Evolution of leadership: How do you handle uncertain times?


Everything we are responding to in the market brings us to our topic today. In this special episode of PwC Pulse, we'll discuss how leadership has evolved over recent years, what it means to be a leader in a time of increased geopolitical and economic uncertainty, and how it’s increasingly important to build trust with stakeholders.

Leading our conversation today is J.C. Lapierre, US Chief Strategy and Communications Officer at PwC, as we hear insights from our PwC alumni speakers: Carol Isozaki, founder & president at Strategic Brand Intelligence, Steve Salata, General Manager at MachineQ - a Comcast Company, and Derrick Roman, a retired PwC Partner and Board Member for CommScope and Wex, Inc.

To learn more on the topics discussed today, visit PwC’s FY22 Purpose and Inclusion Report.

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About the podcast participants

J.C. Lapierre serves as PwC’s U.S. Chief Strategy and Communications Officer

Carol Isozaki is the founder and president at Strategic Brand Intelligence. She is an executive coach and speaker with over 20 years of client service, human capital, and leadership development.​

Steve Salata is the VP/General Manager of MachineQ and Notion - a Comcast Company and also a retired Navy Officer.

Derrick Roman is a retired PwC Partner. He became a member of CommScope’s Board of Directors in 2021 and serves as a member of their Audit Committee.

Episode transcript

Find episode transcript below.


00:00:01:00 Welcome to PwC Pulse, a podcast to provide insights to help you solve today's business challenges.


00:00:09:27 Hi, I'm J.C. Lapierre, US Chief Strategy and Communications Officer at PwC and I'll be your host on this special episode of PwC Pulse. Today we're sharing insights from three business executives on how the world of work is shifting and what it takes to be a trusted leader. Joining me for this discussion are Carol Isozaki, Founder and President at Strategic Brand Intelligence.

00:00:31:05 Steve Salata, General Manager at MachineQ, a Comcast Company and also retired Navy officer and Derrick Roman, a Retired PwC Partner and Board Member for CommScope and WEX, Inc.

00:00:43:05 This isn't our typical Pulse interview format today. We brought this group together on a recent webcast for PwC alumni, and we wanted to invite you to listen in on the discussion.

00:00:51:11 It's a critical conversation for business executives as leadership evolves in this time of increased uncertainty. We are thrilled to have you here with us.

00:01:00:05 I think we all can agree the world has shifted pretty significantly in the last few years. Many of us are trying to evolve with the times and we have a few points of view that we'd love to share with you.

00:01:09:19 So without further ado, why don't we jump on in? If I can start with just talking a little bit about PwC and where we are, and I promise we won't talk too much about us, but I think it's really important to know what we see and where we see the world headed. About 18 months ago, we launched a new strategy and we call it the new equation.

00:01:26:15 And the new equation is predicated on our firm belief that companies will need to do two things for the next five, eight, even ten years as they continue on their journeys.

00:01:37:05 And we believe that that is they will need to build trust with all of their stakeholders and they will need to deliver outcomes. They are not at the sacrifice of each other, but it is the particular combination of doing both that's important.

00:01:48:27 But let me break it down as to what that actually means, when you hear and I think we all know that the headlines move fast and there's a lot of them these days, things like how do I know a company is protecting my privacy as a consumer? When you hear, is that company's leadership team really invested in their workers and do they have the right workplace practices?

00:02:11:09 Do they have the right technology? And how do I know that their AI is responsible and inclusive? Is this company paying its fair share of taxes? Does this company care about sustainability?

00:01:21:05 What are their net-zero goals? What are they doing around DE&I? All of those statements sound like challenges and it sounds like challenges to different business processes. But what we hear when we hear that is we hear a trust gap.

00:02:33:03 It is a consumer, it is an employee, it is a regulator. It is others around us with which we have vested interests that are saying, how do I know? And I want to make sure that I can trust you so that I can engage with you. And we don't view that changing. And in fact, I would argue that it's probably going to get harder before it gets better.

00:02:53:12 At the same time, we all know that companies have a responsibility to their investors, their shareholders, to whomever it is in order to deliver outcomes, also to reinvest in their organizations to make sure that they can do for their employees, for their clients, for their communities, the things that they promise that they will do and to serve their purpose.

