Leadership Lens: ManpowerGroup CEO Jonas Prising on learning from team sports and COVID’s lasting impact on work

On the latest episode of the Leadership Lens podcast, Jonas Prising, chairman and CEO of Milwaukee-based ManpowerGroup, joins Marquette University president Michael Lovell and BizTimes Milwaukee managing editor Arthur Thomas to talk about leading a global organization and where labor markets are headed. Their conversation touches on lessons Prising takes from playing hockey, how the COVID-19 pandemic will shape the world of work, and the importance of empowering decision makers throughout an organization.

Lessons from team sports

“I’ve always gravitated toward team sports because I enjoy the satisfaction of what teams can achieve together,” Prising said.

He continues to play hockey and said he aims to reach “some acceptable level of performance” before joking the group he plays with may argue with that description of his play.

“They use me sometimes as a cone they can round, so they have that to look forward to as we get on the ice at 6 a.m.,” he said.

Prising added there are elements of sports that continue to amaze him and share similarities with business.

“You don’t have to be the smartest person in the room or the best player on the ice, but through discipline and hard work, you can get really far,” Prising said.

He noted the combination of an individual’s willingness to work hard and a group’s willingness to work together can “achieve amazing things.”

Lasting impact of COVID-19 

Prising said his view of the lasting impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is a greater desire for flexibility from workers.

“Whatever version of hybrid or way of working you hear about today will be different a year from now, will be different two years from now, but what we think is going to be the lasting legacy is this desire for more flexibility,” he said.

Prising added that the pandemic gave a glimpse into how demographic trends and an aging population will shape labor markets in the coming years. It also highlighted the ability of people to move quickly when needed.

“It’s a great lesson in our human capabilities in shifting and really doing things we didn’t think we were capable of doing when we really have to be making that shift to be able to survive and thrive,” he said.

Helping others make decisions

All guests on Leadership Lens are asked to address how they make decisions and Prising said one of his first steps is to ask if he should be the one making a decision.

“Sometimes leaders confuse their ascent in the organization with the need to make all the decisions and in fact, in my experience, it’s actually the opposite,” Prising said. “My job is to enable our teams to make the best decision possible as far down into the organization as possible because they learn stuff, they know how to make decisions, they take accountability and, as an organization, we move much, much quicker.”

He pointed out that empowering people to make decisions means also understanding they will make mistakes.

“My greatest growth has come from the mistakes I’ve made, the learnings I’ve taken from those,” Prising said.

He added that when there is a situation when he is the one to make a decision, it is important to understand when the decision needs to be made.

“Sometimes you have to make a decision within 30 minutes, a big decision within 30 minutes,” Prising said. “Sometimes it feels like you have to make a decision within 30 minutes but you don’t have to make it for another two months because things can evolve.”

Listen to the entire Leadership Lens episode in the player above or on the podcast player of your choice. 

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Arthur covers banking and finance and the economy at BizTimes while also leading special projects as an associate editor. He also spent five years covering manufacturing at BizTimes. He previously was managing editor at The Waukesha Freeman. He is a graduate of Carroll University and did graduate coursework at Marquette. A native of southeastern Wisconsin, he is also a nationally certified gymnastics judge and enjoys golf on the weekends.