Leadership & Productivity
How to lead a business through turbulent times
6 min read
06 February 2019
HeyHuman's Neil Davidson offers practical advice for businesses who want to achieve growth during times of turbulence.
Every business, big or small, will inevitably go through challenging times. Sometimes, with a bit of foresight and planning, these problems can be avoided.
But often, as with the uncertainties surrounding Brexit, businesses will have little or no control over the circumstances they find themselves in.
Regardless the source of the challenge, there are significant personal strategies business leaders can take to drive growth and minimise disruption during troubled times.
Adapt to the right style of leadership for your business
Different stages of a company’s life call for different business objectives, and different leadership styles.
Nowhere is this truer than during a crisis, yet it is the very pressure of this situation that results in leaders failing to take a step back and acknowledging when a change of tack is needed.
As HeyHuman has developed, I’ve found that giving people room to make their own decisions has been crucial. Keeping your eye on the bigger picture, and not succumbing to short-term panic helps to minimise bad decisions.
It can be hard to consciously shift your leadership style or pull in other styles. No one’s nearly as self-aware as we like to think we are, so don’t be afraid to get an objective view.
Understanding the things that motivate you, and basing the transition around them, can be vital to safeguarding business growth and ensuring your employees’ wellbeing.
Don’t underestimate the power of the ‘grit’ mindset
The compelling research behind Angela Duckworth’s book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance reveals how doggedness is an indispensable part of success.
Whilst it’s most obviously applicable to the grind required to first build up a business, it’s also a crucial tool to help weather a crisis.
Again, self-awareness is important here: it’s not a requisite trait that will make or break a leader, but if you don’t have it yourself, you want to have someone on your leadership team who does.
Be clear on what you do and don’t stand for as a business
People aren’t stupid. In a world saturated with messaging, they won’t buy into vague and ill-defined messaging. Gillette’s recent campaign is a good example.
However well thought-through their strategy might have been, the heavy-handed execution left much to be desired and stretched the brand too far too soon. Nike’s Colin Kaepernick ad, on the other hand, was much more effective in reinforcing the company’s fundamental identity.
Employees will be more motivated if they know exactly what they’re working for. Crystallising what the business is working against can also be valuable and triggers our more primal motivations.
Actively diagnose the challenges you face
This might sound obvious, but tackling problems with intellectual rigour and an open mind is in surprisingly short supply.
Don’t just go to the same set of conferences and listen to the same set of opinions. Whether it’s out-of-industry thought leadership or something else, there’s always another way of seeing things.
Indeed, finding out what’s going on outside your sector helps to identify the blind spots of the industry giants. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but anything that can be learned after a crisis could probably have been found out beforehand.
Nokia was doing well and had no reason to worry about the usual competitors, but the company’s downfall came from tech rather than traditional telecoms.
It went from having a 70% share of the global phone market before the introduction of the iPhone to 1.1% of the smartphone market by the start of 2018. And now there’s a new wave of smartphone challengers bursting into the market rivalling the likes of iPhone. A brand should never become complacent in the wake of success.
Sharpen the saw
I love this expression because it nails my point. Never become too busy to forget to sharpen the saw.
If you don’t take care of yourself, how can you expect to lead? Leaders who look tired, emotional and stressed often send the wrong signals, so never underestimate the importance of your mental wellbeing.
Spending time with people outside of the agency, exercising, studying, and remembering that leadership is a marathon, not a sprint, really helps me to stay on top of things.
We need to look beyond the short-term pressures that drive many of our day-to-day decisions. Self-awareness, clarity and foresight are crucial in both anticipating and planning beyond the rough patches that every business will face.
Neil Davidson is managing director of behavioural communications agency HeyHuman.