00:03:09:23 Trust outcomes can't be won at the sacrifice of the other. One plus one equals more. That's the new equation. So with that, if I can invite Derrick and Steve to join me on the virtual stage. Let's get started. Derrick and Steve, welcome. How are you doing?


00:03:26:19 Great. Excited to be here.


00:03:28:07 Awesome. Thank you.


00:03:29:09 Good to see you, J.C. Doing great.


00:03:30:10 Great to, great to see you both. All right. Let's jump in. Let's talk a little bit about where you think leadership has gone. And I think a lot of us that get the privilege of leading and I think everybody in any role can be a leader, recognize that things have changed, expectations are changing, and you have to sort of adjust who you are. It gets a little bit uncomfortable, but we try new things.

00:03:53:02 I'd love to hear from you about what you think are those shifts that you're seeing in business that are causing those leadership changes, how you personally are doing the work to try to evolve or what you're seeing the expectation of leaders be. So maybe, Derrick, we'll start with you and then we'll go to Steve.


00:04:09:20 Yeah, I thought Tim Ryan had a great quote and it was posted on LinkedIn that the war for talent is over, talent is won. And I think that was simple but very, very profound.

00:04:20:20 And to me, that represents one of the major changes that we've seen over the last several years, starting with the pandemic and the murder of George Floyd and the business challenges facing different corporations, all corporations right now, all businesses right now, and the focus on talent.

00:04:38:06 And to me, that is a fundamental change, and we're dealing with a new environment. So I think that really represents significant opportunity and challenge for us as leaders to think about our people differently, not just where and how they work, but how they develop.

00:04:53:06 I am talking to both of my companies on the boards I serve about how we can bring greater mobility into our models, which are not very mobile right now.

00:05:02:12 So we're having more discussions about that, I would say, as director. One of my first calls as I join these boards was with the CHRO and with the chief legal counsel compliance officers. I'm trying to get a sense for culture, to get a sense for how robust our programs are with respect to diversity and inclusion and talent development and mobility.

00:05:24:00 Our CHRO comes to all of our board meetings, and I feel a sense of obligation, a responsibility as a director, to make sure that these topics are top of mind. So clearly talent would be the top issue.


00:05:36:13 Yeah, I couldn't agree more. I think that it is a massive challenge. We are all creating the playbook as we go. Steve, how about you?


00:05:44:08 For me, you know, on the leadership side and being at Comcast, with its cable division, it's 500,000 miles of cable, 30 million customers, very complex operation. And it's a very critical service.

00:05:55:05 So it's a critical product that we provide that our customers love and need, but, you know, different jobs I've had, I run a company MachineQ right now and I try to focus my whole team on the top and most important thing which in a startup phase, trying to make your way in Comcast, that's revenue.

00:06:09:09 I ran our customer experience initiative a few years ago where we really overhauled Comcast's customer experience to actually being a leader in customer experience, especially within the cable industry. And we focused on one thing: the net promoter score, how likely our customers would recommend us to friends or family.

00:06:25:23 And then in operational jobs like Comcast, it's all about automating and making it simple, both for your employees and for your customers to interact with. So at that front is how we focus the team on scores, focus on outcomes, and then it really goes back to how you lead your teams.

00:06:41:23 We've got amazing up and coming workforce and the areas I really focus on is, number one, no matter how much my leaders want me to be dour and realistic and not crack jokes, I try to make things optimist and fun.

00:06:52:25 It's not like when I was in the military where lives depended on the work we were doing. So you really always have to not take yourself too seriously. I do think that leadership and working with your team members is a full contact sport.

00:07:04:23 You have to be very proactive in coaching your teams. Looking ahead, folks want exposure. They want increased responsibility and they don't want to feel like they have to do it all.

00:07:13:23 And I remember a lot of times in the past, like, is your career what you make of it? And I just don't ascribe to that. I think the career is what we make of it, and I need to help you and you need to help me.

00:07:22:23 And then the last thing is you just have to be flexible these days, managing through the pandemic with software engineers, sales people, marketing operations people, you have to give people flexibility.

