How do you plan for stability when surrounded by turbulence?
It’s been a rocky time for business leaders everywhere, not least in the UK. Chris Pitt of UK-based agency Vertical Leap reflects on how bad leadership bubbles down through societies and workplaces alike, and pulls out four universal lessons for leaders.
The UK’s political vision of leadership hasn’t been consistent of late, but what can business leaders learn from it? / Tommao Wang via Unsplash
Business is not linear. Whether you’re a cash-strapped startup, a growing SME or an enterprise behemoth, your business will experience peaks and troughs. Those peaks and troughs might be to do with recruitment, culture, inefficiencies, economic pressures or any number of factors. I’m not sure if they still teach PESTLE in marketing courses, but it’s as relevant today as it ever was in defining the conditions that can affect us.
These macro factors are typically no single person’s fault. Our job as business leaders is to weather the storm and get through the best we can. So it is with bemusement, anger, worry and a certain amount of hilarity that I have watched and experienced the political chaos that has affected us over the past few weeks and months.
We are living through the most turbulent times of our generation: pandemics, wars and recessions, all threatening to pull the rug on us. We largely understand and support the position we take as a country and the steps we need to take. But to have the leaders in our country add unnecessary and needless pressure has been frustrating and perplexing. How do you plan for stability when the environment around you is ever more turbulent?
What strikes me most is that the chaos of bad leadership has a real, life-changing impact on every single one of us. Business can slow down, finances can become squeezed; yet employees need more money because they too are affected. These things can’t all take place at the same time, so business leaders bear the brunt of the fallout caused by power-hungry, chaotic people.
The question is, of course, what do business leaders do right now? Is there anything we can do, or must we resign ourselves to the uncertainty and hope for the best?
I don’t have the answer, but I do feel confident that there are lessons about leadership here.
Influence, not orders
Naïve ambition told me that being the boss meant being the enforcing ruler. Experience has taught me that being a leader is not about power, it is about influence. The irony of being ‘the leader’ is that although you do have power, you should rarely, if ever, use it – because everything you do affects everyone you lead.
Words have power and actions have consequences. If you don’t understand those two things, you’ll fail to win trust and confidence, without which you lose everything.
Sometimes the best course of action is to do nothing at all.
There definitely is an ‘I’ in team
A team is the sum of its parts. Regardless of your role, title or seniority, everyone in a team has an equally important function that enables the wheels to turn. Those wheels are prone to being jammed up and grinding to a halt. It can come down to the behavior of a single person: the maverick or malcontent who wants to do it their way, the person that doesn’t pull their weight or the person that makes mistakes.
All of these are the ‘I’ in team. If the person responsible isn’t accountable for their part in the team, or seeks to deflect and redirect blame, there will quickly be no team. And if, as in the case of
Boris Johnson Liz Truss Rishi Sunak, you are in a leadership role, your options are to own mistakes fast and move on (or not own them and lose the team around you).
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The fish rots from the head
As a leader, how you behave sets the tone for everyone else and gives you a baseline standard against which you can measure all other behaviors. A leader’s job is to identify what that baseline is, and keep everyone consistently above it.
There’s no perfect baseline, and the one you have might change or evolve; you need to roll with the punches. A high-volume sales team will have a different baseline to A&E nurses, but there are still expectations and standards. Most of us will have a good idea of which standards fit which business or industry. It’s near impossible to move forward without them.
People leave bad bosses, and bad bosses have low standards.
Keep calm and carry on
That we’ve all got choices to make about our businesses will never change. Is now the right time to invest or should we hold tight? To scale or not to scale? There’s no doubt that right now it’s a turbulent time, and those decisions might take longer to make.
But I’ll say this. We’ve got through recessions and pandemics, and we’ll get through the chaos of *this*, although some of us may be worse for wear. The positive I take from all this is seeing what bad leadership looks like. We should all hold on to those lessons for our businesses and our people because within them lies stability.
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