Leading in Unfamiliar Times: 3 Leadership Trends for 2023

Over the past year, leaders have dealt with lingering uncertainty as events beyond their control continue to threaten employee sentiment and job security. These trends include the long-term effects of the pandemic, continued supply chain issues, remote work, growing inflation, and worker shortages due to the Great Resignation.

More recently, the influx of major job cuts in the technology sector and possible signs of a recession has business leaders worried as well. Case in point, the tech sector cut more than 150,000 jobs in 2022, and layoffs rose to 30% of that figure in just the first three weeks of 2023. Tech giants cutting jobs in January include SAP, IBM, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, and Salesforce.

When times are uncertain, leaders tasked with managing teams and inspiring performance have had to find new ways to lead. So what’s next for leaders as we face even more new challenges in 2023? Read on for three leadership trends—and suggested solutions—highlighted in O.C. Tanner’s 2023 Global Culture Report.

1. Mid-level managers are feeling burned out and unappreciated

According to the “Leadership at Risk” chapter in our latest Global Culture Report, burnout among mid-level managers is getting worse. Gallup reports that while stress, anxiety, and diagnosed depression declined in 2021 for individual contributors and high-level leaders, it increased for managers. That trend continues as 70% of individual contributors reported that their managers are possibly or definitely stressed.

It’s important to remember that mid-level managers are also employees, and can feel undervalued and overloaded during times of uncertainty, too. Many times these leaders don’t receive regular recognition from their own superiors, peers, and direct reports.  How can you help mid-level leaders feel more appreciated and supported?

“The healthiest cultures don’t just treat every employee as a leader. They treat every leader as an employee.”
— 2023 Global Culture Report

Recognize and appreciate mid-level leaders more frequently. Leaders often say they don’t need recognition. A full third (37%) of them claim their salary makes recognition unnecessary (compared to 23% of individual contributors.) But that number paints an incomplete, inaccurate picture because leaders are employees, too. They need to feel valued, appreciated, and supported like everyone else. A compelling counterfinding:

  • Entry-level leaders are 47% less likely to feel appreciated compared to senior leaders
  • Mid-level leaders are 33% less likely to feel appreciated
  • Appreciation reduces leaders’ anxiety by 67% and stress by 52%

Encourage employees to recognize their leaders too. Managers, just like all employees, need appreciation for everyday effort, accomplishments, and career anniversaries. When recognition is a part of everyday culture, the odds of increase in modern leadership improve by 185%.

  • 65% of leaders say receiving more recognition from direct reports would improve their experience at work
  • 38% drop in anxiety when leaders work in a culture of integrated recognition

2. Leaders with increased responsibilities find it harder to practice modern leadership skills

Modern leaders are collaborative and focused on coaching, developing, and empowering people to do great work, rather than gatekeeping, commanding, and evaluating. These types of leaders connect employees to purpose, accomplishment, and one another in ways that build thriving teams.

The problem is that leaders’ increased responsibilities over the past year have made their ability to practice modern leadership skills more challenging, with 61% of leaders reporting they have more general responsibilities at work than before the pandemic. Leaders are burning out as organizations give them more to do without the necessary support or resources to do it. How can leaders practice modern leadership skills despite new responsibilities?

18x increased odds that an organization’s culture will thrive when leaders feel connected to their teams.— 2023 Global Culture Report

Help leaders connect their employees to purpose, accomplishment, and one another. Building strong and genuine connections with team members is critical for leaders who want to reap the benefits of modern leadership strategies. One way to build connections is through appreciation. When recognition is a part of everyday culture, the odds of increase in modern leadership increase by 185%.

  • 248% increase in odds of practicing modern leadership when leaders work in a culture of integrated recognition

Provide more support and encourage modern leadership. While organizations may not always be able to remove new tasks and responsibilities from leaders, they can provide more support and better leadership strategies. Modern leadership benefits everyone, and leaders need to experience it as much as any employee.

  • 25% less anxiety in leaders when they feel connection and inclusion
  • 16% increase in odds of wellbeing when modern leadership is practiced

There are a variety of tools out there, like O.C. Tanner’s Culture Cloud, that can make it easier for leaders to create meaningful connections with their people and practice modern leadership skills.

3. Mid-level leaders feel left out of changes and decisions

Another reason mid-level managers are feeling stressed is because they are responsible for the organization’s choices and changes on employees, yet aren’t always involved in the conversations or decisions precipitating the changes. These leaders are the shock absorbers in an organization, taking hits from both above and below. This conflict can take a toll on leaders’ wellbeing and the organizational culture.

Leaders are sometimes asked to deliver a message to employees without much support or rationale. When communication lines are down between mid-level leaders and executive teams, it can lead to negative feelings and a lack of connection and buy-in between the C-suite and individual contributors. How can you help mid-level leaders feel like they’re included in new changes?

Consult with leaders on change management plans. Avoid rolling out new initiatives or programs without involving leaders, which can put them in potentially frustrating positions. Implement a robust change management plan for new programs that not only includes leaders in communicating the changes, but also consults with them before making any final decisions. When leaders play an active part in determining changes, they’re much more likely to understand and back them.

Communicate what they should expect and how it will affect them. Give them resources to manage the change. And check in with them regularly. Modern leaders will step up and guide their teams, but providing them with information, support, and appreciation will help them do it more effectively and minimize their stress, anxiety, and burnout.

“Leadership has a harder job to do than just choose sides. It must bring sides together.— Rev. Jesse Jackson, Political Activist

Leaders are tasked with a difficult job, especially mid-level leaders. They are responsible for leading their own teams while facing their own struggles with current market issues, filling vacancies on the team, and finding time to incorporate modern leadership skills. Don’t forget that these leaders need support and care too.

Be sure leaders are recognized for their efforts, feel inspired, and see how their work is helping their employees and the company be successful. Then you’ll create leaders, and teams, who will thrive through unfamiliar times.

See more of the latest leadership trends in our 2023 Global Culture Report.