00:07:32:16 But also sometimes when you run into people that are having challenges, I have a mantra instead of work smarter, not harder. Sometimes I just say Work harder, not smarter. Get the job done and let's keep moving.


00:07:43:28 I really like one of your first points and I think it's so true. I believe there is such a big perception of the workforce that by the way, is the majority. And I attended a conference not so long ago and somebody spoke and what he said really caught me. He said, When is the last time that your team members have changed your mind?

00:08:05:17 And if you have to think longer than like three seconds, then it's been too long and I think that gets to the point of we have such incredible people coming up through the workforce and they want to be heard and they have wonderful ideas. And so it comes a lot to listening and making sure that we're willing to not say we know best.

00:08:22:10 But in fact, let's actually make the most out of the potential that everybody has with us. Okay. If you guys wouldn't mind, just take a minute, but don't go anywhere, because I am going to bring Carol up and we're going to have a little bit of a chat about leadership. But then I want to bring the three of you back and talk about what she has to share.

00:08:39:05 So, Carol, if you would, join us. Carol is an Executive Coach and has been studying the field of leadership for a very long time. So welcome, Carol.


00:08:50:05 Thanks for having me.


00:08:51:05 So good to see you. All right. Let's jump into leadership since this is your field and it is something, as we've been discussing, has changed so significantly, what do you see are the shifts in the changes in what people expect of their leaders these days?


00:09:04:21 Yeah, so I work with a lot of companies in a lot of industries. What's been consistent no matter where I go is that I'm seeing that the role of the leader is constantly evolving.

00:09:17:21 The asks of us are much bigger. We're having to lead teams that are in constant flux. We're needing to handle situations that are more complex and the stakes are higher.

00:09:28:06 And, you know, our priorities are constantly shifting and growing. And what I'm seeing expected of us as leaders is we're needing to be more agile than ever before. We're needing to influence broader and deeper across the organization and beyond.

00:09:42:06 We're having to own bigger outcomes, all with either reduced resources or a highly fatigued resources or both. And we're having to work outside of our comfort zone more and more, all in the virtual or hybrid environments.

00:09:55:20 And the other thing that I've seen much more recently is that so many of the initiatives that were put on the back burner during the pandemic, they're all being brought to the front all at once. So if you're a leader who is feeling even more overwhelmed lately and fatigued, you are not alone.


00:10:12:20 I think many people will enjoy hearing that. I got tired of listening to that list, but nodding vigorously as I heard it. So give us a sense for where you think the biggest skill gap is and what do you believe we need to do in order to close some of that skill gap?


00:10:30:20 Yeah, so I think really, really critical these days is we all need to be taking a human centric approach to our leadership, especially when we think of the state of the workforce these days, where they are all at or near saturation point when it comes to overwhelm and stress and anxiety.

00:10:49:09 So one, really making sure that we focus on the shifting from an IQ to an EQ mindset and really being about how do I want to make people feel like that's the number one question that I ask. Even global leaders, and they struggle answering it because they don't think about that enough, you know.

00:11:12:20 And so what I think is interesting is that leaders will spend a tremendous amount of time with putting together a offsite that is meant to transform the team and really elevate them or they spend a ton of time on this strategy launch and come to find out they haven't spent a single minute on how do I want to make my audience feel as a result of experiencing this right?

00:11:39:08 And so, so much of it is we have so much to do. We're trying to get so much done that we're overly agenda driven and we need to slow it down. We need to think about how is our audience feeling coming into it? How's my audience feeling coming out of it?

00:11:51:08 How do I need to show up in order for them to feel the way that I hope that they'll feel? How do I need to frame things, connect the dots, how do we need to engage them?

00:12:00:21 But those are all things that I've spoken at so many conferences, especially for individual company shows, and I'll see the leader stand up and all they're doing is rattling off a strategy list.

00:12:13:24 They're not delivering an experience that ignites the best in other people and galvanizes collaborations in ways that help us to do more. Right. And that is, are we delivering experiences that people want to sign up for over and over again, like we have to have an awareness of that.

00:12:32:21 So to me that is a big skill gap. The other one that I will say is that when you say trust is critical, right, like do we as leaders communicate in ways that deliver a consistent peace of mind and peace of mind drives trust.

