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Leadership in uncertain times

Since the outbreak of the global pandemic there has been an increasing call for authenticity, communication, and trust from companies. This year has revealed that strong leadership is essential, not only for growth, but for survival.

The pandemic has highlighted how managing through times of uncertainty and rapid change is the defining factor in a business owner’s career. Business owners must encourage their employees and provide thoughtful service to their customers. The global pandemic, economic crisis, and rising demand for societal change is shifting everyday behaviours unlike any other time in history.

Strong leadership for any business unlocks deeper and more resilient relationships with customers, partners, and investors. Leadership doesn’t just come from within an organization. In uncertain times it is important to lean on industry partners and stakeholders for guidance and benchmarking. Business best practices are evolving and the best way to show leadership is to implement tried and true methods while continuing to innovate. Working together with partners such as First West Capital will position businesses owners for growth, even during challenging times. Working together through uncertainty will create stronger, more profitable, and respected companies.

“In my experience, the best partners, are humble, reasonable and collaborative. We found First West Capital to be all those things.” – Adam Bryk, COO, CFO


Leading teams through the pandemic

The most challenging part of the pandemic for many entrepreneurs has been the expectation to quickly make important and critical decisions in a new and unknown environment. Many of the decisions have had to be made on a “wait-and-see approach” due to government policies and rapidly changing procedures. It is difficult to make decisions that will affect employees, customers, and business operations, without a solid idea of what the future might hold.

There are four key factors for business owners to consider when leading during uncertain times:

1. Be authentic

A leader’s behaviour and approach to decision-making in times of uncertainty can create optimism, calmness, and clarity, or pessimism and anxiety.

The pandemic will stretch leaders out of their comfort zones because ambiguity is a constant issue. Discussing plans and changes quickly with teams along with the challenges implementing them will encourage employees and keep their confidence high. For example, discussing how the changes are personally affecting you and your families will allow employees to relate to business owners. Many entrepreneurs took pay cuts to show solidarity with their teams along with reinforcing their commitment to the business. Showing vulnerability will allow people to relate to their leaders and will strengthen relationships inside and outside the organization.

Leaders convey authenticity by:

  • Grounding decision-making in company values. If stakeholders can understand why decisions are being made, trust and respect follow.
  • Engaging employees and asking for additional insights allows for a certain level of vulnerability to be exposed which strengthens trusts within the organization.
  • Promoting dialogue internally and externally. Leaders in a company set the culture, but employees need to be engaged in the decision-making process for the culture to be transmitted to customers and clients.

2. Communicate regularly

With a changing environment that is increasingly virtual, communication is more important than ever. Deliberate and empathic communication will increase leadership authenticity and build trust. By discussing financial challenges that the company is facing will help teams understand that the situation is under control. For example, outlining any drop in revenue and the correlation to layoffs or reductions in spending will allow employees to feel confident in the decisions. Employees feel empowered when leaders are honest around tough decisions. Be open about the evolving nature of the pandemic and communicate frequently.

3. Focus on building trust

Connecting company values to decision-making with clear communication will be the baseline for growing integrity-based trust now and beyond the pandemic. The behaviour, messages, and delivery of pandemic plans will either build or breakdown trust in companies. Teams that trust their leaders are more likely to trust each other, which will lead to agility and the ability to navigate uncertainty.

Although leaders may not have an exact destination or a definite roadmap in place, internal and external stakeholders need to see the deliberate actions that leaders are taking to build trust. For example, many businesses have successfully implemented quarterly town halls, informal touch bases, and weekly company update emails to consistently update their employees.

Authenticity, communication, and trust work in conjunction with each other to develop stronger companies internally that will better serve clients and customers leading to more profitable and respected companies, now and through the pandemic.

4. Walk in your employees’ shoes

Empathy is the single most important factor in leading employees through the pandemic. Employees will have a certain level of anxiety throughout uncertain times. Questions will arise around the stability of their jobs, security for their families, and macro questions around the recovery of the economy. Entrepreneurs that can walk in their employees’ shoes and relate on beyond-business levels will not only have dedicated employees that continue to produce, but also will retain and attract talent. For small and medium-sized businesses, hiring new employees can have a significant effect on the bottom line. There is a considerable commitment of time and money needed to find people that complement and enhance business practices. During times of volatility, retaining talent should be a focus for business owners. This will reduce internal instability and will lend to a company’s valuation. Lenders and investors value depth and breadth of culture, which is a direct reflection of a strong, authentic, and trusted leadership team.


Adjusting to the new normal

Uncertainty will be the new normal for the foreseeable future. How have you been working with your teams to overcome the unique challenges of this crisis? Companies need to consider how to lead effective virtual meetings, deliver important messages, onboard new team members, and implement health and safety measures.

Through the pandemic, authentic leaders must lean on partners, enhance communication, and actively seek to build trust in order to emerge stronger than before.


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