With the state of the UK government's Brexit strategy still unclear, is business heading towards another season of uncertainty? Speaking with friends and colleagues leading fast-growth SMEs throughout the course of the summer, a common thread has been the lessons learnt as they’ve endeavoured to draw on leadership skills to provide reassurance and resilience within their business – for customers, employers and suppliers.
What’s clear, as we head towards the first 100 days since Brexit, business leaders are still navigating uncharted waters. What are the leadership skills we need to guide our businesses and people through more uncertainty?
Look at the big picture
In unpredictable times, when so much is uncertain, there is a human tendency to focus on the minutiae. Because the scope is sufficiently small to seem manageable, it’s the way we reduce our fear of the unknown. The ability to draw back and to comprehend an array of interlinked issues is a very key skill. As leaders, we need to avoid this tendency, and stay bigger picture focused. The ability to delegate the detail enables leaders to rise above the day-to-day distractions and focus on core vision, longer-term strategies. “Don’t sweat the small stuff” rings true here.
Stay true to your vision
Your business goal, the reason you exist, your purpose, should be your compass point as you work through uncertainty. By staying true to it, you can prioritise more effectively, and again, keep on track in terms of your business plan. Ensure your people stay close to your mission too, communicating your goal and how you will get there. In this way, uncertainty is side-lined and you can focus on driving your business towards its full potential.
Put your people first
In good times, the people issues tend to take care of themselves, particularly in small businesses. Once uncertainty enters the room, the dynamic changes. More than ever people are looking for answers and reassurance. They’ll look to you. As a leader, working with your people must become your main focus. This isn’t about “business as usual” emails, rather taking a more mindful, present role, investing time in your teams to help keep them motivated, inspired and optimistic. We may have all spent an afternoon in the pub earlier this summer but now’s the time to get back to driving strong performance through great leadership which leads to…
Communicate Well, Communicate Better
Businesses need strong communicators in times of change and uncertainty. It’s about being attentive in listening and leading by example. You need to communicate with your people openly and confidently to reduce speculation and provide reassurance. An “open door” mind-set grounded in honesty helps build trust, through a culture of dialogue. Don’t forget that one person’s concern may well be shared across your team so this approach also gives you that vital insight into wider staff morale. Getting closer to this understanding will encourages employees to raise issues and concerns, enabling you to respond empathetically and effectively.
Choose to ride the waves
Whatever side of the Brexit campaign you sat on, it’s here, and with it a sea-change for business. You can choose to fight these waves or, instead, you can surf them. What’s clear, is change isn’t going anywhere soon. Managing uncertainty and unpredictability puts us outside of comfort zones but is part of the territory. As SMEs we have the advantage of flexibility and agility built into our DNA. Drive communication, foster fluid structures, be transparent and innovate. Take steps to invest in your people and encourage that entrepreneurial spirit, all the time keeping focused on the bigger picture. The best leaders anticipate change rather than react to it. The alternative to not surfing? It’s drowning.
Keep calm and …
The one human trait that unsettles employees most is a leader who is prone to panic responses. Above all, we need to demonstrate we appreciate the problems being faced, we’re open to ideas as to how to overcome these, and approach the solutions analysis in a calm and deliberate manner.
The only constant is change. With change comes opportunity. Having that adaptability is key. A strong, open-minded leadership team, fluid and agile organisations and constant people engagement will keep your business ahead of the game, navigating the change ahead.
By Chris Dodson, director, Biz Utd