Resilience roundtable: Leading from the front

In these incredibly challenging times leadership is more important than ever. With Boost; Lancashire’s Business Growth Hub, we brought together experts from across the county to discuss resilience and what else we need from leaders as we look to emerge from the coronavirus crisis.

What leadership traits are required to steer us through this coronavirus crisis?

HH: We’ve gone through the survival phase and we’re now in what I call the reset phase. It’s the change from management to leadership. Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.

People are struggling because that intense clarity of the survival phase has ebbed away. It’s the leader’s job to create that clarity, to define the most important things we need to get done. It’s communicating that crystal-clear clarity and giving something for people to rally around.

PRESENT:

  • Richard Slater, Lancashire Business View (chair)
  • Lou Booth, Elementas Coaching
  • Neil Burrows, Burnley College
  • Janet Doolan, Boost Business Lancashire
  • Steve Fogg, Lancashire Enterprise Partnership
  • Hamish Hamilton, Vistage
  • Sarah Page, Plumbs
  • Khalid Saifullah, Star Tissue UK
  • Mark Sykes, BDO Chartered Accountants
  • Caroline Turley, Access to Finance

LB: Everybody’s different and some are coping better than others. We’re in this process of change and people need a lot of emotional support. We’re missing the physical connection.

I’m really interested in compassionate leadership, and someone said to me the other day, ‘There’s a lot of anxiety underneath’. How do we create that culture and that environment for people to be okay about not being okay?

JD: We’re taking a high volume of calls. We’re speaking with passionate business owners who want to save what they’ve built and, in some instances, they want to grow. They display traits of strong leadership - clear vision and being able to communicate it.

Being decisive is important but so is being open-minded and accepting of the situation. There’s also the element of caring and empathy for their staff, because wellbeing is really important.

MS: We’re moving into a phase where the role of leaders is to create the vision and to think through what the future of the business might look like.

People are looking for leaders to make decisive actions, but they have a horrible challenge of balancing the demand for quick action with that clarity of vision, alongside thinking carefully about the right decisions for the business, customers, suppliers and staff.

Despite the pressure on them to respond quickly they need to make the right decisions to come out of this with a strong business to sustain future growth.

NB: We are seeing a change in mindsets. Good leaders are now are coming to the front, they’re communicating to their employees and they are getting across that understanding of what they need to do.

SP: Communication is key. For leaders it’s really important, despite our own emotional states, that we can be quite clear on a plan. We’re waiting every day to hear what the government says, and of course we have to react very quickly to that.

However, it’s really important that your team know you’re in charge, you are planning and you are calm and positive about the steps forward.

You have to keep feeding out a very positive message, staff need to know that you have hope for the future. Calm is a really understated word.

KS: One of the leader’s responsibilities is to understand the current reality and be openminded enough to accept that changes will have to be made. You have to face that reality and make clear, conscious decisions. The other thing is to adapt appropriately.

In normal instances you rely on experience, on skills that you have developed. You have to accept this is something new. Decisiveness is important, but equally you have to accept you may not know everything and will have to learn along the way.

You have to be more open-minded and rely on other people to help steer you in the right direction.

Management is
doing things right;
leadership is doing
the right things

CT: I speak to a range of business leaders and their relationships with the bank, with their accountant and their customers is key to their ability to carry on leading well. They need support and when they have good, open, regular contact with these, it enables them to focus on the business better and how they are going to come out of this.

SF: Leaders are going through massive issues. There are three phases for me; stabilising the business, getting into recovery and getting back to growth.

Leaders need to define the problem their business is facing and be very careful about trying to tell their staff they’ve got all the answers. Providing some confidence and assurance, if you can do  that with honesty and sincerity, that’s a great thing. If you can get your team focused on some short-term goals, that’s part of the battle.

Take time to start to think about what the future holds. You can start to think about the various scenarios your business could face, and about some of the answers and solutions to that. You will not have all the answers yourself.

Improving your network, reaching out and getting advice and support is one of the most important things you can do. Otherwise being a leader can be a very lonely place. Above all else you have to hold your nerve.

We have to create a new strategy for Lancashire. We’ve got to engage better with businesses and education and start to reimagine what Lancashire can be. We’ve got to start from a new baseline. The future should be ‘stabilise, recover and grow’.

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