Published On: Thu, Jul 6th, 2023

What Leaders Can Learn from the Paris Pension Riots

“Tone-deaf” is not something that a leader wants to be accused of being. It signifies that you are out of touch with the people in your organization and with their desires, and paints you as someone who is uncaring of people’s needs.

Jessica Vann, CEO — Maven Recruiting Group

Jessica Vann, CEO — Maven Recruiting Group

The recent riots that erupted in Paris following President Emmanuel Macron’s decision to increase France’s legal retirement age provide a striking example of what can happen when leaders are tone-deaf. Macron — who has been accused of being out of touch with his constituency since taking office — believes the pension overhaul is essential to support his nation’s future economic stability. Hundreds of thousands of those whom he represents, however, disagree with his course of action to the degree that they are willing to strike, march, and clash with riot police to oppose the initiative.

While Macron must contend with factors that are not a play in the business world, his situation provides some valuable lessons for corporate leaders; the best leaders make decisions that move the entire organization forward in a way that is mutually beneficial. Decisions that ignore or disregard the desires of the people risk sparking a protest.

Wise leaders will engage in expectation management

One powerful leadership lesson to be learned from the pension riots is that once followers — be they constituents or employees — have something, they will be loath to not have it. For business leaders, this means leaders must be very careful with how they acclimate people to their organization and what they condition people to expect.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many businesses shifted to remote work models in order to stay operational in the face of shelter-in-place orders. While business leaders may have seen the shift as a temporary measure triggered by unprecedented circumstances, employees have made it clear that they expect remote work options to trend permanently.

The debate that now exists over remote work illustrates the need for leaders to prioritize expectation management. They must be thorough in considering if a new initiative is something they can offer in perpetuity. Once something is introduced, people can become strongly attached to it, regardless of what data says about its practicality, utility, or effectiveness.

Financial ramifications are a top consideration when it comes to introducing benefits or practices that come to be expected by employees. However, their impact on operations must also be weighed. For example, an organization might be able to afford to give employees unlimited paid time off (PTO), but it might struggle to practically enable it. Does the organization have a deep enough staff to absorb the workload? If not, it could find itself in a situation where it needs to walk back on its PTO promises, which will rarely be welcomed by employees.

Wise leaders will prioritize transparency

One of the key criticisms that Macron has faced involves his decision to push the new pension laws through France’s lower house of Parliament without a vote. His administration leveraged special constitutional powers to accomplish this and avoid risking the initiative’s defeat in the lower house. The move prompted a vote of no-confidence against the government that was narrowly defeated.

Business leaders should opt for a different route than Macron chose when they are faced with difficult decisions. In my experience, transparent conversations with stakeholders about difficult situations are invaluable for achieving high levels of buy-in. These conversations not only reveal the reasons behind a course of action, but also show that you as a leader want to know what employees think and how they will be affected.

When you encourage transparency and dialogue, you communicate that everyone has a voice. This does not mean that you must deliver on everything that is requested. Leaders will have a broader understanding of what it requires to enact and support an initiative. It does mean, however, that all the relevant perspectives are represented. Without transparency, employees will feel marginalized or disenfranchised.

The bottom line is that leaders must take the time to explore and understand what matters to their people. This enables them to make decisions that reference the desires and needs of those they lead. Those who choose not to can quickly find themselves overseeing a group of people who have no interest in supporting or following their decisions.

Jessica Vann is the Founder and CEO of Maven Recruiting Group, a renowned, nationally-recognized recruiting firm and brand. Specializing in connecting high-leverage executive and personal assistants to the nation’s most prominent companies and individuals, Vann and her team assert that strong support staff are the bedrock of Silicon Valley and have spent the last decade evangelizing the value of executive assistants and teaching executives how to work with them effectively. An active thought leader in the administrative support community, Vann hosts “REACH – A Podcast for Executive Assistants,” with over 215,000 active listeners and has created an e-course and executive assistant coaching program as well.

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