Can Leaders Lead Remotely?

When you’re starting something new, it’s not a great idea to single out a big company who could support what you’re trying to achieve with marketing dollars that would be insignificant to them but transformative to you.

So I thought hard before writing this, but I simply don’t understand what Jamie Dimon is doing when it comes to J.P. Morgan’s policies around where people work.

I interviewed him in 2009 for my first book. Back then he successfully guided JP Morgan through the financial crisis when other competitors – Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns & Co., Washington Mutual Bank and even Bank of America failed or faltered.

Today I could imagine him being the financial services executive to create a new way of working. Instead, he’s doing the opposite.

The bank recently told managing directors – some of its most accomplished people – that they had to be in the office five days a week. The memo said: M.D.’s needed to be there for impromptu meetings, to lead by example, to meet with clients.

Bonkers: Slack has instant video meetings – as if M.D.s are at junior employees’ beck and call. The world has gone hybrid, so working that way would be leading by example. And how many clients are coming to the office? Pre-pandemic M.D.s traveled to meet clients.

This followed a statement Dimon made at the Davos World Economic Forum that got far less coverage than I thought it would. When asked about remote work, he responded: “I think it’s perfectly reasonable to help women…. Covid taught us the burden on women, because they take the primary care, for parent care, etcetera, is enormous.” Remote work can be okay, he said, “to help women stay home a little bit.”

Everyone’s head should be the explosion emoji when they read this. 🤯

But that was what his wife, who he met at Harvard Business School, did: stayed home with their three daughters. But what about his most senior women – like Mary Callahan Erdoes or Kristin Lemkau? And is it somehow not okay for men to be involved as Lead Dads with their families?

I know a doctor – aka a real M.D. – who is trying to cure cancer at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and he works from home several days a week. No one at JP Morgan is curing cancer.

One take has been Dimon needs to fill the new JP Morgan headquarters. It’s costing $3 billion and has room for 14,000 employees – 4 times as many as the old building.

Open the aperture and that space could be used more smartly. I think of KPMG with its $1 billion Lake House outside of Orlando. Every week a group of its 36,000 employees cycles through to learn and build their culture.

Dimon, with nearly 20 years as CEO, seems to suffer from confirmation bias: he got to the top working in an office. But what about his firm’s future leaders? Not the people vying for his job. But those emerging leaders for whom leading by example means working more smartly? Workers have changed; companies are slow to see this.