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Leadership in tough times

Over the last few weeks, Sue and I have been banging on about the importance of leadership, and the role of leaders in achieving business objectives through highly motivated staff.  Even well-trained workers won’t achieve much if they are unmotivated, afraid of risk, and making decisions driven by fear of making a mistake.  These are issues at the best of times, but when things are uncertain leadership is even more important – and with Brexit and other situations in the world, uncertainty is a word that is being used a lot.

Uncertainty makes people anxious, and they start looking for threats: to their job, to their position in life, and of course to their prosperity.  Now some would argue that this is not necessarily a bad thing: surely people will work harder if they are worried for their jobs!  And that might be true, to a very limited and short-term extent, but when people are motivated by fear, they tend to keep their heads down.  So which do you want – people who do what they think is right for the business – who show initiative – or people who do what they think is safest for themselves?

A positive corporate culture is influenced more than anything else by the example that leaders set.  If management are wandering around in sackcloth and ashes going “doomed! We’re all doomed!” then you can expect the staff to be checking out the job ads and working out how to manage on benefits.  This means, of course, that the poor old customer’s not getting a look-in.

Surely, our job as leaders and managers is to help everyone stay focused, to keep our customer service at its peak, and to ensure that our people are making the right choices.  We need our people to be fully on board, so it’s as well to remember that every person who works for you is a volunteer.  Ultimately it is they who decide how hard they work and how much loyalty they show to the business.

So managers need to manage their own anxiety, and avoid “drive” mode, which for many is the safe ground to which they resort under pressure.  A good leader will be able to read the mood and motivation of their staff, and adapt their style accordingly.  Leaders with a “can-do” attitude, who are confident, and who are attentive to the concerns of their people will be the ones who succeed.

If times are changing, then the businesses that have good leaders will be the ones whose best staff are still committed to their work, working in an atmosphere where change is a challenge rather than a threat, with customers who experience good service.  We need to start sharing a vision of the future that makes people excited rather than anxious!

So for those at the higher levels of the greasy pole, it might be an idea to make sure that the people you charge with delivering your strategy have the skills to be an effective leader.  And while there are born leaders, there aren’t many – the rest of us have to learn, but given a genuine interest in people and a little determination it’s not that hard.