“Leaders who want to keep authority will need to be good at having their finger on the pulse,” she adds. “They will need to be great at enabling and anticipating — more a coach at the side rather than a player on the pitch — and fabulous storytellers to create culture and loyalty.” This is perhaps what employees deserve, she suggests: “We have proved we can be trusted, even in an extreme situation, so why aren’t you trusting us now?”
Finding the Right Tone
Some leaders remain convinced that turning up physically can work better. Andy Jassy, the chief executive of Amazon, wrote in his 2022 letter to shareholders: “Many of the best Amazon inventions have had their breakthrough moments from people staying behind after a meeting and working through ideas on a whiteboard, or continuing the conversation on the walk back from a meeting, or just popping by a teammate’s office later that day with another thought.”
To get workers back into the office, leaders will have to get their tone and the message right. “Too much informality could be undermining,” Ms. Empson said. “People might like you more, but will they work for you?”
But even in a world where employees have more autonomy and flexibility, Kevin Ellis, chair and senior partner at PWC in London, said people still wanted leaders to create “guardrails.” And guardrails “also help leaders to act with consistency and confidence,” he said.
Roger Steare, an adviser to corporate executives, warns that a desire to establish authority misses the point: The best work happens when there are strong human relationships in the workplace.