Brexit drama and the commercial ambiguity facing businesses, especially those that import and export to Europe, means many executives are facing chronic uncertainty over the extent of any disruption to their business.
The mettle of business leaders across the country is being tested like never before, but in many professional careers the pressure and the stakes are even higher. Professional sport, the performing arts and the military all combine uncertainty, exceptional pressure and, with the latter, life and death outcomes. Their insights are useful for business leaders’ current predicament.
Sporting Edge has interviewed some of the world’s most respected leaders in the fields of elite sport, the military, performing arts and behavioural science for insights that business leaders can use to deal with the uncertainty and pressure from still not knowing the UK’s future trading relationship with Europe and other countries in coming months.
Jeremy Snape, a director with Sporting Edge and a former England cricketer, said: “The extreme environment of the next few weeks will test the mindset and character of business leaders as much as their skills. This is not a time for fear or imposter syndrome – this is a time for clarity, courage and leadership.
“Executives will be aware they have not only their reputation, but also the livelihoods of their employees riding on their decisions. It is a huge weight, and the pressure will take its toll on their judgement, communication and personal wellbeing.
“Stress and pressure are down to personal perception. Whether you’re a CEO reporting to City investors, a commanding officer entering the battlefield or a Premier League football manager facing relegation, the mindset needs to be the same. These psychological coping skills need to be present to allow leaders and their teams to thrive in these pivotal moments.”
Sporting Edge’s four key tips for business leaders currently floundering through uncertainty are:
1. Stop blaming others; own the situation.
When it comes to our current predicament there are plenty of people you might blame – the electorate; David Cameron; the EU; MPs in Westminster; the Prime Minister. If that is what you are doing, get over it!
Snape said: “Successful leaders don’t waste time blaming others, that may win you sympathy but is a waste of energy. Uncertainty creates opportunity so start by owning the situation and making a plan you can try to use the situation to your advantage.”
2. Pressure is a privilege
Being able to deal with a tough situation is why you have the high salary and important job title. Feeling the pressure? That’s okay, even the world’s top sport stars can get nervous and have self-doubt too.
It is how you deal with the pressure that matters, and one consoling thought is that through the sacrifices and suffering, these are the day’s you’ll be most proud of when you look back.
Snape said: “The teams that talk about pressure have the best chance of succeeding in it. Creating the psychological safety for people to express their ideas or concerns and make a full contribution is not only liberating for them personally but invaluable for the resilience of the team.”
3. Don’t micromanage – enable:
Leaders need to be looking up and out of their organisations to keep them on track, not lost in the detail of executing a long to-do list.
Snape said: “Due to the pace of change and disruption, the cost of micro-management has never been higher. Even though you’re desperate for good results, reject the temptation to get into the detail everywhere and instead empower your talented team to solve the challenge together.”
4. Be fluid not fixed:
Rapidly changing situations calls for leaders who can bring together diverse project teams to fix problems and exploit opportunities, fast.
Snape said: “You can’t predict and prevent all the problems you are going to encounter, instead prepare your teams so they can assess and respond quickly rather than being emotionally derailed or bogged down in corporate bureaucracy.”
Snape added: “We all want Westminster and the EU to deliver the perfect solution but leaders will be better served by focusing on the things in their control. Their planning, communication, energy and clarity could make all the difference.
“Setting yourself and your teams up for the challenge is critical because your mindset will be the key to your success. So, whether you harness your core strengths and past success stories or look for inspiration from outside your business, you have to do something. Our human instinct to stay in our comfort zone during March and April will dominate but the leaders with the Winning Mindset will turn this period of uncertainty into a competitive advantage.
“Very few will have the perfect strategy post Brexit but those who maximise their mindset and culture will have the best chance of winning whatever the position.”