DukeCE: Rehumanising leadership through purpose and empathy

Liam Hayes, Sam Fernando & Michael Chavez | 19 May 2021 | 35:14

Podcast Transcript: DukeCE: Rehumanising leadership through purpose and empathy

Maria Rampa: Hello, I’m Maria Rampa and welcome to Engineering Reimagined, a podcast in which we explore how, like engineers, people from all walks of life are reimagining the future and their leadership roles in it. What can we learn from their compelling and inspiring stories to help us reimagine engineering to lead the world to a better future?

As we continue to experience the upheaval of COVID-19, we are realising that leadership during a pandemic, and in a post-pandemic world is different. It's not about managing risk in an uncertain environment. It's about managing uncertainty in an uncertain environment.

How can organisations and leaders effectively engage their people who've been personally and professionally impacted by unprecedented change to be productive, balanced, healthy, motivated, loyal and successful?

In this episode, Aurecon‘s Chief People Officer Liam Hayes, and Learning and Leadership Leader San Fernando, talk to Duke Corporate Education CEO, author and speaker, Michael Chavez about his views on rehumanising leadership, engaging people around a purpose, shared meaning and empathy to create a foundation for greater sustainability in a world that is more complex and unpredictable than ever.


Sam Fernando: Hello, everybody.

Liam Hayes: How you doing?

Michael Chavez: I'm well, thank you. Nice to see you. And thanks so much for inviting me to do this.

Liam Hayes: Thank you for being part of it. Looking forward to the conversation. All right, should we kick off Ready to go?

Michael Chavez: Okay, brilliant. Michael, you have had a fascinating career in the fields of executive management, marketing, strategy consulting, and organisational learning development with organisations such as Coca Cola and the Los Angeles Times. What inspired you to work in the field of corporate education?

Michael Chavez: A lot of people wonder that. My mother still wonders that herself. It really came from a couple of really interesting experiences I had. I started life after Business School, sort of in the world of strategy consulting, and ended up in these large organisations doing internal strategic planning rolls, in an effort to try to get closer to the execution that we had been recommending as strategy consultants.

So, it's a journey for me to kind of get closer and closer to the real action that was attached to the strategy, that was always very interesting to me. Results, you know. So at one point, in my time at Coca Cola in the strategic planning department, which almost sounds oxymoronic today to have strategic planning together, it became very clear to me that the most interesting conversation seemed to happen after I and my team left the room, not when we were in the room.

Why? Well, because what was going on was the real sort of reality check about how this thing was going to be executed. How are we going to actually do this kind of work? What were the next steps, who had to be involved? And what became very clear to me was that that was really all about leadership. That led to our little department kind of pivoting and becoming a little bit more facilitative in our work. And as we got closer to facilitating strategy and strategy execution, I became very interested in how teams, especially senior teams, did or didn't work well together. It seemed that that was so crucial to the success of everything we were doing. And that started to get me closer and closer to this world of education.

One of the things about corporate education is we aren't really purely in education, we're sort of in education for the purpose of transformation. And so, it's very much in the realm of leadership. Our purpose is really about helping leaders to become force multipliers for positive change in their organisations. And that's really the issue that got me interested in this kind of version of education. Education for purpose of transformation that's led by the leaders.

Liam Hayes: What global trends are you seeing through your research? And what are the biggest challenges facing leaders today?

Michael Chavez: There's so many, and it's almost cliche to say that it's about uncertainty. I'll try to refine that a little bit more. The headline is that uncertainty is what we're facing. And this is very different than risk. Risk is really a flavour of uncertainty. And it's the part of uncertainty that we can model. We've understood, we've seen it before. We have statistics on it, you know, if we were in banking, we can price it. But uncertainty in its pure form is really something we can't model. And so, we're not really managing risk in an uncertain environment. We're managing uncertainty in an uncertain environment. And what that means is we're having to lean into discovery mode. We have to be building the capacity for our organisations to learn totally new things in totally new situations. That's the first big challenge. Leaders have to become much stronger at building the muscles to create a context for organisations to become experimental in the way that they deal with problems. And that's not easy, because we grew up and we're inheriting organisations that were not really designed for that, they were designed for control, execution. And they were designed for driving variability out of the system.

