From Disruption to Renewal: Rick Inatome Discusses Lost Leadership Lessons and Culture Recovery in a Post-Pandemic Organization

One year before the pandemic, American companies, including those under the leadership of individuals like Rick Inatome, spent $170 million on leadership training.

At that time (2019), according to a McKinsey study, 75% of American workers said their greatest on the job source of stress was their boss. Today, 80% of business leaders say they regret how they have handled widespread mandates for employees to return to the office after three years of remote working.

A Poor Return on Investment

These numbers indicate a very poor return on investment in the multi-million dollar industry of leadership development. With 85% of organization leaders believing they cannot trust employees to be as productive at home as at the office, it seems that the essential glue of organizational culture has been weakened. Lessons about enlightened leadership learned in 2019 appear to have had an extremely short shelf life.

It was not a sua sponte moment when leaders of companies like Amazon, Chase JP Morgan, Disney, Starbucks, and X retreated from their top down and sometimes harsh or threatening edicts to return to offices full-time. More likely, it was the jolt of employee pushback and resistance that triggered recognition that the old way of doing business had undergone a fundamental and permanent change.

The new reality is that 8 in 10 employees now work on a remote or hybrid basis and fewer than 5% want to work full time at the traditional workplace. Leaders quickly have had to (re)learn that command and control methods come at the cost of talent loss, difficulty in navigating a labor shortage, and the fact that employees whose needs for flexibility are not met in one place will have them met elsewhere.

Recovering from a Hard Lesson 

Against this backdrop, the challenge facing many companies is one of rebuilding a healthy organizational culture. This process entails reaffirming company values, restoring trust, and meeting today’s more highly leveraged employees’ needs to be heard, recognized, and valued. Not to be lost in retooling is the understanding that Millennials and Generation Z are particularly responsive to authenticity, are not reluctant to challenge authority when warranted, and have priorities and values that tend to prioritize job-life balance, flexibility, purpose-driven work, diversity, and sense of belonging.

Cultural restoration begins with understanding why, with so much invested in leadership development, lessons learned and even applied in 2019 were lost so quickly. All the leadership programs imaginable amount to wasted resources without application of principles to the real world. First and foremost is an understanding that, especially in reestablishing trust, leadership begins from within.

Reclaiming (or Establishing) a Virtuous Leadership Cycle

Trust takes time to build and is easy to lose. A sudden shift to fear-based management invariably puts into doubt an organization’s fidelity to stated values and behavioral norms Recovering from a serious breach and commencing the rebuilding process thus begins with evidence of personal vulnerability, transparency, and willingness to be held accountable – those being indications that leaders who can trust to show their shortcomings are worthy of being trusted.

Given human nature, the temptation often is to rationalize a bad decision or hide behind one’s authority. These tendencies, however, are examples of unenlightened self-interest that typically are self-deluding tricks to protect ego and self-esteem – easily seen through and casting the leader as an emperor without clothes. Such means trade long-term success for short-term gain and are destined to take credibility and culture from bad to worse.

A Leadership Tool for the Times

Good leadership recognizes the importance of self-filtering out thoughts and motives of unenlightened self-interest that otherwise are self-blinding. For leaders seeking to rebuild trust and reestablish their authenticity, there are four mindsets (easily seen through) that need to be avoided at the risk of undermining objectives and further toxifying the culture. They are:

  • What’s in it for me? (This easily seen through consideration communicates that self-interest trumps greater good).
  • How does it make me look? (This easily seen through consideration indicates one’s ego is more important than any other factor).
  • I deserve better. (This easily seen through consideration conveys a sense of entitlement and even may connote victimhood).
  • I would rather be right than get what we want. (This consideration suggests that one’s sense of self-esteem outweighs a better outcome).

Leaders capable of filtering out these types of thoughts have a good head start in restoring a performance optimizing culture (or building one that never was healthy). By leading themselves first, odds are they will inspire others to do the same and be leaders in function even if not formally titled as such.

About Rick Inatome

Rick Inatome is a business leader and mentor whose career has helped shape the digital age. Alongside notable pioneers like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, he played a significant role in establishing a distribution and educational network that brought personal computers to the public and corporate America.

Inatome is a member of the Computer Hall of Fame and received the Entrepreneur of the Year award from Inc. Magazine. He has managed and participated in numerous private equity ventures, is active in education, serves on several boards, and stresses the importance of and advises on building performance optimizing cultures. Inatome also is active as a consultant, mentor, and public speaker.