00:12:48:22 And what I mean by peace of mind is do people feel that they're in good hands because they're in your hands? Right. So hands that are caring, hands that are strategic, courageous, inclusive, realistic, thoughtful.

00:13:01:21 Right. And when we do that, the results are so much more incredible. But that means, hey, we can't move too fast. We need to slow it down and we need to bring people on the journey.

00:13:13:17 We need to hear what other people have to say. We need to own our missteps. You know, like we're operating so much outside of our comfort zone that delivering peace of mind is owning missteps

00:13:25:21 a lot as a leader. Right? Because if they don't even think that we've recognized it, how much peace of mind are we going to give them? How likely are they going to be to follow us? So, I mean, I could go on for days, but I'll stop there.


00:13:38:00 That was wonderful. I really enjoyed that. I agree wholeheartedly with everything from your first one, we actually have an exercise at PwC that we encourage people to do before every meeting, big meeting, we call it the know, field, do.

00:13:52:29 So what do you want people to know? Coming out of the meeting? How do you want them to feel? And then what do you want them to do?

00:14:00:21 And if you haven't given due consideration to all of those, then you probably are missing something and won't be able to unlock the potential of what's there. And the other thing that made me smile a little bit in your second answer is for me, I actually truly trust somebody.

00:14:16:29 the first time they tell me they don't know or the first time they tell me that they got something wrong. That's the moment where I'm like, Okay, I know that you're going to tell me when those are the cases because let's be real. They are the case for all of us. None of us are exempt from that situation.

00:14:33:17 And so making sure, one, that we create an environment that's comfortable for people to do so and we model it by example. But it is really important to have the confidence to say, I don't know the answer or this did not go according to plan and we just did a survey not so long ago.

00:14:50:21 But it was one of the top things employees want from their bosses, is they want that accountability, like here's how this turned out wasn't as planned.

00:14:57:17 Here's what we're going to do. We're all in this together. Here we go. Exactly. So let me ask you about this IQ, EQ, because there are an awful lot of discussions about the emergence of EQ, which you and I both know has been a topic that's been out there for quite some time. What is your take on the right balance?

00:15:15:06 So many of us have been so IQ driven for so long and now is it all EQ and no IQ or how do you think about the balance of those?


00:15:25:06 Well, as I was saying before, our biggest call to action as leaders is to really ignite the best in others and to galvanize people together, to do great things collectively. Right.

00:15:36:04 And so what I tell leaders all the time is I trust that you're going to bring that IQ. Like, I know it's in your DNA, I know you're going to get things done, especially when we're under a lot of pressure and we're having to achieve a lot. What I'm not as confident in is that you're going to bring that EQ, right, because we're just in the get it done mode, agenda driven.

00:15:57:28 And so what I say is trust you're going to bring the IQ, you're going to get it done. But how are you going to create an experience for people? Is that when they want to sign up for or not?

00:16:10:01 So I'm not saying it's only EQ, but what I tell my leaders is make sure you're focused on bringing that and be mindful of it, because I know you'll bring the other part of it.


00:16:20:02 I love that. All right. Why don't we invite Derrick and Steve to join us and let's do a few questions and just responses in light of all that you just shared. And Derrick, I'm going to come to you first.


00:16:31:29 Yeah, those are great observations, Carol, particularly around EQ. And I'm a big studier, follower of EQ. And I remember when I made partner, a Managing Partner in Philadelphia told me that I had high EQ and I didn't even know what it was. So I did a lot of studying to really embrace it, but probably much more EQ than IQ.

00:16:53:01 But the point I would make is that coming from a director standpoint, so my training and experience at PwC is that when we have new strategies, when we have challenges and changes and disruptions, we really embrace our people and spend time with them.

00:17:09:01 Listen, make sure the strategy is relatable to them so they know their role in the organization, they know their role in the strategy, etc.

00:17:17:26 And now I'm sitting back as a director and I don't can't do that. It's not my job, it's management's job, but it's still something that we can and I do try to enforce as director because we are going through transformation in both companies with which I'm involved. So the question I am asking is how are we engaging with our people?

00:17:37:12 How are we so getting change management dimensions of transformation that we're doing, inevitably people will sometimes lose their jobs. How are we handling that from a communications standpoint, making sure those communications are taking place?