What we're now being challenged to do is actually to drive variability into the system, which is a phrase that Bob Sutton at Stanford University uses all the time in the design school, we now have to move from a system built on control, stability, predictability to one based on experimentation, discovery, exploration. Now, there's one more point to this, that I think is a subtlety that's often missed. And that is this. While we're busy trying to pivot the organisation to become better at learning collectively, we're also having to recognise that there are still parts of our business where that's not necessarily as true, we might still have to be executing extraordinarily well in very understood, modeled domains where we continually need to drive out variability.

So, leaders have this third muscle they have to build first two is being able to coexist in both domains, which require very different mindsets, and very different leadership postures. And then the third muscle, which is, when do I switch? And how do I switch? What are the signals I need to read to switch the orientation of the organisation to deal with this execution orientation versus a learning orientation? I think that's the really tough part about being a leader today. And what's weird about that for leaders is that they have to really lean into that uncertainty, but also be worried about the certainty.

A simple example is, I haven't flown in a while, like most of us, we need everyone to be experimental. But I don't want the pilot of the A320 that I'm flying in to be experimental. We need absolute execution, adherence to standards. But that's because it's a relatively understood situation. And those procedures create a safe environment. Now, if I'm in an A320, and I collide with a flock of geese, all of a sudden, I need some innovation and improvisation. I have to know to switch that. And that's the famous story of US Airways several years ago. So, it's this switching thing that I think is really the hardest part about it. Most of us we talked to are pretty good at absorbing this idea of uncertainty. But now, how do I switch? What allows me to switch is that I've got to move from a mindset of control, or rules, to one more about principles and guardrails. And that's really about clarity, not predictability, but clarity.

Sam Fernando: So, no doubt digital technologies have significantly changed the way we work. And COVID has accelerated the use of digital tools. What impacts do you think that has had on social interaction, and the ability to foster the desired culture within organisations?

Michael Chavez: It's really interesting, because we just ran a planet wide experiment on how to work with an N of over 7 billion, how to work and live differently. So, there's going to be data coming out of this for years, from an education standpoint, that's one of the things that's very positive about this is we've learned a great deal. One of the biggest issues that actually was written about in about 2005.

In this little book called Mastering Virtual Teams by Duarte and Snyder, they talked about the fact that when you're in some sort of video conferencing, there is this fragmentation that can happen. You get a group of people in the conference room together, and then you'd have these people dialing in from different locations. And you could talk to those people later. And usually, it was this fragmented experience, meaning they felt excluded, because the people in the conference room in the face to face were advantaged in terms of how they connected the signals, they got what they heard. So, what's happened is, by all being separated, and using this medium of video connection, connectivity and communication, it's had this flattening effect. So, they even predicted this story. And Steiner said, one of the tools to actually enhance collaboration is even if you're in the same building, put everyone back at their desks and put them on screen, if you can, as they were saying back then using the tools we had, like GoToMeetings. So, there's this flattening effect has, we've learned something very important about this. And it's the benefit of removing hierarchy for collaboration around complex problem solving, which we know is one of the factors that leads to great innovative teams, flat structures, psychological safety, and relatively small teams.

There's been a lot of research on that driving collaboration. So, one of the biggest things that we've learned is how to use that intentionally. Now, as we start to imagine a world where we're not going to be all digitally connected all the time, we'll start bringing face to face back into the equation. We're going to have to learn how to be very purposeful and intentional about which technology we use for which kind of human interaction that we need.

In this book, there's a wonderful balancing act that they mentioned, which is the difference between social presence and information richness. Sometimes you need lots of social presence and very little information richness, for example, a coaching conversation. And there's various technologies that work better for different things. And we sort of intuitively know this, we've all tried to have conversations or arguments through email. And we know that works terribly. What I think we've now learned is how we bring people together, how to take advantage of the technology, and how to limit the disadvantages of technology relative to the purpose of the conversation that we want to have. So, I suspect that as leaders, and as facilitators, and meeting organisers, we're all going to have to become a lot better at planning for these sorts of tools. And these sorts of interactions. I do think that, generally speaking, we've seen a lot of the benefits. We've also seen a lot of the difficulties, there's lots being written now about zoom fatigue, we know that that's a real thing. We're starting to learn how to counter it. We're starting to map brain activity in these kinds of meetings. And we're starting to see that it's difficult.

