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The Vital Role of Leadership in Today's Workplace, with Pat Wadors

When we asked our SocialTalent Live event guest, the incredible Pat Wadors from UKG, what the major priorities are for CPOs in 2023, she responded with just one word – leadership. And so set the tone for our fireside chat. Leadership has a huge impact on so many aspects of a company. Strong leaders who can see the importance of wellbeing and care, who have a vision, are accountable and nurturing, they are the ones outperforming their peers. There is so much tumult in the world of work right now and we need leaders who can drive through that change.


Over the course of her 30-minute conversation with SocialTalent CEO, Johnny Campbell, Pat dug into the core elements of leadership in 2023. Take a look below at some of the key highlights from this enlightening discussion, or, watch the whole recorded segment.

SocialTalent’s Leadership Training is designed to empower all on this journey, from first-time managers, to seasoned CEOs. Take a look!


  • [0.47] The introduction of Pat Wadors and her career.
  • [4.37] The role of leadership.
  • [5.29] Why leadership is so important in 2023.
  • [8.01] Core attributes of the modern leader.
  • [11.08] How do you become a for-all leader.
  • [14.12] Is leadership a learned skill?
  • [16.30] Argue like you’re right, listen like you’re wrong.
  • [18.08] First-time leaders.
  • [21.01] Authentic vs. responsible leaders.
  • [23.34] Practical advice for leadership.

Key takeaways:

1. The layers of leadership

Referencing teaching from Great Place to Work‘s Michael C. Bush, Pat detailed the different layers of leadership and what they mean. At Level 1, you have the Unintentional Leader – someone who is disruptive, and more of an IC or independent worker who is sometimes required to manage. Then, at Level 2, there’s the Hit-or-Miss Leader who focuses only on the tasks at hand and pays little heed to development, talent nurturing, and motivation. Level 3 sees the Good Leader, someone employees get on with but are low agility and not very strategic or innovative. Level 4 is the Inclusive Leader – according to Pat, this is the one who talent will actively stay at an organization for. And Level 5 gives us the gold star, the For-All Leader. Here, this leader sees the vision, can prioritise tasks, isn’t afraid to change or pivot, but is also directly involved in team growth and development. All leaders should be aiming and aspiring to this. After all, as Pat tells us: “Don’t treat managing others as a side hustle – it’s a privilege to lead.”

2. Improving as a leader

It can be all too easy to point out and describe all the ways a leader can and should be better. But how do you make these adjustments? According to Pat, you have to start by seeing where you’re at right now. Ask yourself some questions – How do you show up today? What’s your leadership shadow? What are your strengths? How do you leverage? Do you seek feedback? And it’s this final point that Pat really hammers home. Great leaders seek feedback. They make mistakes, they learn from them, iterate, and grow. And she admits that it’s hard, but great leaders strive to put in this work so they can become even better.

3. Sharing your bumps and bruises

One of the biggest lessons Pat has learned throughout her leadership journey was to pick herself up when she fell, take accountability, share it, and move on. Mistakes are part of the game for leaders. But what she noticed was her direct reports were very uncomfortable doing this. Team meetings became forums for success – but in order to grow, Pat encouraged everyone to share things they were struggling with too, so everyone could learn. And while it took time, the results were incredible. The vulnerability created a more trusting, high-performing team. As Pat said: “We made less, bigger mistakes because we shared more in the moment. I think that’s a huge gift. And mental health wise, oh my goodness, not having to be perfect anymore. I am so much happier!




Next, we’re going to be digging into the crucial role that leaders and managers play in today’s workplace and navigating all the challenges that we’re discussing across our STLive event as well. And with that, I’m delighted to introduce Pat Wadors, our guest for the fireside chat today. Pat is the Chief People Officer of UKG, and was a former senior VP of Talent at LinkedIn and many other fantastic companies where she’s had great experience building fantastic cultures and doing some wonderful things in this world. Pat, really happy to speak with you today. I wonder if you might do us a favor and introduce yourself perhaps better than I can. Maybe explain the career moves or life choices you made to get you here. Why are you passionate about this subject? Why people? Why equity and inclusion and belonging as well in particular?

