the ceo magazine, leadership qualities.
Kimberly Davis, Author, Brave Leadership:  Unleash Your Most Confident, Authentic, and Powerful Self to Get the Results You Need

“I’ve been there for almost 17 years,” she whispered, glancing around the room, “I don’t want to leave, but I think I have to.” The Senior Director of Finance looked at me sadly, with the weary awareness of someone who has fought the good fight for far longer that she anticipated. “The backstabbing. The hurtful comments. The threats. It’s such a toxic environment. They have to realize we’re all working harder than we’ve ever worked and doing our very best. My boss can yell at me all he wants, but I’m not going to drive my team into the ground. It doesn’t help anyone to be treated that way. It’s so demeaning. I love my work, but I just can’t do this anymore.”

It’s a story I’ve heard countless times. The names, industries, and details change slightly, but for the most part, they’re all the same. Cultures shaped by command and control leaders that are bleeding talent. It’s time to recognize that what worked in the past isn’t going to yield the same results today. We need to look at leadership through a new lens.

With the Industrial Age in our rearview mirror, we live in a drastically different world than we did 20 years ago and the way we lead needs to evolve. The challenge is, most people in executive roles cultivated their leadership style during a vastly different time. They were groomed by the best in command-control-thinking because, with a workforce that was predominantly transactional, routine and required minimal prioritization, that is what worked.

But times have changed. Today we require more of our employees than ever before. We expect them to think strategically for the business, come up with creative solutions, be innovative in their thinking, and manage their own time. Job security is a thing of the past. Systems and processes are changing daily. Globalization is marrying cultures and blurring time zones at such a rapid pace that differences are overlooked and underestimated. Conference calls take place at all hours of the night, airline miles are accumulated, and phones are perched on our nightstands for immediate response. The “VUCA” environment—volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous—is the backdrop for our typical day at work.

Command and control in this environment brings the most critical skills needed for success in today’s workplace to a screeching halt. If people need to wait to be told what to do, it’s too late. In an environment where there is no emotional safety, creativity and independent thinking evaporate. If you need the best ideas to solve complex problems, you’ve killed your pipeline. When the daily air we breathe is already a toxic concoction of stress, anxiety and overwhelm, command and control is guaranteed to drive your best and brightest from the business. In today’s battle for talent, that’s running parallel with the gig economy, they know they have other options or can create other options. And they will. And they do. What remains is a quiet and compliant workforce—often very nice people, but the least engaged, least committed and least capable employees are left do the work. If you need your organization to succeed in today’s competitive environment, is this a leadership style you can afford?

Three months later I ran into my Finance friend and learned that she had found herself her “dream job”. “I still do the same kind of thing,” she reported happily, “except now they have my back. The culture difference is like night and day! The CEO is committed to the company values—there’s no backstabbing or company politics allowed—he told me his mission is to ‘bring civility back into the workplace’—can you imagine?! What a difference! He’s really committed to learning, so he has the leadership team reading books and meeting weekly to talk about key take-a-ways. He actually asks me how I’m feeling!” And then beaming she said, “I think I’ve found my new home!”

Emerging leaders are caught at the precipice of a new era. What worked yesterday won’t work today. There are few role models in senior leadership to show them the way. But perhaps things can change. Perhaps the generation that so boldly brought us into today’s era of prosperity can have the courage to look at leadership through a new lens. As a senior leader, you have a responsibility for the culture you’re creating, the influence you bring, and the leaders you groom. It is a different world in which we must all start anew. Senior leaders and emerging leaders are creating the future together and it’s not going to be easy.

That’s why it’s reserved for the brave.

About the Author

An expert on authentic leadership, Kimberly Davis shares her inspirational message of personal power, responsibility, and impact with organizations across the country and teaches leadership programs world-wide; most notably, her program “OnStage Leadership.” She is the author of Brave Leadership:  Unleash Your Most Confident, Authentic, and Powerful Self to Get the Results You Need

For more information, please visit


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