Morgan Evans of Business Casual
A BIT ABOUT MORGAN: I help organizations navigate the really sticky, human parts of work that are hard to wrap your head around – stuff like giving feedback, learning from tough situations, saying difficult things out loud and developing intentional, human-centered processes that enable your company to evolve without losing its soul. I like to tell people that I’m in the container business, selling psychological Tupperware that enables business owners and their employees to move through confusion and conflict – creating clarity and calm out of stress and chaos using structures that hold up to heat, but are dynamic when necessary.
Business Casual works with creative and values-driven business owners to provide a sounding board and support as they navigate the challenges that come with entrepreneurship, using 1:1 strategy sessions to develop leadership skills from innate expertise, facilitating transformative meetings that bring team members closer to one another, designing innovative frameworks to support healthy organizational cultures, and building communities of practice where small business owner peers can connect with each other.
The biggest challenge for business leaders today is to determine where to be static and where to be dynamic, and how much to turn the dial up on each one. In order for a business to endure, it needs to have a strong skeleton made of static elements, like bones, as well as a suite of complementary dynamic elements, like joints and muscles. You need to be clear and consistent and unwavering when it comes to your values, your non-negotiables, your overarching mission. At the same time, you need to be dynamic when it comes to how you respond to unpredictable issues, resolve complex challenges that you’ve never seen before and learn from mistakes. The pandemic brought all of us to our knees and forced us to commit to the rituals that matter most (the crucial stuff that gives our work and lives meaning) while doing a whole-hearted reevaluation of what we are doing, how we are doing it and who we are doing it with. These two endeavors are energetically at odds with one another, but it is the combination of committing to meaningful ritual behavior while regularly re-evaluating the way you work that is transformative, and charting your unique path between these two efforts is the backbone of your leadership style.
In these challenging and confusing times, it’s really important to figure out what drives you to do the work you do in the way that you are doing it, to unearth these values and then articulate them explicitly. The secret to having a business that aligns with your values is to (1) say them out loud and (2) make sure that they are manifested not just in what you do, but also in how you do it. This requires an honest look at how things are happening (and getting this data from a variety of perspectives, to check your blindspots) and then doing a frank assessment of whether what you discover measures up to the values to which you aspire. If you find you are veering off-course, which will inevitably be the case sometimes, you can always chart a new one.
As a leader, you are constantly being asked for answers, so this can feel counterintuitive, but the best thing you can do to develop your leadership skills is to hone your question-asking skills. Whether you are dealing with a nightmare project or a toxic team dynamic, modeling a stance of inquiry will help move you from a position of being entrenched in frustration to one where you can move toward other people, recognize shared humanity and think creatively about how things might be resolved. What this means is, quite literally, asking more questions and developing a habit of saying things like, “what’s confusing?”, “what am I missing?”, “where could this be improved?” and “what’s working well?”.
When it comes to mediating challenging internal conversations, it’s crucial to explore the interests that lie under each party’s position. Often when we are feeling threatened, we solidify around a position (e.g. “I need a raise”) that we convince ourselves is the only way to get what we need, when the truth is that there are other ways to address what’s going on underneath (e.g. “I don’t feel appreciated”, “I’m overworked” or “I’m feeling insecure about my career progression”).