Pat Wadors:

Wow. Do you have two days?! No, I’m really grateful to be here. I’m so excited. So I’m just really, really passionate about creating healthy companies. I think the pivot to do that is through leadership. We’ll talk about that shortly. And I fell in love with this space when I was in college. So, Johnny, I got diagnosed as dyslexic my freshman year in college, the year my mom passed. I was trying to figure out my way in school. The normal education path was super hard and I didn’t know why until I got diagnosed. I was thrilled and it was an opening for me to say, “Hey, it has nothing to do with your IQ.” The world is your oyster as they say. And so you have this unlimited opportunity now. Where are your passions? When I took the test like what do you want to beat when you grow up?

It is people, social care, teaching, HR. And so I knew since I was 19, I was interested in HR and I interviewed my dad and uncle. Both of them were in HR. They’re twins. And my uncle said, “80% of a company’s operational expense is the cost of talent.” And I’m like, “That’s wild.” And that still holds true today. So I’ve been trying to capture the cost of talent, development of talent, turnover, cost of hire, services, software, facilities, everything that we do in service of our talent to create the products and services and care for our customers. And it hovers around there, right?

LinkedIn was about 80, 81%. I’ve had service now. It’s 79%. And so I’ve been watching it and how you invest in talent and if you turn those knobs a certain way, you have outsized rewards. It creates a really cool healthy company and people want to hang out. They want to stick around. They want to do their best work.

They’re better off by being in that culture. And so for me, that’s my passion. And coupled with that, knowing that I have neuroprocessing differences. Now, I have a daughter with special needs. Figuring out how I belong, how do I find my best self and feel like I can do my best work? I know when I’m authentically me as a new mom or with my learning disability, I’m an introvert, whatever that thing is. Johnny, if I am welcome being uniquely me, I don’t have to worry about trying to fit in a mask who I am.

I have more joy. I smile more. I am more creative. I take more risks, I make more friends. And there’s a lot of study behind that I would love to share someday. But that sense, that feeling, that emotion of knowing that people care about you when times are tough, that you are welcomed in your unique way, that you get to rumble with your own perspective, that makes us all better.

So I’m on that path as you just said about diverse inclusion and belonging. I think if you get a really healthy company with a sense of belonging that’s real with their stories, you’re more inclusive and you therefore become more diverse by nature because it seems like that’s what you seek. So I’ll stop there. In my career, I’ve bounced around to different industries because I love people challenges and talent challenges. I don’t want to be pigeonholed into an industry. I’m always endlessly curious. I copy shamelessly and I am wildly transparent and give away everything I’ve ever done. It’s just so I think we should learn from one another, not compete on how well we treat our employees, but compete on our products and services. That’s me in a nutshell.


I love that. Well, I don’t think we could ever capture you in a nutshell, but thank you. That is a great beginning, let’s say of the Pat story. Pat, when we spoke about the event, trying to understand what chief people officers, CHROs are prioritizing for 2023, I asked you the question expecting a list, maybe here’s my top four, my top three. You gave me one word. Tell me what that word was and why.

Pat Wadors:

Leadership! Leadership has such an amazing impact on a company. It galvanizes, it accelerates culture, the seen and unseen. They’re proof points. They have impact on our mental health more than our primary doctors. They drive the vision and accountability across an organization to make sure it’s going on the right path. It’s leadership and creating enterprise leaders that understand beyond their function, how the ecosystem works. Leadership, leadership, leadership!


So leadership, I agree, it’s so important. Everyone would agree with the importance of leadership, but why now? Why 2023? Not necessarily just for your organization, but why do you think this is a topic for so many chief people officers, CEOs, other senior individuals? Because it isn’t just you. It isn’t just your organization. This is coming up all the time. And I’d argue more in ’23 than I’ve heard it in other years that I’ve been asking similar questions. So why do you think it’s bubbling to the top today?

Pat Wadors:

I think the prior years educated us about the power and the risk of not having outstanding leaders. People deserve great leaders and I think that during the pandemic, mental health, social crisis, just creating a leadership strength in your organization for care, for visioning, for accountability, for nurturing me and my career and our team, so we are inclusive in doing our best work. Those that harness that outperformed and created healthier companies and support their customers.

