8 rules for being a great leader during lockdown

Shelton Fleming’s strategy director says leaders will emerge during the pandemic and help businesses remain fighting fit.

Andrew Reid is strategy director at Shelton Fleming Group

Crises reveal true leaders. Coronavirus, by any definition, provides that test. 

The events world, plunged into limbo almost overnight, is not alone. From airlines and hotels to restaurants and retailers, most businesses have been hit hard.

The reality is that no one was ready. Yes, there were some prescient TED talks five years ago about the world’s vulnerability to pandemics. But, in essence, this was the perfect storm. 

Perhaps the biggest shock is the uncertainty. Nobody knows what the long-term impact will be. And it’s in this cauldron that leaders emerge.

At Shelton Fleming, our MD has enabled other leaders in our business to step up. And, undoubtedly, collaborating as a tight-knit team, with a focus on shaping the future and keeping communication real, is the key to survival.

Team morale has been high since the crisis gripped our industry. We’ve acted fast to conserve cash and keep staff informed, ensuring they feel engaged and valued. We’re embracing innovation and helping our clients adapt. We’re being proactive, finding creative solutions to maintain audience engagement during lockdown. And we’re developing solutions that will make face to face meetings safe again.

It’s this pivot to collaboration on developing new services and partnerships that could get the events industry back on its feet. 

Indeed, this is one of the first lessons of leadership. Enable staff and clients to take control and create solutions. 

For example, we know people will need to feel safe to gather together again. So we’ve been organising online ideation sessions with all staff to think about new tech, new experiences and apps that could enable us to create a new normal for the events industry.

From our MD to our office manager, I’m seeing leadership qualities that go further. 

Eight leadership qualities stand out:

1. People first

The safety of our people, and adhering to the NHS directives, has been our mantra from the start. The message is tightly synchronised with government policy – that staying home is for the greater good.

2. Be honest

Make sure your team can acclimatise and anticipate change. Avoid shocks and be transparent. Explain every significant decision and build trust. Our MD produces a heartfelt daily email to all staff that’s honest about our finances; our view on the good, the bad and the misguided aspects of government policy; and how client conversations are developing.

3. Talk often

Regular – preferably daily – communication is a must. Provide context. Share knowledge on how competitors, other sectors and organisations are responding.

4. Engage everyone in the future

One of the first tasks I was given was to “think about how the business evolves in a post-COVID-19 world.” Quickly it was clear the emphasis should be on being positive and future-focused as a team. So, we’re testing new online ideation tech that enables everyone to consider how our business and the events industry can adapt.

5. Stay sane

We all need to focus on personal health and mental wellbeing, and talking is a good place to start. It’s a health-related crisis after all. It’s easy to feel helpless in this situation, especially as some colleagues and family will confront this virus head-on. Regular virtual meetings, both one-to-one and Town Halls, make a huge difference.

6. Act fast

Time’s your enemy. Be prepared to make swift decisions. Don’t overthink. Quick decision-making applies to everything: changing your offer, taking on a new marketing strategy, re-organising the logistics of the company, and HR.

7. Remain positive

Times are tough, but humour helps. There’s enough grim news coming from the media, you don’t need to add to it. With everyone self-isolating at home, our teams have been organising after-work activities, such as online games and quizzes.

8. Keep in touch with furloughed staff

You may have to furlough some of your team. While you can’t ask them to work, there’s nothing stopping you from keeping them in the loop on what’s happening. It’s also good to involve furloughed staff in company-wide activities that are training related. This keeps them involved and armed with new skills and services.

We have come up against regular disruptions as a business before. There have been oil price shocks, the retail bubble in the ‘90s, the dotcom bubble in 2000, and the more recent 2008 financial shock. The coronavirus crisis is particularly severe in the way it’s put the brakes on swathes of the global economy.

But one thing is for sure: it’s the strength of your people that will bring you out the other side, fighting fit. If you and your team rethink and marshal the future together, you can be sure that when the situation gets to that ‘new’ normal, you’ll have the most devoted, understanding and reliable crew imaginable.

This article was written by Andrew Reid, an author and strategy director at Shelton Fleming Associates. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent those of C&IT Magazine.

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