00:17:53:01 And I want to see metrics. I want to see dashboards, I want to see the surveys, I want to see the succession planning, all those kinds of things so.

00:17:59:25 One of the things that I've learned over being a director for the last couple of years is that when directors ask for things and they are relevant. We will get information so that data will come. So I really feel that again, it's my responsibility as a director to make sure I'm bringing those areas of focus into the boardroom.


00:18:17:15 I love that point and I think that sometimes there may be a misconception that because we're focused on EQ, it can be a feeling of how it's actually happening or unfolding.

00:18:27:15 And your point is that it still needs to be a very data driven understanding to make sure that what we are intending to do is how the organization, our people, our teams are receiving it and how they're actually feeling about it as it comes.

00:18:38:24 So that's an excellent point. Thanks, Derrick. Steve, any advice you have?


00:18:44:00 Yeah, I think number one, as Derrick said, it's having a plan and making sure everybody knows the plan and their role in that plan and ultimately ensuring that the outcomes are very data driven and you can measure success.

00:18:54:15 And then I think it's about galvanizing the team. And I spent some time in Marine infantry when I was in the military, and they had the motto, Simplify, always faithful.

00:19:02:02 When I led the Net Promoter System work at Comcast, which is a massive overhaul, we had the mantra, Listen, learn, act, boom, which is a lot of fun and it got it.

00:19:11:21 We had T-shirts and, but it's about galvanizing the team and then you know for MachineQ you are growing revenue, it's easy, let's grow so, but keep the team focused and then always be looking around the corner especially career wise. Networking, sure it's going for a run with somebody.

00:19:27:27 It's giving them a ride home from work. You get to know each other, but it's also leaning in on projects that need help and genuinely helping those people, building those relationships. The last thing on all of it is making sure that you're looking around the corner.

00:19:42:21 You know, for Comcast, if you're thinking about, you know, how to best deliver your home phone line, then you're probably not in the right spot. You need to be thinking about cybersecurity, Internet of Things, IOT, and also thinking about B2B sales.

00:19:53:21 But it's looking around that corner, finding those opportunities and going after those not sticking with the status quo.


00:19:59:04 That's amazing. All right, Carol, how about what is the biggest thing that leaders can do for their teams right now in this moment to help them evolve on this leadership journey?


00:20:10:04 Yeah, so two things I would say is, one, make sure that we are not moving too fast. There's a lot to be doing right now and we are at high risk of leaving people behind, not listening and doing all those things if we're moving too fast.

00:20:25:02 The other one is I just saw an article this morning, headline around how often CEOs are mentioning recession this quarter relative to a couple of quarters ago.

00:20:36:21 And the other thing that I'm hearing is there's a lot of budget cuts happening right now, and I want to make sure that we don't take it as license to forget about EQ, to not spend time building connections, developing our people and recognizing and appreciating them.

00:20:54:23 If we are asking people to do more with less, it is even more so that we need to double down on the EQ side of things and we just need to be more resourceful and creative about how we do that. But it's got to be even more to the forefront.


00:21:09:23 That's amazing advice. Well, Carol, Steve, Derrick, I want to thank you all so much.

00:21:14:13 Thank you for listening to this episode of PwC Pulse. As you heard from Carol, Steve and Derrick, the role of leader really has changed, and it's up to each of us to change with it. For more information on these topics, visit PwC.com.


00:21:29:14 Thank you for joining us on the PwC Pulse podcast. Subscribe to PwC Pulse wherever you listen to your podcast or visit PwC.com/PulsePodcast to hear our next episode.


00:21:43:09 This podcast is brought to you by PwC all rights reserved. PwC refers to the U.S. member firm or one of its subsidiaries or affiliates, and may sometimes refer to the PwC network. Each member firm is a separate legal entity. Please see www.pwc.com/structure for further details.

00:22:01:00 This podcast is for general information purposes only and should not be used as a substitute for consultation with professional advisors.

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Neil Dhar

Neil Dhar

Vice Chair, Consulting Solutions Co-Leader, PwC US

J.C. Lapierre

J.C. Lapierre

Chief Strategy and Communications Officer, PwC US

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