I think what we’re realizing now why ’23 as you put it, is because you see the struggle playing out real time where CEOs are saying, “You have to come back to this office. Yeah, that was great for a while with the pandemic to be remote, but I don’t believe we’re as productive as we once were. I believe that we’ve lost some of our magic, call it, what you will, productivity, engagement, customer engagement, whatever those things are.

So there’s this real pull both in the macroeconomic condition, the uncertainty in the future, coupled that with pulling people back into an office. For what reason? Lack of trust or is it really to build better innovation? And you need leaders to drive through that change. What is it that we’re trying to do? How will we measure success? And what I say is chase the right rabbit. I can measure a lot of things. Depending on what you measure, you can go off in the wrong direction. And so leadership on this, that’s trusted for the enterprise, that’s transparent, that will iterate and innovate and co-create.

Co-creation is another thing that you’ll see with leadership is listening to your employees and really leaning in and co-creating something together creates higher ownership across the org. So leadership is the differentiator. And with this transition still going on in the marketplace, I think everyone is realizing we have to have better, greater leadership.


There’s a traditional view of leadership or management that’s around owning budgets, being responsible for making decisions, for hiring people, for controlling things, processes, tasks, et cetera. And that that’s what it made a good manager. And perhaps that was the status quo until 2020. I don’t think that’s what you believe a great leader or manager is. So what are the core attributes if you can summarize that you think make up the modern leader that we need for today and tomorrow?

Pat Wadors:

Well, I have the privilege of working with Michael Bush at Great Place To Work. So I’m a student of his and what he’s working on. What we’re trying to capture even at UKG is what we call the For-All leadership, right? There’s several layers of leadership that he’s exploring. And level one is the unintentional leader, right? They’re more disruptive. They’re more of an IC independent worker and happen to do leadership when required, but they don’t really want to do it. And then you have the level two, which they call the hit and miss leader, right? They try to do the tasks at hand. They’re not thinking about the talent, nurturing the talent, motivating talent. So they have a high turnover. So that becomes a little wonky. Absenteeism may be higher for those.

The other one would be the good leader. Someone that likes me, I like them, but they’re low agility. They’re not thinking of the enterprise and the strategy. They’re not rumbling on the innovation. They’re not as inclusive and they end up getting regrettable turnover. They’re not really nurturing the top talent. The level four would be inclusive leader.

Now, this is what most companies go after. This is where you would say, “I stayed because of my leader.” When turnover happens, they’re like, “I left because of my manager.” 80% of us who we leave, it’s our manager. This is this level four inclusive leader role. But the pinnacle that I think we should all be striving for is this for all leader that great place to work looks at. And the For-All leader is this enterprise leader. They see the vision. They can purpose down into the organization and their team and calibrate. Are we working on the right stuff with the right priorities?

They’re fearless in getting rid of a project if it needs to change. They don’t hold on to things when it doesn’t make sense. They think about the team and creating the right opportunity for talent to co-create, to learn, to grow, and they create a loyalty not from their team but from the company. So you see their shadow because wow, that sales leader, that person is amazing. I believe in this company because that person’s in the rooms at the right time advocating for all of us in the right way. So it’s not even my direct leader. For-All leaders represents the company and thinks about the company. That’s a tough order and I think that’s where we should go.


But just to challenge that a bit, right? If I can give an analogy, it’s like saying I’m a great cyclist. I know you like cycling, right? So I love cycling and you’re saying, “Well, there’s the kind of cyclist who borrows a bike in a city and pays by the hour and just gets around.” Then there’s the cyclist who competes at local races and does really well and goes out on the weekends in their skinny, tight shorts and stuff. And then there’s the Tour de France winners.

You can categorize them and describe them and I’ll know exactly what you mean. But if I ask you, Pat, how do I become a Tour de France winner? How do I become a For-All leader? That’s a harder question. So I can understand that I need to be this. I need to be somebody who trains all day long, wins races, et cetera. But I just don’t know how to get from where I am today to where I’d like to be. So how does one get to from wherever they are in that level six levels. If they’re somewhere near the bottom and they want to get to be a For-All leader, somebody who’s more enterprise wide, what are the core skills I’m going to have to look at the things I’m going to have to focus on? And what would you even prioritize to start with?

