Bringing people together under a shared vision and leading them towards a common goal can be a tough enough task even when it’s clear where you’re heading. But the road seems particularly treacherous these days: politics seem at permanent risk of crashing, as does the economy, and many people seem to have responded by throwing the very notion of ‘facts’ under a bus. Surely they were a key navigational aid? As a leader, there’s also the constant ping of new technology coming from the passenger seat, promising the next big solution – if you could only take your eyes off the road long enough to wrap your head around it. Here are a few tips to help you move smoothly through all the uncertainty…
1. Know what you’re about. In periods of great change, it’s crucial to stop and ask yourself what you stand for, both as a leader and an organisation. You may think the idea of ‘values’ don’t really apply to your trade, but they’ll be there: are your products and services of the highest quality? Are you bringing them to everybody? Is it important that your team learn from the process? Are you giving something back for the next generation? This stuff is often a pain to sit and think about, but running an organisation is an opportunity to stand for something, and by being clear about your values and sharing them with your team you’ll be solid as a rock even as the tides shift around you.
2. Talk to people – and listen. Make time for face-to-face conversations with your peers and your team on matters beyond immediate business. It’s all a crucial part of your work, even if it doesn’t feel like it. And formalise the exchange of ideas: if someone in the team has travelled or been seconded to another business, get them to share their learnings with everyone. The more diverse your team and their input, the more your decisions will come from an informed and aware place.
3. Encourage experimentation. Technology may be moving at a scary pace, but your peers will have access to the same tools as you do. So even having invested a great deal of time and money in staying relevant, at best it just allows you to keep up with the competition. But there’s one quality that will set you apart from the pack: creativity. Build an environment in which collaborations are encouraged even if there isn’t an immediate pound sign attached, and crucially, where people can take a risk and fail and still be applauded for the insight they’ve generated.
4. Read. Perhaps you still haven’t got time to binge-watch five seasons of Breaking Bad, let alone pick up a book. But it’s never more important to remain informed, on both your industry and the wider world. Make time to look beyond your go-to sources of information, follow people on social media who will lead you to good new outlets, ask your local bookshop for recommendations on good writing, and set up feeds on your various devices to get right to the good stuff. Just make sure you don’t get swamped: it’s important to leave headspace for the stuff to actually sink in and be met by your own critical thinking. If this idea of ‘post-truth’ is allowed to stick, that’s going to make it very hard to get stuff done with any quality.
5. Go out and learn. If you want to attain that ever-elusive perspective, put some distance between you and the day-to-day. HotHouse is a creative leadership programme launched by and hosted at the Eden Project in Cornwall, described as the ‘8th wonder of the world’ and home to the largest rainforest in captivity. The four-day residential course draws from the expertise of the project’s founder Sir Tim Smit and other experts in natural leadership, puts you together with leaders from a range of sectors, and promises to leave you ‘ready to tackle the challenges of the future’. Previous attendees have described it as ‘life changing, transformational and utterly inspiring’ – what better guide to lead you through the challenges of the 21st century?