Managing people in normal times can be challenging enough, but leading a business through as unexpected and disruptive an event as a global pandemic is a whole other ballgame.
No matter how daunting the task at hand, however, business leaders who communicate clearly with their people are far more likely to achieve positive outcomes. This is according to Ruth McCarthy, chief executive of Fexco Corporate Payments.
McCarthy joined John McGrane, executive director of the Family Business Network in Ireland, to speak at this year’s Best Managed Companies awards symposium on the subject of effective leadership in turbulent times.
“People aren’t afraid of change, but of uncertainty. So frequent and clear communication and a focus on values ensures genuine transparency,” McCarthy said.
“It puts people at ease and ensures they don’t fear change they can also understand is necessary. Even in uncertainty, they may not know what the outcome will look like exactly, but they know the clear plan to get there.”
Some businesses will be better placed to withstand the impact of unexpected external events and developments, because they are able to respond and regroup quickly, according to McCarthy.
“With sudden events in the wider world beyond the business, it’s always the case that you need to regroup the right resources quickly for what needs to be done,” she said.
“You also need strong leadership, and to be able to act decisively and effectively in the face of such challenges. You can’t afford to have a long consultation process.
“Rapid response is essential to protect everybody. Then, people will always rally behind you once the decision is made and the right resources are in place.”
The sudden emergence of Covid-19 in early 2020 not only shocked people, but also separated us.
“We say in Irish “ní neart go chur le chéile” (there is no strength without unity) and we lost a lot when we were forced to stay away from each other,” John McGrane said.
The best business leaders responded by ramping up communications across all teams.
“The only antidote in situations like this is a massive increase in communications, no matter how much extra time that consumes,” he said.
“From keeping the show on the road, to spotting real personal fears within a team — as a leader you have to do everything possible to listen, inform, reassure and excite. Then, the team will take it from there.”
Quite apart from an unexpected global pandemic, there are many other stressors that can challenge business leaders managing teams and individuals.
McGrane sees “mixed commitment” to the purpose of an enterprise as one such challenge.
“People make a personal choice every day about their level of commitment to what the real purpose of the team actually is,” McGrane said.
“The leadership challenge is to align group success in managing inevitable change with empathy for different personal drivers. That way, change moves from problem to stimulus.”