When author Jo Owen published the first edition of Myths of Leadership: Dispel the Misconceptions and Become an Inspirational Leader in 2017 — before COVID and the mainstreaming of virtual work — the business world looked very different. In the new second edition, Owens highlights how the pandemic massively accelerated a revolution in leadership.
b.: What did you find yourself adding to the book? Did you go back and say, “Oh, I thought this five years ago, but I don’t believe it holds true today”?
Owen: One, we’ve discovered that the office is a paradise for control freak managers, because they can just walk across the office floor and help at will. They can’t do that when they’re remote. … Which means — horror of horrors — they have to trust their team to do the right thing when they’re not being watched…
The second thing we’ve discovered is that the office was very forgiving of mediocre management. So if you [as a manager] made a mistake in the office, you knew about it very quickly. You see it, you hear it, and you can deal with it in real time…
You can’t do that when you only speak to your team once a day. If you misspeak in that daily call, then your team members have a whole day to ruminate over what you have said or not said. Inevitably, they do not presume the best — they presume the worst and they start catastrophizing.
b.: There are certain kinds of software that employers can download onto employees’ computers that track their activity. Do you think that’s a good move for leadership?
Owen: No! It’s a nightmare on steroids! Look, this is the revenge of the 20th century traditional command and control manager who cannot let go and does not trust their team. … And then they’re really surprised that the team isn’t performing. It’s like, “Hello! We’re in a new world.”
Learn trust now. Trust is really hard in a remote world …
b.: Have you found that those working virtually find it more difficult to become invested in their job, as compared to in-office workers?
The dangerous part of hybrid work is that you don’t have a level playing field. This actually has big implications for the gender gap and gender equality. This is not black and white, but the blokes are going back [to the office] somewhat more than the women.
What happens is that when you’re in the office, you’re in the information flow, you’re in the gossip flow. … You know where the really juicy projects are emerging and you can make yourself useful for the people running it.
It’s marginal gains, but over time, the people who are in the information flow are going to be the ones that get the best opportunities … You will be learning the rules of survival and success without even realizing it.
Myths of Leadership is available now.