By Joanna Swash, Group CEO of Moneypenny – An international business that has grown to employ more than 1000 people across continents.The company manages more than 20 million customer communications for over 21,000 businesses in the UK and the US, providing Live Chat, Telephone Answering Services and Digital and Outsourced Switchboards and has made several acquisitions both in the UK and the US.
If last year has taught us anything, it is that leadership is more important than ever. But there is no longer room for rigid command and control leaders, who rely on hierarchical structures, live for the ego and cannot define empathy. It is the softer skills that will sort the strong from the weak and leadership styles will have to adapt for businesses to survive.
What will set the winning leaders apart is honesty, authenticity, adaptability, optimism and a little of outside-the-box thinking. Employees don’t want to work for inauthentic managers and businesses don’t want to work with other businesses who aren’t transparent.
As we embrace our new-normal, it is vital that leaders put people and humanity at the core of processes and decisions. I am a firm believer that brilliant people do brilliant things, but I also believe in welcoming advances in technology in order to supercharge them and the business.
Respect and empower your people.
Being successful at empowering your people comes down to respect, making sure that everyone knows why others are on a team and the value that they add. It is also about ensuring that people know how to communicate with others of a different mindset in a positive way and not letting conflict fester.
Your brilliant business is only brilliant because, as a leader, you surround yourself with brilliant people.
If you empower teams to make mistakes, be brave and put aside anything that would hold them back, you are creating the perfect environment for them come up with powerful ideas that could change the way you do business better. People naturally want to feel empowered so all you have to do is give them the platform. It is about responsibility, trust, listening, purpose and self-improvement. And it can create a more connected culture.
In order to set themselves apart, winning leaders require an awareness of themselves, an awareness of others and their feelings, the ability to provide an empathetic response to this and the desire to act upon it for a positive impact. Leaders who practice this are empowering, authentic, purpose-led, understanding and put the individual human at the centre.
- Be empathetic. To be a leader people must have the necessary empathy to inspire understanding and knowledge in team members. I can’t stress enough its importance. It opens doors and removes confusion and it develops deeper levels of trust and loyalty. When people are open, you can be more creative in solving problems in ways that drive productivity and long-term success. As a CEO it is hugely important to surround yourself with brilliant people who are full of ideas that can enhance your skills and knowledge to lead even more effectively. Your people are your strength so trust those that you employ, otherwise, I’d ask why do you employ them?
This concept extends to all stakeholders, not just across your teams and partners but also your clients. Without them you have no business so showing empathy externally, and within calculated reason of course, will create loyalty and trust that will make all the difference. Understanding and patience will go a long way in less rigid uncertain times and that applies not only to work pressures but also personal and health worries.
- Strengthen your response to mental wellbeing. It isn’t just about creating a safe work environment for your teams, it is about creating a safe environment. Full stop. People naturally respond anxiously to uncertainty however well prepared they may feel that they are. Furthermore, with remote working looking like it will be a strategic business opportunity in the future, recreating the office environment and those watercooler moments will be essential.
Without your good mental health, you cannot lead and without your team’s wellbeing they cannot support you. It goes back to empathy but also culture and creating a sense of belonging.
- Communicate clearly and openly. With less face-to-face interaction actually discerning how your team is doing can be difficult. Likewise, they may find it more difficult to gauge how you are feeling, so being open and honest in any organisation is important. It is also the key to delivering on your promises.
If you have tough decisions to make, be very clear and tell people why. And constantly update and communicate, whether that is in response to revised government guidelines or a simple ‘How are you doing?’. You don’t always have to have the answers, being an effective leader doesn’t mean that, or that you can’t share how you feel. What communicating with transparency does mean is being clear about what you know, what you are planning and what it means for people, in a way that your audience will understand.
Compassion and respect are not enough on their own to be an effective leader. Leaders come in all shapes and sizes, in all aspects of life and leadership can be hard. As we have all discovered recently throughout the pandemic, it can be about making tough decisions. Showing compassion is not about being nice whatever the circumstances, or at the expense of the wider business. When faced with agendas or decisions, hard or easy, it is about doing things the right way. The human way.
- Act swiftly.Uncertainty will be around for a good while yet and being able to adapt, quickly and effectively is key. Thinking ahead is all well and good, but effective leaders will need to be able to make quick, wise, informed decisions to make maintain business success. It is not just about asking the ‘What if’ scenarios, it is about identifying the opportunities for your business. If we have learned little else, we have learned that those businesses with a flexible plan will be the most resilient.
- Think outside of the box. Effective leaders have a certain optimism. And this cannot falter, even in the hardest of times. Thinking outside of the box for a unique solution or seeing a new business opportunity in the midst of a pandemic, is what makes you an effective leader. But don’t be blinded by the optimism, though. Yes, your team and your co-leaders need to buy into your path for the business, your belief but it needs to remain open and honest, acknowledging bumps along the way and learning every step of the way.
Work in conjunction with technology.
People will always be your biggest asset, but technology can help them become even better at what they do, giving you that all important business advantage. The global pandemic has forced organisations to adopt new technologies, enhancing efficiency and user experience and this will only be enhanced further as future innovations are introduced. Don’t fight it but don’t fear it either.
See these advances as complementary to your brilliant people, supercharging them to be the best that they can be for themselves and for your business.