Pat Wadors:

Well, seeing oneself is the starting point. How do you show up today? What’s your leadership shadow? What are your strengths? How do you leverage? Do you seek feedback? I think amazing leaders seek feedback all the time. All the time. They’re always sensing. And not everyone will become a for all leader. I definitely want everyone to be at least an inclusive leader. The Tour de France cyclists that we’re talking about, these are ones that are really striving to show the vision, the care set the standard, teach others, mentor others, bring them along the way.

And as you know, CHROs, as chief people officers, my role is like what is our leadership framework? What are those competencies? What’s our Maslow’s hierarchy of needs? We believe in the following from a culture and care standpoint. And then we’re going to make sure that you don’t treat managing others as a side hustle. It’s a privilege to lead, Johnny. And so many times you find our employees thinking that management track is the only way to progress in their career. And so they’re reluctant managers.

I’ve seen it in every company, Yahoo, at LinkedIn. Every company has the struggle. So when you create an IC track, that takes some pressure off of that, then you show leaders what it really means to lead and what is great. And then how do you reinforce that through coaches, right? Programs reinforcing the behaviors. Just really, really leaning into those attributes. Then you see magic unfold and they’re multipliers.

I call them tastemakers because not everyone can beat one, but when you see what that is, and they’re tastemakers. They’re talent magnets. They have huge influence on the care of the company and the culture and the customers and the product. It’s pretty amazing when you find a For-All leader.


But to take your point around, you know when you see one and not everyone can become one, do you think that you are either born a great leader or not born a great leader? And if not, is it something you have to work on? And does it require the same deliberate practice as it would to get to the highest level of sports? What does that look like? Because I’m sure those great leaders, they don’t just do it, they’re not born that way. They have become that way. I’m sure they’ll tell stories of how poor they were. What does that journey look like?

Pat Wadors:

Oh my goodness. We’re all kludgy when we first become a manager! We’re all terrible. We learn all the time. It’s those that lean into the learning, Johnny and seek the feedback that separate themselves, that when I find a great leader, it’s those that have made mistakes, learn from their mistakes, seek the feedback, iterate and learn and grow all the time.

They have a humility about them that keeps them on their toes and growing, and sharing consistently. So it is a craft and they lean into the craft. They don’t let go of the craft. I’m always pursuing trying to be a great leader. I know I have blind spots and I know that I have bad habits during certain times like, “Nope, nope. This is why I need to do. This is what I need to recover. I need the feedback.” Great leaders always strive for that. And it is an art and a science and it is I think an intentionality of desire too. You must want to be a Tour de France winner. You must want to be great at this craft to pursue it all the time, all the energy because it’s hard to get feedback.

I don’t know about you. It’s hard. It’s hard when people go, “You didn’t quite nail that one. You hurt my feelings. Or could have said this better.” It’s hard.


I never enjoy negative feedback and I challenge anyone who says they do. I enjoy the outcome of hearing feedback and then fixing it. I really love that development. But I find personally, maybe the first day I hear negative feedback is tough and I reflect. Then I can go back and go, “All right. Let’s really talk about this.” But I struggle to stop being defensive when I hear negative feedback. It’s human instinct. But I’ve heard you use a phrase and I really like it. I think you can apply to this ran feedback and learning. You’ve advocated for arguing like you’re right, but listening like you’re wrong. Talk to me about that.

Pat Wadors:

So I was at ServiceNow with John Donahoe and we’re building a new leadership team. What we attempted to do is create a social contract, how we wanted to operate together. We had some leaders there that had been there for years and some were new and mix in between and new roles. We were all, including myself, trying to prove our capability, subject matter expertise. How do we fit in this dynamic to do our best work? And what I realized, because we all bring some incredible talent to the table, our listening skills weren’t as optimal as we should have been.