The one thing that still is true is that it seems that human connection in this medium is still better than not having this more human video connection. But it's not the same thing as face to face, because we're not picking up the same signals and the brain finds that very taxing to try to interpret, we're not seeing the whole body, we're not seeing some of the nuances. And so, the brain’s trying to discern is what is real, what isn't. And that gets very, very tiring. So, we've got to be careful about over rotating on this use of technology. And just assuming that this is the sunlit uplands of collaboration in the future, it doesn't seem that that's going to be true, at least for the next five, six, seven years. But it does seem that we are going to leverage it much more than we have in the past much more purposefully. And that it's got some amazing advantages, especially in dealing with complex problem solving.

Sam Fernando: In your book, Rehumanizing Leadership: Putting Purpose Back into Business, this explores the tools and mindsets needed to lead organisations in the 21st century. Can you tell us a bit more about that?

Michael Chavez: So, it all started really with my coauthor and I and the client we were working with, which was one of the largest European pharmaceutical companies. Out of that whole leadership development program were real conversations that lead to real change in the organisation. One of them was, and we write about in the book, this idea that they needed to become much more purpose driven around the patient.

But the default, as is true with most pharmaceutical companies that have a long history, the focus was more on the science and caused them to sort of reimagine their purpose, which has real impact on the way they think about their strategy and their go to market and even the products that they choose to pursue. We saw that unfolding, we realised that there's this organisational issue. There had been a lot written up to that point, around 2014-15, evangelisng the importance of purpose, lots of material out there in the literature, saying purpose is really important, individual purpose. But there was very little, if anything that we could find, that was written about how purpose works in an organisational reality, how do you actually make it work for you? And who's doing it well? And when we got into the question, we thought this book was going to be titled, had purpose within the main title, and it ended up becoming more about the deeper question of rehumanisation of organisations. And it's to do with this idea that we've all inherited organisations that were fundamentally built on the Industrial Revolution model, which is essentially efficiency based, scale based, that had an element of dehumanisation to it. Because we're asking people to be measured on outputs that are quantifiable, when in fact, what we need now more in the world is we need much more creativity, and whole person engagement.

In the old world, the engagement of people was more about professionalism and transactions, you do this for me, I will pay you this, and I will evaluate you. And it was a deal making environment. In this world, it's much more about engaging the whole purpose because we're exploring together, not just producing things together. And so that changes the whole human engagement model. And we realised that was core to this idea of why purpose was so important. The other thing, as a species, we're not that fast, our teeth aren't that sharp, we're not that great at climbing and our camouflage is terrible.

So, the only thing that allows us to survive and actually dominate the planet is this ability to do two things. One is work together, which takes empathy. And the other one is that we have this wiring in our brain to ask why and wonder what if. And that exploratory mindset allows us to imagine the future. We're all wired for empathy, and we're all wired for why, but the stresses of everyday life get in the way of those sorts of things. So, we're saying, let's reset and recognise that we're now in a world where there's a huge premium for humanised organisations. Because what those organisations do well is they engage people with meaning, and with empathy, so that they can understand why, have clarity, and collaborate deeply with each other to solve really big problems, and even explore problems. We tried to almost avoid talking about individual purpose. But we couldn't, we realised it was too embedded in the whole system of how you think about purpose. At the end of the day, the leaders’ job from a rehumanising perspective, is to allow the individual to figure out how they individually can contribute. That's a very deep set, individual motivation that we all have. And purpose is at the core of that ability to understand how I can contribute to an organisation or to an effort that's meaningful to me.

Sam Fernando: Just in the context of purpose, increasingly, the importance of it also in relationship to the connection to our clients and broader communities we serve, can you just connect more to that around the work of purpose?

Michael Chavez: It's so critical, it's not easy, because we want to create a purpose statement that ticks the box and magically transforms the organisation. But it unfortunately doesn't work that way. Purpose only works when it's embedded, institutionalised in the organisation. But to do that, you're essentially having to inspire people to connect with it on a very personal level, and that can't be done with a strap line.

