Leaders must show resilience in the face of Brexit

Businesses are facing uncertain times but, as Natalie Carrick argues, this means it’s even more important that they are able to recover from challenges

The acronym ‘VUCA’ has been around since 1987 and describes a world in which volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity are the biggest challenges for business. Now, however, Brexit is providing an additional layer of challenge for leaders and CEOs.

Deal or no deal, leaders in the UK are experiencing intense pressure as the country copes with political turmoil, social division and growing uncertainty, with people on all sides of the debate digging into entrenched positions and engaging in increasingly tribal behaviour.

Leaders are aware that, for some businesses, ‘no deal’ is a significant threat and the government has already spoken about ‘Operation Kingfisher’ to support companies affected by Brexit.

This makes resilience in leadership key to surviving and even flourishing in a new and challenging environment. But the big question is, how can leaders prepare and build resilience at such a pivotal time? 

Here are some tips to consider: 

  • In a moment of crisis or challenge, leaders must recognise an inflection point quickly rather than remain in denial – and then search for hidden opportunity. It is human nature to fear change, but effective leaders have the flexibility to grasp the moment. It may be an opportunity for the business to pivot.
  • Emotional stability is a crucial leadership skill and even more so in difficult times.  Leaders need to strike the right balance between over optimism (think about the excited rhetoric of Boris Johnson) at one end of the scale and pessimism or catastrophising at the other. Leaders who fail to regulate their own emotions can swing between the two extremes and erode trust and confidence among employees in the process. To minimise reactivity, build in time for reflection before making important decisions.
  • Remember that looking after yourself is as important as building organisational resilience. We all know to eat well, rehydrate and take regular exercise, but be sure to balance physiological stress with recovery – the easiest route is through high-quality sleep.  
  • Make sure you have a strong social and professional support network in place. Consider having a mentor or coach at work to provide a neutral environment in which to test your thinking.
  • Learn to say ‘no’ sometimes, or at least say ‘yes’ more slowly; for instance by pushing back deadlines or reprioritising. Excessive pressure makes people more likely to behave reactively or to make bad decisions. 
  • Review your business’s core strategy and its key priorities. What is the company’s purpose? What is the new vision? People need something tangible to focus on in uncertain times. Providing short-term goals and clear priorities can refocus everyone’s attention on what must be done.
  • Make an extra effort to stop behaviour that reduces organisational resilience. Culture is set by the worst behaviours allowed by management, so keep a close eye on negativity and other habits that undermine trust or performance. These might appear as employees talking down the business, in blame or victim language, over-working, absenteeism, discrimination or unconscious bias. When you see these types of behaviour, take time to understand its origin and coach employees through it.
  • It goes without saying that tenacity and having the ability to dig in and survive adversity is important, but employees also need to see you are human. Use storytelling to illustrate how you have overcome past challenges, reveal what you learned in the process and help employees to see where they have done the same. These conversations are an opportunity to build valuable trust necessary for teams to tackle the challenges that lie ahead collaboratively. 

Natalie Carrick is an executive coach at Black Isle Group