Learning Leadership Strategies From the Workplace and Protests

Professors Stephan Meier and Dan Wang explain how the pandemic and the demonstrations for racial justice are already influencing future business leaders.

Leadership, The Workplace, Social Impact

Stephan Meier, the James P. Gorman Professor of Business, is a behavioral economist, and Dan Wang, the David W. Zalaznick Associate Professor of Business, is an organizational sociologist, but they both teach the same core class — Strategy Formulation.

In this webinar, the professors bring their perspectives to bear on how two pressing global issues —the upheaval in work environments caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing protest movement fueling a reckoning with anti-Black systemic racism – will affect the future of workplaces and leadership.

Work, according to Meier, is an essential part of most people’s lives. It’s something that forms part of their identity and provides a purpose, while workplaces offer a sense of community. But since the onset of the pandemic, many employees with office jobs now work virtually, and, as he explains, logging in from home does not have the same effect.

Meier notes that workplaces exist to facilitate coordination and cooperation, which, in turn, allows for greater instances of peer enforcement of responsibilities, meaningful interactions, and trust.

“People need to share, mentor, and help each other out,” he says. “Community and belonging are an important aspect of work.”

Meier’s research demonstrates that working via Zoom does not foster the same sense of community one gets by coming into an office, and that individual workers differ in what they need to be productive while at home.

Meier cites findings that the economic downturn caused by the pandemic will most affect the job preferences of those currently between the ages of 18 and 25 for the remainder of their lives, noting that they will likely prioritize income over meaningful work.

Wang discusses his ongoing research on why businesses should pay attention to social movements.

First, Wang dispels two of the common reasons that future leaders should maintain an awareness of social movements – the “trade off” view between business and society, and boycotts.

Instead of viewing business and society as separate entities that occasionally engage in tradeoffs — such as a pharmaceutical company providing free medication, or policymakers enacting laws to curb environmental damage — Wang says the two are intermingled and interdependent.

“Whatever action a business leader takes, affects society,” he says. “And whatever decision a policymaker takes, will have ramifications for businesses.”

Wang also critiques the effectiveness of boycotts on business and why they sometimes fail.

“Most consumers disassociate the social and political causes of the companies they are patrons of, as well as the functions of those firms,” he says. “There are some consumers who are impervious to social concerns.”

According to Wang, these concerns were brought into stark relief in the aftermath of the George Floyd protests due to size, the diversity of the demonstrators, and that the protests targeted businesses as well as the government.

Citing a figure called the protest-to-politics ratio, Wang notes that the news coverage of the demonstrations exceeded that of other major protests in the past 20 years — such as the those against the Iraq War and the Tea Party — by nearly two-to-one.

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