How Leaders Can Adapt to an Evolving Workforce: Overcoming Personality Derailers and Navigating Change with Neuroscience-Informed Perspective and Action

Authors: Naila Mir and Quinn Harrington

The third article in this multi-part series addresses the challenges employers face leading an evolving workforce’s environmental, social, and political demands.

In our previous article, we discussed how to close the gap. With solid data and insights in hand, the next step is shifting your mindset and, consequently, your actions or behaviour. We admit that this is not easy. Even with a clear understanding of the workforce, your responsibility is to shareholders, not the rank and file.

If you’re a senior leader or in the C-Suite, your skillset, personality, leadership qualities, and track record are responsible for your rise to the top of your company. So why is it so difficult for leaders to adapt and change to new realities in their workforce? After all, these traits and qualities got you there, so why should you change now?

We would argue that failure to adapt to the needs of an evolving workforce isn’t from a lack of intelligence, empathy, or leadership.

It’s your personality. The personality characteristics that got you to the top will not always keep you at the top. 

David L. Dotlich and Peter C. Cairo, authors of Why CEOs Fail, the 11 Behaviors that Can Derail Your Climb to the Top, and How to Manage Them, state in their book, “Historically, many CEOs who made suddenly irreversible mistakes were considered strong leaders before their blunders. Had they experienced a sudden, momentary loss of judgment that caused them to err? Or was it something else?… Generally, they happen when smart and well-intentioned leaders act in illogical, idiosyncratic, or irrational ways.”

The result of resisting change looks something like this:

  • Being unable to define a clear vision or direction for the business.
  • Communicating poorly with your stakeholders.
  • Losing talented people and being unable to replace them.
  • Loss of alignment, productivity, innovation and customer experience. 

But surely that’s not you. Perhaps you’ve seen traits like these in other leaders. (source: Why CEOs Fail)

  • Arrogance: you’re right, and everybody else is wrong
  • Excessive caution: the next decision you make may be your first
  • Perfectionism: you get the little things right while the big things go wrong
  • Aloofness: you disengage and disconnect
  • Passive resistance: your silence is misinterpreted as agreement

With proper introspection, you can overcome these personality derailers and realign your company’s vision. 

Neuroscience-based change agent and B2B Saas marketing agency owner Jenn James says: “Leaders seeking to drive change must begin with themselves, developing deep self-awareness of their mental processes, behaviors, and emotional reactions. A traditional emphasis on prolonged work hours and incessant problem-solving can paradoxically inhibit the natural occurrence of flow states. Today’s influential leaders prioritize emotional intelligence (EQ) over pure intellectual acumen (IQ), mastering the ability to navigate stress responses and not allowing them to overstay their usefulness.
The imperative for leaders is to identify and alter limiting beliefs and habitual behaviors that hinder optimal performance. The brain’s impressive neuroplasticity means consistent practice can forge and reinforce new, beneficial mental and emotional pathways, integrating them within the brain’s circuitry and the body’s responses.”

So, this isn’t merely philosophy. Navigating change with neuroscience has proven this is possible.

But what if an organization’s leader is driving change, but senior managers or a skittish workforce are resistant? The same principles James espouses can be applied to an entire organization.

James continues, “Leaders who champion and implement these principles pave the way for their teams to unlock their full potential and, more frequently, enter flow states. Adopting this neuroscience-informed shift in perspective and action is critical to personal development and equips organizations to move through a continuously changing business landscape with adaptability and enduring strength.”

A fair warning

Relationships are a two-way street, and we all have a story to tell. It’s not just about the leaders’ mindset and behaviour but also the attitude of everyone in the organization. We know our emerging leaders are drawn to purpose-driven companies and leaders. Companies should invest time in listening to and nurturing you. You can learn from the experiences of your predecessors, who have faced failures and learned from them. Limit friction and the impact of the experience. Leaders want you to have a positive experience.

The challenges of leading an evolving workforce are not unique to Gen Z and X. Emerging leaders should avoid these traps.

What Gen X and Z prioritize:

  • Values-driven opportunities 
  • A work/life balance
  • Concern for the environment, the state of the world, and the future they see developing ahead of them
  • Employers who will empower them to make a difference

According to a Deloitte Global Gen Z and Millennial survey, which gathered feedback from 14,483 Gen Z and 8,373 Millennial respondents across 44 countries, Deloitte explores how Gen Z and millennial workers are navigating challenges and how organizations can ride the waves of change fueled by these rising workplace leaders.

  • Gen Z and millennial respondents are seeing employers progress in some key areas, particularly since the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Leading an evolving workforce: Gen Zs and millennials are up for the challenge. They just need the opportunity.

They feel they can influence their organization’s social impact and sustainability efforts.

Change agents: Where Gen Z and millennials feel they have the most influence.
Change agents: Where Gen Z and millennials feel they have the most influence.

(source: Gen Z, millennials in the workplace | Deloitte Insights)

Gen Zs and millennials feel the financial pinch, but will lead change despite economics. They are not giving up on values.

According to Forbes, “Their slightly older counterparts, Millennials, and older generations such as Gen X and Baby Boomers, need to prepare for this sudden wave of Gen Z talent and welcome their fresh, innovative skill sets while training and developing them to be more effective with their soft skills gap in the workforce. Gen Z can also proactively seek to polish their soft skills through being more self-aware, attending training to upskill and develop their leadership capabilities, and seeking the mentorship of older generations.” (source: The Future Of Work: Key Emerging Workplace Trends To Watch For 2024 (

For those who question the importance of aligning your values to action, NielsenIQ asks the following question. “Greenwashing: What if 90% of your customers left?” The gap between what employees and consumers demand is shrinking.

According to a 2023 article from NielsenIQ, “As demand for transparency increases, getting claims right and providing access to verification will be critical to those cohorts with highest sustainability intent. 88% of Evangelists, 89% of Healthy Me & Planet and 96% of Idealists will hold brands to account and stop purchasing them if found guilty of greenwashing. Even 51% of Skeptics, the consumer segment seemingly least interested in sustainability, will stop purchasing a brand found greenwashing.”
“We are entering a new era of transparency where companies will need to recalibrate their pack and brand communications to ensure any claims made are accurate, transparent, and can be validated.” says Regan Leggett, Vice President of NIQ Global Foresight.”

To drive brands and organizations towards meaningful change, it’s important to cultivate an intentional mindset that prioritizes purposeful growth and transformation. This involves recognizing and challenging any limiting beliefs or biases that may hold us back and actively seeking new perspectives and ideas from your workforce.

Effective communication and engagement are also crucial for driving change, as it enables us to articulate our vision and goals, build relationships, and empower others to take action. This includes internal communication within the organization and external communication with stakeholders and the broader community.

Ultimately, meaningful change requires action – it’s not enough to simply talk about leading an evolving workforce. This means taking concrete steps towards our goals, whether that’s through implementing new policies and practices, investing in training and development, or engaging in advocacy and activism. Combining intentional mindset change, effective communication, and decisive action can empower people and organizations towards a more equitable, sustainable, and impactful future.

In our next article, we’ll go deeper into how to empower your workforce. And it’s no surprise that ‘talking about empowerment’ is not the same as ‘empowerment.’ What may surprise you is what empowerment means to your workforce and the conflict between communication and engagement.

Here’s a link to the previous article:

Closing the Gap: Why Internal Communications Metrics Matter for Employee Engagement


Quinn Harrington, CEO and Chief Brand Concierge, Harrington Design Company

Naila Mir, Found and Director, P3 Connect UK


Jenn James, Neuroscience Coach, B2B SaaS marketer

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