Aren’t leadership skills something you’re born with? Can I really do anything to improve?
Although there is an ongoing nature vs nurture debate with regards to leadership, many of the skills that great leaders have are things that can be learnt. Even if you feel it doesn’t come naturally to you, the evidence suggests that its worth investing your time in improving your ability as a leader.
I’m struggling to make big decisions about the future of my business. Where should I start?
Many business leaders are having to make more critical business decisions than ever before, and you are certainly not alone in this. There are a few fundamental steps you should take to make the process a bit easier, such as finding ways to stay calm, put the decision in perspective, and speak to those that can help you.
The next step is to ensure you have a good system for making decisions in place. Whilst there are countless examples of different frameworks, it might make sense to look at some of the visual decision-making guides that others are using to see which might work best for you. By putting your thoughts on paper, it should help to make your choices and reasoning clearer.
How should I go about becoming a more effective leader? Do I need to adapt my management style?
It’s good to regularly review how you manage your employees and whether it’s working for them. This is even more crucial as you’re likely to have more and more staff working remotely. What may have worked when most of you were in the office might not be so effective anymore, so it’s important to consider how you can maintain your role as a leader whilst working from home.
What can I do to improve my communication skills?
Communication is at the heart of leadership and is a skill you need to continue to hone throughout your career, so it’s important to be aware of the key principles of communication. Something you need to keep in mind is how your audience likes to receive information, whether through visuals, audio or writing – and how combining mediums can help you to cut through.
Don’t forget that listening to your staff and customers is just as important as what you’re saying. Take the time to be sure that you’re actively listening to what you’re being told and reflecting on it before communicating yourself.
How do I make sure I’m setting the right goals for my business?
There are several useful principles to make sure you’re setting the right goals for your business. No matter what stage your business is in, make sure you’re setting both long-term and short-term goals. Your long-term goals should be something ambitious that your employees can rally around and fit the identity of your business. Your short-term goals need to clearly fit into the long-term plan, this will help staff feel like they are building towards something bigger throughout the process.
How should I communicate through uncertainty and crisis?
Communicating with staff and other decision makers in your company has become increasingly difficult and simultaneously important throughout this time.
Whilst understandably you will not always have the answers, make sure to communicate early and often with your staff. It may feel strange to run weekly, or even bi-weekly updates without a full grasp of the dynamic situation, but having a regular update to engage and reassure your staff on the latest changes, or lack of, will help to ensure employees feel they are your first concern.
Make sure this communication works both ways – it is important to hear and understand your employee’s views, and ensure your staff have open channels to ask you questions, tell you their thoughts and open a dialogue.
Understand how your employees may be feeling. Whilst your concerns will understandably be running the business and ensuring your work can continue, be sure to empathise with their concerns over their jobs, work and requirements throughout this time.
The Harvard Business Review has put together a guide for communicating through the crisis, offering useful guidance and examples to help you communicate confidently and effectively through these uncertain times.
How can I show empathy with staff, customers, partners and suppliers?
Empathising with your staff, partners and suppliers is fundamental in ensuring you come out of this crisis in good shape.
The pandemic has impacted everyone and their work in different ways, and understanding this as you approach difficult conversations, or even supposedly routine operations is key. Make sure to listen to any concerns or issues raised with you – listening and acting early will be better for everyone in the long run.
Whilst it is important to empathise and account for issues others may be experiencing, you need to be pragmatic and decisive in your operations and choices in this time. Whilst it may make sense to allow a debtor to delay a payment in exceptional circumstances, don’t let this set a precedent, to avoid your operations being impacted by these types of decisions in the long run.
How do I make good decisions in a crisis, and how do I build confidence without clear data?
During a crisis and periods of increased uncertainty, the best course of action and most appropriate response is often unclear due to a lack of information and the pace of change.
You have to become comfortable dealing with that uncertainty and act in the knowledge that there are trade-offs involved in all the decisions you make. Whilst you may be dealing with incomplete information and dynamic situations, there are a few steps you can take to ensure that you are acting with as much confidence as possible. Harvard Business Review wrote a useful overview of the psychology of decision making under pressure. It provides useful tips for spotting psychological triggers and ensuring your decision making process is deliberative and well-reasoned.
First of all, gather all of the available information to the best of your ability. Speak to your team and try to take a broad view. Initially this involves asking the right questions. What is most important right now? What might we be missing? How might things unfold from here, and what can we do now that could pay off later?
Prioritise the key areas of your business and take a critical view of where your business’ strengths and weaknesses are. You will have competing priorities vying for finite attention, whether that is sales, finance or logistics. At this point you must make the call on what the most pressing issues are and devote your attention to them, with the discipline to deprioritise other areas. McKinsey have developed a helpful framework for making decisions in a crisis with a step by step guide to implementing the right processes.
During a crisis, trust is key. You may feel like the way through is to take on additional responsibilities and try to do everything yourself. Try to resist this temptation as it will often result in poorer decision making and a loss of confidence throughout the business. Bring those with experience and expertise into the decision-making process and empower those with good judgement. Once you have decided on a course of action, act with conviction and purpose.