Our goal in thinking about purpose was, how do we take it off the lobby wall? Why it's important, there's a couple of categories of reasons. First, is purpose gives us a frame for understanding how I can contribute, how my team can contribute. Purpose ought to be narrated, in a way that makes it clear, what are the conditions under which we can flourish as an organisation, with our people and with society? So, it inherently has an inside out and an outside in flavour to it. And that idea of institutional logic is from Rosabeth Moss Kanter, who wrote a wonderful article called ‘How great companies think’. The other category, and why it's important, is that it's more stable than strategy. Denise Pickett, who's the Chief Risk Officer at American Express, she said something really interesting, she said, purpose is the only thing that can unify us as an organisation, because by the time strategy gets to you, it's already been chunked down into the relevant bits, and you've taken out the parts that really are irrelevant for you. Whereas purpose is the same thing for everyone. And you have to create this narrative for yourself about what it means for you. So, it's much more co-created, and it's usually much more human terms. It's also asking a bigger question. It's not asking how, it's asking the question why. It creates this connective tissue in the organisation more readily, typically, than strategy.

When I was in strategy consulting, the goal was the strategy. Create the strategy, and then we can deliver a big binder and it's going to be durable for five, six, seven years. Well, we all know, that strategy is not like that anymore. It's now like milk, sort of has an expiration date on it. But you know, it's smudgy, we can't tell. We're constantly sniffing it to see if it's about to turn. And I think that's the problem that we have with strategies. I still think it's a critical component of organisational life. But it's lost that anchor that it used to be, we need something else. And purpose allows us to reimagine our strategy because it's the one anchor we have in the organisation. Nike was famous for having a purpose statement that was really all about the spirit of competition, and about athleticism, athletes. They sort of hung on to that. But they later changed that focus, to be inclusive, that athletes weren't just professional athletes, but they included everybody. And they sort of said, pithily, everyone with a body is an athlete. We're all sort of athletes. And that narrative shifted. But that anchor on athleticism allowed them the freedom to reshape their strategy, because it provided just enough clarity. So, we like to think of purpose as providing these guardrails that are saying, yeah, we're really about that. And that's probably not going to change. But it's wide enough for interpretation that it allows you to maneuver and reinvent within it. And this is this interesting balance between movement and stability that purpose allows. We talk a lot about pivoting our business model all the time, everyone's doing it. But we forget sometimes that this idea of pivoting implies the movement is happening around an axis.

Since I worked for Duke, I get to talk about basketball all the time. I'm a terrible basketball player, by the way. But I did learn one thing in my youth. The first rule of pivoting was where you stop dribbling the ball, you hold the ball. Now you've got to do something with it because you can't move, but you can pivot around one foot before you shoot or pass the ball. You have to make a decision about where your stable foot’s going to go. So, change implies stability. That's the counterintuitive thinking that we sometimes have to embrace. When you're asking, what you're going to pivot, you have to also ask what are we going to keep the same? Or what are we going to anchor on? If you look at what resilient people have done in their lives, a great study was done by Diane Coutu in HBR, about resilient people. And we extrapolated it to embrace organisations. If you look at, for example, cancer survivors. First is they embrace reality? They say, yes, this is happening, they avoid denial. Secondly, they anchor in some form of meaning and embrace the fact that they can make meaning out of this situation. And thirdly, they improvise, which is a flavour of innovation. It's saying yes to what's coming at you. One of the things that pandemic has taught us is, it's taught us how to quickly rally around what really matters. Now, that takes leadership, that takes some re-anchoring and purpose. But I've heard stories since writing the book from clients saying how their purpose has taken on new meaning because it was the one thing they could anchor on. What our clients want now, we're all in the services business. We had to think about our clients first and our people well. How do we look after our clients? How do we look out for our people? And how do we protect those two things? So I think we have learned something about purpose in crisis.

Sam Fernando: You've also written about the idea of a culture of antifragility. Can you explain that for us and tell us why that matters?

Michael Chavez: This is a really interesting concept from Nassim Taleb, who wrote Black Swan and introduced this idea of antifragility, which I really love. Because the idea of resilience at first glance, it's sort of about bouncing back. It isn't really all the time. But I think that's one of the things that this idea of antifragility helped us refine our view on, is that there's bouncing back and then there's bouncing forward. And I think bouncing back to what you were, is one form of resilience. But it's probably not the enduring one, because of the nature of external change we're facing.

