To conclude our Jaded January series of blogs focusing on the economic and political uncertainty UK businesses find themselves lumbered with around Brexit, we felt it was only right to take a closer look at the skills you might need to ride out the rough times.
As we have noted previously, when the going gets tough, the weight of expectation on leaders increases. If leadership is about providing direction, assurance and inspiration, then at no time are those things more valuable than during a crisis.
Indeed, there is even a school of thought nowadays that some of the world’s most successful and disruptive businesses, the likes of Google and Amazon for example, actually thrive on uncertainty, making a virtue of upheaval to rapidly forge new opportunities for themselves. Their ability to do so depends on a culture of leadership which prioritises the ‘soft skills’ that relate most directly to rallying their charges, keeping motivation high and maximising the collective potential.
Here are some of the most important skills that fall into this category.
If there is one thing more likely than any other to find a leader out when facing a challenge, it is poor communication skills. The old fashioned military model based on how stiff an upper lip those in authority can maintain and the ability of hierarchical discipline to stop subordinates asking awkward questions has been widely discredited. Failure to keep your charges completely up to date with events simply sparks distrust and decreases motivation.
Strong lines of communication help to stave off the risk of anxiety creeping in by fostering a communal spirit of resilience. Not only that, open discussion also increases the chances of someone, somewhere coming up with a great idea for how to turn the challenges being faced into opportunity. Good leadership is not about having the best ideas, it is about knowing how to find them.
After the effective communication skills on which team building depends, the next must-have skill leaders must nurture in a crisis is flexibility. Uncertainty and challenge almost inevitably lead to change. Some argue that a stubborn streak is desirable in leaders, and yes the strength of mind to stick to your guns even in the face of opposition can be a virtue. But it can also be a serious impediment. The determination of some business leaders to keep going in the same old fashion even though it is clear they are heading for the rocks can border on reckless.
That said, it should be acknowledged that flexibility is a personal attribute even some of the most successful people in business simply do not have, while managing change is a highly skilled endeavour in its own right. However, as the Amazons and Googles of the world demonstrate, agility can be built into the cultural fabric of an organisation and tends to reap huge dividends.
Finally, the skill of developing skills is another key area that can determine which organisations sink or swim in difficult times. For leaders, this is both a personal requirement and a responsibility they have to their teams. Learning is an important element of flexibility. To be able to adapt to changing circumstances, leaders often themselves face the challenge of learning new skills and new ways of doing things.
This then transfers over into how well business leaders can identify shifting skills requirements in their organisation and create the right conditions for them to be developed. Re-orientating a business strategy to take advantage of new opportunities in new markets is not just a case of making a few operational tweaks and undergoing a re-brand. You are often asking your staff to work in new ways to achieve different ends, and that can demand new skill sets.
On another level, the talents of your people can be the biggest asset you have in working your way out of a crisis. Maximising their potential through targeted and effective skills development can have a huge impact on rebooting collective performance.