3 Ways To Lead Well Amidst Anxiety

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3 Ways To Lead Well Amidst Anxiety
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Work is a state of upheaval—and beyond shifts in where and when people work, changes are occurring in the content of work itself—literally in responsibilities, tasks and assignments. This is fueled by AI and most recently, ChatGPT. People are uncertain about whether they’ll be replaced by technology—and at the same time, they’re looking for greater meaning from work and more flexibility in how they go about it.

But it is possible to reimagine the work experience in the new digital landscape, emphasizing what humans do best and ensuring the work experience is engaging, challenging and secure. You can inspire people about a vision for what’s next and how they can be part of helping the organization get there.

Fear is Here

For decades, people have worried about technology replacing jobs. The term “technological unemployment” was first used by the famous economist John Maynard Kaynes as early as the 1930s. And in the mid 1800s, tailors were worried about the use of sewing machines and workers who shoveled materials when ships came into ports were concerned about grain elevators. In the early 1900s, lamplighters went on strike because they would be losing their jobs to the newest tech: electricity.

Today, people worry about tech taking their jobs, but the also resist fully trusting AI. In a recent inquiry by MITRE and the Harris Poll, 78% of respondents were concerned that AI can be used for malicious intent, and 82% support government regulation to reduce risks. In addition, 70% want the tech industry to do more to ensure the public is protected.

People are worried about the effects of AI both in their jobs and in their lives.

The Value of Humans

There is plenty that tech does better than people. Where machines are precise, humans make mistakes and are frequently inaccurate. Where automation is lightning fast, by comparison, people are slow and plodding. And where tech can scale, humans are largely defined by so many limits.

But humans also have unique attributes which are unmatched by tech.

Humans are creative—designing something from nothing, intuiting, inferring, adapting and functioning with nuance. People are also uniquely curious—imagining, exploring and wondering. Solutions like ChatGPT can provide some of the answers, but people are best at asking the questions in the first place.

People are also uniquely good at connecting, relating and being present for others. It is humans, of course, who will be empathetic and who will express kindness, support compassion for others. People will develop trust within communities and inspire each other. People also bring morality and integrity which are so important to relationships and the resilience of groups.

Human Experience in a Digital World

So how do you create great human experiences in a digital world—optimizing all that humans do best and quelling fear?

Neurotically, people prefer certainty and tend to avoid ambiguity. And when people experience fear, they are likely to lock up, shut down and lose access to their best thinking or creativity. So, it’s important to lead well through uncertain times and conditions which can create fear about jobs, work and employment.

#1 – Emphasize Identity

Many people get a healthy sense of identity from their work. They don’t just work in the field of design, they are designers. They don’t just teach, they are educators. And they don’t simply manipulate or analyze numbers, they are data scientists.

One of the most frightening things about tech taking over certain parts of work is a loss of identity. If a professional has been spending time on certain tasks, the loss of that work may threaten a sense of their value. ChatGPT takes over the tasks of writing job descriptions, answering employee queries or analyzing company data, but the HR professional will still add value in ensuring the right people are in the right jobs and creating the conditions for meaningful and equitable cultures. AI usurps the writing of social posts, but the marketing professional will still be critical to sensing the most important topics and scrutinize posts for nuances which ensure they’re on brand and successfully avoiding unintended consequences.

Remind people about their value and how they matter in the organization. Give people a line of sight from what they’re doing to what teammates need and to the ways they make a difference to the value the organization creates for people. Provide people with reassurance about all the ways their contribution matters today and will continue to matter in the future.

#2 – Develop Skills

Fear also arises from concern about a gap in the new skills necessary. If the communication professional no longer needs to write, but rather to initiate new strategies for strategic knowledge transfer, they may require new skills.

A key part of leading through uncertainty is to provide development for new skills and capabilities. As tech takes over old tasks and people must pivot to new ones, they need to know they’ll be supported in making the shift. Providing not only reassurance, but career pathing and developmental steps will go a long way toward people feeling less anxious about the future and more engaged in creating it.

#3 – Build Community

As tech takes over work, the risk is that it may become more transactional and less collegial. In fact, a recent poll by Cigna found 48% of Gen Zs reported work felt transaction and they lacked an opportunity to bond with colleagues. In addition, an analysis by BetterUp reported only 31% of people are satisfied with the amount of social connection they have at work, and 22% don’t have even one friend at work.

One of the most important elements of work is a feeling of connection—and it is part of the value equation that not only keeps people with an organization, but also motivated to do their best. So in the digital world of the future, it will be critical to ensure people feel a sense of camaraderie and teamwork. When people are unsure or afraid, it is the human instinct to pull together to pull through. And surviving hard times is one of the primary sources of bonding. Unfortunately, distance can get in the way of deeper relationships.

Leaders are wise to provide not only social time for people, but also to give people shared goals that require mixing skills and unique talents to accomplish necessary outcomes. Leaders and organizations can also develop cultures where employees can connect in groups, bonding over common interests like parenting, elder care or running. When people feel a sense of belonging, they are more likely to stay ahead of the fear they may also be facing.

The Power of Vision

In the face of uncertainty, leaders can take plenty of steps to mitigate fear—and vision is perhaps most critical. Give people a sense of what’s coming, where the organization is going and what a bright future will hold. You won’t be able to provide certainty, but you can emphasize clarity. Let people know what you’re excited about as well as what you wonder. Invite people to explore, innovate and intuit where things will go and how they can be part of all that will come next.



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