Our world is so different from year to year, in the last five years, the amount of change has just been hard to even understand, even in hindsight, we're still trying to understand it. The idea of antifragility is really embedded in the idea of learning. So, I'm taking something, a setback or a problem or a crisis, and I'm learning and I'm emerging out of it different because I've embedded new learnings, new perspectives, new insights, and I've not wasted a good crisis.

The idea of antifragility, which is, how do I not become brittle and fragile? The fear is if we just focus on resilience and bouncing back, let's get back to our business model, let's get back to the old way of working, we might crumble. So, that's why it's fragile to do that, potentially. Just as a very simple example, our business, we're in education, our business went from about 98 per cent face to face to 99 and a half per cent virtual overnight. So now, what? Are we going to go face to face again, in our leadership development programs? Yes, some. What have we learned? Well, we also know, we're going to have to do this purposeful mixing of technology with face to face and try to think about it completely differently. So, we've really changed our business model fundamentally, irretrievably. And I think that's true for most organisations, on some level, they're finding some level of either their business model or their operating model that will be irretrievably changed as a result of this crisis. So, the antifragile mindset is essentially a learning orientation mindset. That's what's so different about it and why it's so important right now.

Sam Fernando: In this new blended world of work, what skills do leaders and organisations need to attain and in order to thrive?

Michael Chavez: There's probably an endless list, but I'll share with you the ones that we hear most about and what we think is really standing out. What's needed is leaning into the relationship more than ever, we're moving from a transactional model to a whole person model. And that means that we've really got to embrace people as they are and really spend time engaging them. That is the work of leaders. We sometimes try to separate, oh, if it weren't for the people issues, I could actually get my work done. This is a common complaint we hear from people who are leaders, but that's more of a managerial complaint than a leadership complaint. Because the people issues are the work for leaders, right? There's still sure a lot of executional stuff they have to do, but much more of their time is having to be spent on this idea of creating clarity, purpose and meaning for people.

Now, how do we do that? The ideal way to do that is to spend a lot of time not giving people answers, but posing questions. Why? Well, two reasons. One is because I don't have the answer, because it's a new world and we're solving new problems. So, I have to be skilled at helping people to explore together, which means I have to be in question mode all the time. The other reason questions are important is because they're enabling, they help people figure it out. But those questions have to be purpose and meaning questions. When you're faced with a purpose and meaning question, you're changing your brain chemistry. When you're in problem solving mode, you're in what Daniel Kahneman would call mindset one or mindset two, you're either being reactive, because it's really stressful, or you're in this logical mindset, and you're trying to figure it out. But that system two mindset gets tired very quickly and gets tired of spinning its wheels and eventually gets frustrated and can get stuck. So if you've ever been in a team meeting, where things just feel really stuck, and you're just not getting forward, or people are sort of talking over each other, and you're, there's several issues on the table, none of them are getting resolved.

We all know what that feels like. And then someone, a facilitator, or leader, or maybe it's a team member, who shows leadership says, Hey, can we step back and reorient to why we're doing this in the first place? What's the real problem? What are our outcomes? Let's just have that conversation. And if you've been in those meetings, you might remember what it felt like. And that feeling is the brain chemistry changing. There's this collective sigh that happens. Everyone kind of goes, oh yeah, that's right, we should probably get clear together, and align around those fundamental questions, purpose, values and vision. So, the tilt towards that purpose and meaning question asking side of the job has gone way up, because uncertainty has gone way up.

And so, leaders have to get used to this uncomfortable place of not being answer givers, not being directors not being controllers, at least not for a lot of the work that they're doing. Everyone finds this a little frustrating. People who are doing the work get a little frustrated, because you're asking questions, you're not giving them answers. And my advice to leaders is, don't take the bait, right? Because you’ve got to stay in this place of framing, because they've got to build capability to figure it out. They're the ones closest to the problem, they're more likely to have the answer, but they need help from you. And that help isn't giving them the answer, because you probably don't have it anyway. That help is providing clarity around how the answer can be arrived at.