So we agreed. So we looked at the tenets of this team and said, “What do we want to be? How do we want to show up for…” And hold each other accountable, not having my boss tell me but hold each other accountable. And this is when the tenets that came up, I’m like, “We’ve got to listen. We’re wrong. We’ve got to assume we’ve missed something.” And it evolved to that statement. Argue like you’re right. Get your act together. Get your data right. Do your research. Don’t get lazy. Listen and try to understand the stakeholders. And then once you make your case, be quiet. Your best tool in your arsenal at that point is a question. Seek to understand, listen like you’re wrong, and then reflect. I go back. So it became one of our strongest tenets.


I love that. I used that with one of my colleagues today. I quoted you and don’t worry, I gave you credit for the quote deservedly. And it was in the context of I think a lot of leaders, particularly early in career leaders, they’re fearful of being found out. There’s this kind of, “I need to know everything now that I’m in charge. I’m the manager and the leader. I have to be knowledgeable. I have to have all the answers.”

I love that approach because you get it from much more mature leaders later in their career who’ve been there, done that and realized the beauty is not knowing. And the best leaders ask great questions are fantastic at listening. And they actually say very little. But what they do say is profound because they’ve taken the time to listen. They’ve taken the time to consider. Think about these things. What are the other challenges that we have as evolving leaders, first time leaders? There’s a lot of pressure I guess. So what have you found are the main kind of obstacles to overcome? People talk about issues, just lack of self-confidence, imposter syndrome. Lots of things get thrown around. But what have you come across particularly in first time leadership, let’s say?

Pat Wadors:

I think the lesson of learning how to pick yourself up from a mistake was probably one of the biggest catalysts in my career. I made some amazing mistakes and I had a mentor while I applied saying, “Look, your team’s knows you fell on your face and it’s a problem, but how do you pick yourself up?” And then I picked myself up and I told the team and then so on and so forth. So what I learned from that is I had a team following that, that I was leading. All they talked about were their successes in staff meetings. They weren’t sharing the bumps and bruises that I saw one-on-ones.

And I’m like, “Y’all, we have to start sharing those things.” Because your mistake that you’re facing on this issue, Johnny is what Maggie is going to face right now. And so let’s share your learnings. So my round tables ended up being, “What has been your biggest challenge mistake this week?” I’m like, “Oh, none this week.” I’m like, “I’ve had at least five. Pick one.”

So I became part of the agenda for all until they got really comfortable and they laughed and they shared and like, “Oh, thank goodness. I’m not going to make that mistake. I was just on that same path.” And the vulnerability created trust, which was not where I was going, Johnny. I was just going for learning. It created a higher, tighter team, higher performing trusting team. I’m like, “Wow, that’s pretty cool.”

And then I saw through LinkedIn and Microsoft acquisition, the power of the growth mindset. If you think about Carol Dweck’s work and saw what Satya had done there and the culture and the care of the leadership team, that growth mindset, I just haven’t faced this yet. There’s so many yets I have not done that to even pretend I know the answer, what’s going to happen in 2023 would be irresponsible. I haven’t faced 2023 fully yet, but I know I’ll give it my best shot. And that frees me up to ask questions to model the right behavior, the curiosity, and it gives permission for others on my team and outside my team to bubble up their worries.

We make less bigger mistakes because we share more in the moment. I think that’s a huge gift. And mental health wise, oh my goodness, I don’t have to be perfect anymore. I am so much happier.


And that vulnerability, that piece around being comfortable sharing the fact that you don’t have all the answers, that it isn’t perfect that you’re struggling. That was a big theme coming out of 2020 early days of the pandemic when employees, they just needed real leaders. And it led to a lot of talk around, and different phrases pop up. There’s a lot of stuff that’s played about the type of leader you should be. But one of the things that came out of that was we need to be more authentic leaders.

I absolutely signed up for that. But recently I listened to a podcast with Yuval Noah Harari, the author of Sapiens, and he’s talking to Steve Levitt from Freakonomics. Steve brought this topic up about authentic leadership and he said, “I don’t want authentic leaders. I want responsible leaders.” What are your thoughts about that? Is it that simple? Is it like you choose one of the over the other or what do you think, Pat?

