists contend that automation and outsourcing reduced the need for certain “middle skilled” jobs that college-educated workers performed. Lawrence Katz, a labor economist at Harvard, said consolidation in industries that employ the college-educated also appears to have softened demand for those workers, though he emphasized that those with a college degree still typically earn far more than those without one.
That reference to ‘consolidation’ led to When an Industry Consolidates, What Happens to Wages? , economic research by Elena Prager and Matt Schmidt:
Economists and policymakers have spent the past several years grappling with a stubborn question: As the U.S. unemployment rate has dropped to a multi-decade low, why aren’t workers seeing notable raises?
The researchers found no evidence of decreased wage growth among low-skilled workers after a merger, regardless of the size of the corporate marriage. But wage growth was reduced among both types of skilled workers when a merger notably decreased employer competition.
Among the top 25 percent of concentration-increasing mergers, they found that the resulting wage growth was 1.1 percentage points lower for skilled nonmedical workers and 1.7 percentage points lower for nursing and pharmacy workers than it would have been otherwise. Average annual wage growth in the U.S. hovers between 3 and 4 percent.
“That means you’re losing about a third of annual wage growth,” Prager notes. “If you extrapolate that over the course of a few years, you’ll see it could make the difference between outpacing inflation and not keeping up with it.”
Left unchecked, consolidation of competition leads to stagnation in wages for skilled workers, even when general wage growth continues at 3 to 4 percent. New college-educated and young workers were slammed by the great recession and hadn’t fully recovered a decade later. The cumulative effects will be felt for the rest of their working lives.
Even if the federal government begins to intercede in mergers to counter these trends, it is unlikely that they can turn back the clock on these economic impacts, or unwind the mergers that led to this wage stagnation. However, there is a good case to be made for slowing or eliminating further consolidation through antitrust.
No surprise that this generation of workers has become radicalized, and the explosion in unionization activities in white, blue, and no-collar workplaces is the result.
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2 Other Things
The Web will be the single most foundational aspect of people’s lives in 2025. People’s companion devices — the 2025 equivalent of today’s phones and tablets — will be the first thing they touch in the morning and the last thing they put down to sleep. In fact, some people will go so far as to have elements of their devices embedded. The AI-mediated, goggle-channeled social interactions of the near future will be as unlike what we are doing today, as today’s social Web is to what came before. The ephemeralization of work by AI and bots will signal the outer boundary of the industrial age, when we first harnessed the power of steam and electricity to amplify and displace human labor, and now we see that culminating in a possible near-zero workforce. We have already entered the postnormal, where the economics of the late industrial era have turned inside out, where the complexity of interconnected globalism has led to uncertainty of such a degree that it is increasing impossible to find low-risk paths forward, or to even determine if they exist. A new set of principles is needed to operate in the world that the Web made, and we’d better figure them out damn fast. My bet is that the cure is more Web: a more connected world. But one connected in different ways, for different ends, and not as a way to prop up the mistakes and inequities of the past, but instead as a means to answer the key question of the new age we are barreling into: What are people for?
| Stowe Boyd, cited by the Pew Research Center in Digital Life in 2025
Ambient synchronous vs ‘full-face’ synchronous
A lot of the debate about new ways of working in hybrid workplaces has centred around the balance between synchronous and asynchronous collaboration or co-working. I have been doing a lot of leadership development work in large organisations all over the world on how to design and curate the hybrid digital workplace, and it has made me think about the gap between my experience of always-on synchronous connection with colleagues, and their experience of the same.
The key difference, I think, is the nature of synchronous connection in both cases. I love to stay in touch with what my immediate team are working on, thinking about and linking to; and when necessary, we dip into chat mode to answer questions, clarify or solve minor issues. Sometimes, we might even go full-face synchronous and have a call or a “meeting”. In contrast, for the organisations I have been working with, the synchronous mode is almost always a meeting, run in the traditional way. As this recent piece from InfoQ points out, even fast-moving agile projects can use asynchronous modes effectively.
The cognitive overhead of the ambient synchronous mode is low, and I find it an enriching experience that helps the team stay connected; but the latter ‘full-face’ synchronous mode is exhausting, frustrating and would probably make me gradually hate my colleagues. I would rather save the full-face mode for urgent crises, workshops and ideation, or even better a wonderful conversation over food. It turns out we can process a lot more information than we are aware if it is ambient, indirect and not demanding of our full attention bandwidth.
3 Good Examples Of Bad Examples
What do Elon Musk and NYC Mayor Eric Adams have in common? Both are demanding workers come back to the office, or else get fired. Period.
As reported by Fred Lambert, here are Elon’s emails:
Subject: Remote work is no longer acceptble
Anyone who wishes to do remote work must be in the office for a minimum (and I mean *minimum*) of 40 hours per week or depart Tesla. This is less than we ask of factory workers.
If there are particularly exceptional contributors for whom this is impossible, I will review and approve those exceptions directly.
Moreover, the “office” must be a main Tesla office, not a remote branch office unrelated to the job duties, for example being responsible for Fremont factory human relations, but having your office be in another state.
Subject: To be super clear
Everyone at Tesla is required to spend a minimum of 40 hours in the office per week. Moreover, the office must be where your actual colleagues are located, not some remote pseudo office. If you don’t show up, we will assume you have resigned.
The more senior you are, the more visible must be your presence. That is why I lived in the factory so much – so that those on the line could see me working alongside them. If I had not done that, Tesla would long ago have gone bankrupt.
There are of course companies that don’t require this, but when was the last time they shipped a great new product? It’s been a while.
Tesla has and will create and actually manufacture the most exciting and meaningful products of any company on Earth. This will not happen by phoning it in.
As reported by Anna Gronewald and Erin Durkin:
A top aide to New York City Mayor Eric Adams is reminding municipal workers to ditch their home offices and show up to their jobs — a policy aligned with the business community's desire to inject pre-pandemic energy into the city's veins.
With Adams set to deliver a speech before the business-friendly Association for a Better New York at Cipriani Wall Street this morning, City Hall chief of staff Frank Carone blasted out the missive to agency heads to reiterate the in-person mandate.
"Please note, the Mayor has repeatedly emphasized, for the City to continue its comeback, we need employees from every sector to return to their offices. The benefits of this return for the city are immeasurable and we, as City employees, must continue to lead by example," Carone wrote in the email, a copy of which was obtained by our Sally Goldenberg.
"While hybrid schedules have become more common in the private sector, the Mayor firmly believes that the city needs its workers to report to work every day in person," he added. "To that end, all City employees should be advised that, absent a reasonable accommodation, you are required to report to work in person for every scheduled workday and hybrid schedules of any kind are not permitted."
Commuting to the office is simply performative at this point, like wearing a business suit. It’s all appearance, and not driven by real purpose. And these ideas are coming from two showmen, who have been seduced by their own charisma. But in the 21st century, we should question the legitimacy of leadership based on charisma.
As Simon Sinek said,
Leadership is not about being in charge. Leadership is about taking care of those in your charge.
And that is not what these two are up to.
In Becoming Powerful Makes You Less Empathetic, Lou Solomon digs into research:
Research shows that personal power actually interferes with our ability to empathize. Dacher Keltner, an author and social psychologist at University of California, Berkeley, has conducted empirical studies showing that people who have power suffer deficits in empathy, the ability to read emotions, and the ability to adapt behaviors to other people.
He calls this lack of empathy, but it reads more like self-centered.