One of my colleagues talked about this years ago with the rise of uncertainty with financial crisis. And he said, it's funny because, you know, you're disappointed as a leader, and your people are a little disappointed that no answers are being transacted. So, his definition of leadership is disappointing people but at a rate that they can absorb. You still have to step into some answer giving, you still have to have one foot in the work, you might have to teach a little bit even, which is a little bit of answer giving, but just enough, not so much that you're creating this dependency on you, which is really false dependency, because it's not building capability.

And how you know, is when they're coming to you with everything. And everyone knows what that feels like as a leader. When everyone's coming to you with every question in the book, you've probably had a role to play in building that dependency. This is the time to wean people off that through this method of changing the brain chemistry. Don't go cold turkey, as we say in the US, don't just quit, don't just close your door, that's not going to help because everyone will just become panicked, but gently start to move into a world where you're orienting more on purpose and meaning questions as a way of approaching leadership and management of people in uncertain environments.

Liam Hayes: The last 12 months, we've seen some amazing innovations come from organisations, individuals, society, what do you think will be the greatest innovations and shifts that we'll see in the world of work in the next decade in response to the global pandemic?

Michael Chavez: We've had windows into people's lives to see how stressed they are, with respect to balancing home life and work life, that separation has been broken down. I think one of the big innovations, though, will be figuring out how we can use that as a lever for reengaging people.

For example, this idea of flexible working, we've learned for some people, has been enormously helpful in reengaging them into the work that they do. So, the ability to flexibly work with time, across the day, is something that I think is really a work innovation that we can leverage. This idea of eight to five or nine to five, or whatever it is, for everyone in creative work, doesn't really make sense.

Speaking personally, I know I've gotten better, as I've gotten older at recognising when I'm just not going to produce a good idea. I've learned to walk away from it. We have to learn how to manage ourselves, energy wise, and have time be subordinate to energy, not the other way around. It's always been more the other way around in the industrial revolution. It's like I'm paying you to be here from nine to five. And that's it. Well, guess what? Creative work doesn't work that way, just doesn't. In mechanistic work, or algorithmic work, maybe it works. Very few of us listening to this podcast are in algorithmic tasks. We're doing more creative tasks, knowledge tasks, creative tasks, problem solving tasks. And we know that, that timing really, really matters. Now, how do you manage people in that? How do you get performance? How do you get outcomes? That's all to be figured out. And I think we're going to see lots of people, management innovations and leadership innovations and organisational innovations that will come out of this. That's my hope.

At Duke CE, we do a lot of experimenting with this, some things work, some things don't. We're gonna have a lot of failures in this as well. I don't know about you, but after being on about three or four zoom calls from, say eight in the morning, sometimes six in the morning, because I'm on the west coast, till about, say, mid-morning, if I don't stop and walk outside onto my drive and get some sunshine on my face, I'm not going to be very functional for the rest of the day. So, we have to figure out, as individual leaders also, how to really manage our energy and really understand the humanity and the creativity that we're working with, in our strangely wired brains. We're very creative species, but we also have to manage it very carefully. And that requires losing this mechanistic mindset that we were all inherited from school and from the Industrial Revolution, which is, you've got to be productive in a specific kind of way, you've got to have outputs. Those are still true, but the way we get those outputs in that creativity in that collaboration with other people, it has to be a little bit more freed up but with enough guardrails to provide clarity. Bob Johansen at the Institute for the Future, in California, said something really interesting. He said, the future will reward clarity, but punish predictability. And I think this assumption of predictability on the part of leadership, but the thing that will drive these innovations, and a lot, I think that will engender a lot more clarity on the world of work as well.

Liam Hayes: What the greatest opportunities, the new world of work is offering leaders and what advice would you give the next generation of leaders?

Michael Chavez: The greatest opportunities are that we have absorbed, as a society, a tremendous amount of willingness to question and to pivot and change. I think this started well before COVID. I think COVID heightened it and punctuated it somewhat. But the opportunity is this creative opportunity that leaders have today, rather than a managerial one. There's so much more hunger for experimentation and trying things out.