Pat Wadors:

Well, I’ve had this conversation before in the sense that I think it’s an ‘and.’ If you think about what gets you into the door, it is responsibility. It is about integrity. It is about your subject matter expertise that gets you into the door. And so you must show up like that. These are the values that you must emulate. But as you emulate it, do it in a authentic way as possible. And if you can do both of them well, you become that great leader, that tastemaker because you’re learning and you’re growing.

I don’t want an authentic jerk. I don’t want an authentic person that always tries to figure out the way to break the rule, to create the exception. That is not what authenticity is about. It’s that icing on the cake that says if you show up well, if you have that skillset set, if you have the responsibility and the care of the company, but you do it in a way that is truly you, then I’m going to follow you better. I’m going to trust you more.

When I share my vulnerability and my mistakes, the stuff that’s happening at home with my children or whatever the case may be, there’s this community that’s built over time. But I lead with my responsibility first. I have a role I have to perform and I’m going to do it in the best way I can, so I hope it’s an “and”.


I love that ’cause you mentioned your leadership shadow earlier on. I think it does start with that understanding the impact you have as a leader versus an IC, which primarily you have to be responsible there for what you do and say because it’s different than somebody doing it. If they’re an IC, you have that responsibility first. But you’re right, being authentic is just so important. Pat, we could keep going on this topic like I got to stop because we got to finish and move to our final panel. And before we do that, Pat, as you look to 2023 and you’re building your plans around leadership development in UKG, tell me what advice can you share with our audience today about the priority areas that you are prioritizing, you’re looking into develop the right type of for all leader in UKG that others perhaps could emanate or borrow?

Pat Wadors:

I want to be pragmatic, right? I want to create a momentum in an organization and I believe in the theory of a tipping point. And a tipping point is when you have 20, 30% of a team of a leadership group that gets there, that believes in it, that will model it and it creates this flywheel for others to learn and grow from. So I am looking at our leadership team as a tipping point opportunity. If I have 200 leaders, can I get 40, 50, 60 of them to want to be a for all leader? Will they lean in? Will they start modeling this? And there’s going to be some key informal influencers as well as formal influencers with the bigger shadow in that tipping point.

And that’s going to create the curiosity of others going, “Wow, that stuff really matters and it really is paying off. They have higher retention, higher engagement, better products.” I think I might follow that. So from an audience perspective, don’t go for a hundred percent of your leaders. Offer it for a hundred percent, but really measure. Do you have that tipping point that grounds swell? If not, how do you get it? How do you look at those stakeholders and say, “Who are the key influencers or the outsized influencers?”

I can take a negative person to a positive transition go, “This stuff really does matter and changes the game.” Then you’re onto something, right? So be clear on what your expectations are of leaders. The difference between a functional leader and an enterprise leader and how do they show up, what… The case for change. And the for all leader changes the financial outcomes of companies. Like there’s real return on a company’s balance sheet to do this well and do it fast, right? Don’t let go. Hold the mirror up. Don’t let go.


I absolutely love that. I’m a father of four boys and three of my boys play rugby. It’s a big sport here and I coach them. We had a guest down a couple of years ago who was on the Leinster Rugby team, which is probably arguably the best team in Europe in rugby, made up of a lot of Irish players. He talked about the culture in a sports team and he mentioned that at the time when he joined, the culture wasn’t great. They weren’t winning medals. And he said there was about three or four of them, the core group that became the tipping point. They had a different focus. They were brought in and there was a clear leader who had an outsized role and influence.

Once they had that group of four, the rest just followed. I love that because for us, for all of us looking to try and fix these things, like “How can I fix everybody?” I love that to say, you don’t have to fix everyone as your immediate goal. Get the magic tipping point number and then let magic happen and it will take care of itself. And I love that. That’s a really inspiring way to break down the size and complexity of some of these issues and make it a little bit easier to get your head around.

Pat, I thank you so much for joining us today. Absolute pleasure. We could go for hours more, but you got to get on with a busy list of stuff to fix and get done and improve in 2023 in UKG. It’s always a pleasure to hear you to share in your insights. It’s always been inspiring and thanks so much for joining us here today. We’ll hopefully have you back again soon.

Pat Wadors:

Thank you, thank you, thank you. This was fun. Have a great day.

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