By Thom Dennis, CEO at Serenity in Leadership
The challenges facing CEO’s right now are mounting. Many businesses have had to stop, start, reassess and reconfigure in the last year as we went through lockdowns, Brexit and unprecedented global health instability, with countless employees having faced isolation, burnout and anxiety. In the UK we are beginning to endure a third wave of the pandemic which may have another huge impact on businesses and leadership strategy. The challenges facing CEOs right now include: –
- New, unfamiliar and unpredictable scenarios mean leaders are still having to diversify, or adapt their product or service quickly, ensure careful adherence to every changing regulation and to change at speed because of the unpredictability we all still face. Simply being reactive means there is little space for being proactive or for long term planning. Many businesses are facing the need to change their organisation’s culture.
- Fear is often systemic and is felt collectively within the workplace especially when it results from national or global uncertainty. Employees are fearful of losing their jobs which keeps them vulnerable and easy to manipulate by fear-based managers who are obsessed with rules, punishments and structure, and use exclusion techniques to maintain control and cling to power. Bullying, harassment, power play and lack of inclusion need to be tackled head on more than ever, and denying there is such behaviour in your organisation is quite likely to be a kind of wilful blindness. There is much fear being generated today, not least in the media, and a calm and steady style of leadership is really called for.
- Loss of resources. Some businesses have done well to keep their talent motivated, in the loop and on board with changes forced upon them; others failed abysmally, negatively affecting loyalty which is causing talented employees to move to competitors. Keeping the team working well together from multiple locations is very difficult but many businesses are getting better at it as we go along.
- Supply and demand. There has been a huge knock-on effect of both Brexit and the pandemic on the supply of materials for many businesses from cardboard to aluminium to finished goods. This has led to increased lead and delivery times, dreadful customer service and frustrated, disgruntled customers whose patience has run out.
Lack of personal development
- CEOs have had little space or time for reflection during the last year but have had to show buckets of resilience. We all need time to reflect, and it is important to recognise errors that were made, listen to feedback and have an opportunity to learn and make amends, in order to grow and truly move on.
- CEOs want to create a personal legacy and to make their mark on the company. Sadly not all legacies are positive with some intimidating or unhappy CEOs leaving a history of poor culture, whilst others leave a wonderful legacy of goals and objectives achieved whilst maximising talent, creating safe cultures and encouraging colleagues to bring their best self to work. The pandemic has made the difference between positive and negative leadership ever more obvious.
- Administration, demanding project planning and meetings have increased since the start of the pandemic leaving CEOs overstretched and in need of time to reformulate their normal day. An understanding that multitasking creates poor performance and ways to honour a healthy work/life balance are still baffling many leaders.
Pressures of business development
- There is increased pressure to improve the leadership skills of senior staff so they can relieve the executive team from some of their challenges by promoting those who are ready and providing mentorship for those who need it. Having the right resources and timing are crucial for this to fall into place.
- Getting to know the new needs of your team and customers is vital because most of us have made some significant changes in our lives in the last 18 months. There is a need for systems whereby top leaders can ask for feedback from senior level staff to gain front-line insights. Boosting social media presence may also help to get to know your clients and consumers better.
- Pushing for growth at a time when budgets may still be frozen means businesses are having to stay ahead of the competition by thinking outside the box, collaborating more with other like-minded companies and measuring their progress so they can refine their approach as 2021 progresses. This is all for the greater good but creates substantial pressure to do better despite ongoing difficult circumstances.
- Effective two-way communication between the C-Suite and employees is vital, especially because of the unpredictability of the pandemic. Transparency, integrity, honesty, a well-structured board communication strategy, clearly defined roles and documentation, and excellent communication are all must-haves. Leaders need to ask questions; not assume they know the answers.
- Increased emphasis on employee wellness at first glance may feel like a drain on the business but a strong emphasis on prioritising good health is not only good for the individual, but the business and company culture.
- Concerns over trust during the pandemic means leaders need to be honest, supportive and consistent, actively listening to employees whilst managing expectations positively and respectfully. Trust takes time to be earnt and more to be re-earnt. Leaders must work with honesty, integrity and transparency towards a common goal which suits both parties.
- Employees want a different work-life balance now and have different priorities, since the onset of the pandemic. Understanding the different needs of your employees and creating individual hybrid models that suit both them and the company will take a lot of clear, and flexible, thinking to establish and maintain an excellent working and wellness solution for all.
- We need to tackle burnout head on. In order for employees and business to thrive, promote an open working culture so that employees feel comfortable sharing feelings of being overwhelmed with their supervisors. Vulnerability must be honoured; dismissing it will kill trust effectively and immediately. Ensure roles are definitive and be clear about welcoming good work/ life boundaries, ensuring that over-working is neither expected nor encouraged.
- Solving D&I issues has never been more important and merely hoping for diversity isn’t going to work. Hire diverse talent even if they don’t automatically fit the corporate mould because diversity makes us smarter and changes the way we think. Consider removing ‘must have’ criteria on your job advertisements as this naturally limits your talent pool, avoid group think, ask for commitment not compliance and give minorities support and engagement.
- We need to break the mould to build responsible workplaces. Whilst some leaders are given budgets to support inclusion, this will simply never be enough to create real change. Leaders need to prioritise training on inclusion and set an example by personally attending themselves and requesting that all senior staff members attend as well. Sadly, those who live in denial are the most destructive.