Now, this requires a whole bunch of other things to be in place to make that work. But I think leaders have a tremendous opportunity to experiment with business models, out of the same breath, we also have an opportunity to experiment with organisational models and different ways of working to meet those sort of business model requirements. But at the base of it all is this tremendous open field, to actually experiment and create new ways of creating value for people in the world, and for making the world a better place by doing that. I think there's also this great hunger that we have to live purposefully inside of organisational life. So, it used to be, I found my purpose outside of business, and I went to business to pay for it. And that was the deal I made with myself. And I don't think people are willing to do that anymore. I'm Gen X. And we started to raise those kinds of issues, I remember when I first entered the workplace in the 1990s. But there was this organisational infrastructure that was so heavily leaning towards money and execution and value creation. And that was it, that conversation ended there. By the way, those things are true, we still need them. But that's where the conversations ended. And I think we were hungry for meaning. And I'm so delighted to see that future leaders are coming pre-wired almost for this exploratory meaning, hungry attitude, looking for meaning and everything they do.

Now, leaders are going to have to do it just to get the talent these days, I think, because this idea of meaning and creating some sort of meaningful environment for the things you're trying to accomplish really matters to people. My major bit of advice for leaders, especially for the next generation of leaders, is question everything. And try to build everything that you do with the people that you lead from a place of deep meaning. And if you do that, you're going to find it a lot easier to do the first thing, which is this exploratory, create new stuff. It's just a very exciting time to be a leader right now. And I think the muscles we have to exercise are different than the ones say that I learned in business school, but they are very human muscles. They're very creative muscles. And they're very much about self-exploration and self-insight and self-awareness. I think those are all really big levers that we have to get used to pulling, as leaders, as we move into the next decade, especially.

Liam Hayes: Michael, it's been a fantastic discussion. Thank you for taking the time to speak with Sam and I today and for sharing your insights.

Michael Chavez: I had a great time. Thank you so much for having me on this podcast. I look forward to doing this again some time.

Liam Hayes: Thanks, Michael.

Sam Fernando: Thank you so much, Michael.


Maria Rampa: We hope you enjoyed listening to Liam and Sam's conversation with Michael Chavez, an inspirational leader with so many nuggets of advice about leadership and the opportunities ahead. If you enjoyed this episode, please leave us a review. You can subscribe to engineering reimagined on Spotify, Apple, or wherever you listen to podcast and make sure you follow Aurecon on social for details about upcoming episodes. Until next time, thanks for listening.

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DukeCE on shared purpose and sustainability in a post-pandemic workplace

As we continue to experience the upheaval of COVID-19, we are realising that leadership during a pandemic, and in a post-pandemic world, is different. It’s not about managing risk in an uncertain environment – it’s about managing uncertainty in an uncertain environment.

How can organisations and leaders effectively engage their people, who have been personally and professionally impacted by unprecedented change, to be productive, balanced, healthy, motivated, loyal and successful?

Aurecon Chief People Officer, Liam Hayes, and Learning & Leadership Leader, Sam Fernando, talk to Duke Corporate Education CEO, author and speaker, Michael Chavez, about his views on rehumanising leadership – engaging people around a purpose, shared meaning and empathy, to create a foundation for greater sustainability in a world that is more complex and unpredictable than ever.

Meet our guests

Learn more about Liam Hayes, Samantha Fernando and Michael Chavez.
Liam Hayes Chief People Officer Aurecon

Liam Hayes

Chief People Officer, Aurecon

Liam leads Aurecon’s People team which focuses on providing solutions that enables the company to attract the best talent and create the right environment that allows people to succeed.

Liam was a recipient of the Australian Financial Review BOSS Magazine’s Young Executives of the Year award in 2017 and is board member for Wear for Success, an organisation helping people experiencing economic hardship through unemployment prepare for job interviews.

Learning & Leadership Leader, Aurecon

Samantha Fernando

Learning & Leadership Leader, Aurecon

Sam helps transform the paradigm of organisational life toward individual and collective enrichment and growth.

She has substantial subject matter expertise in the design and development of Learning & Development, Human Resources and Organisational Development initiatives including re-imagining learning, capability frameworks, career development, talent architecture and succession planning.

Michael Chavez CEO DukeCE

Michael Chavez

CEO of Duke CE

Michael is passionate about “rehumanising leadership.” By engaging people around a purpose, shared meaning and empathy, he believes leaders can create the foundation for greater sustainability in a world that is more complex and unpredictable than ever.

Michael is the co-author with Sudhanshu Palsule of Rehumanizing Leadership: Putting Purpose Back into Business.

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