10th Jun 2020
3 Min Read

Believable leaders. Lessons from those leading the way

Kate Went
Kate Went
People & Change

It’s been referred to as The Shit List: a tally of CEOs, leaders and, by association, brands, we no longer feel comfortable supporting, once the post pandemic return sees us more willing to open our wallets.

Whether through poor communication, dubious behaviour or bad treatment of employees throughout the Covid-19 crisis or the uprising of the Black Lives Matter movement, many businesses have found themselves on the wrong side of the public’s consciousness. And social media spreads that stuff like wildfire.

But what about those getting it right? With greater scrutiny of the people in power than ever before, we’ve also seen examples of incredible leadership, clear communication and relatable human vulnerability.

They’ve been widely praised but other than the warm and fuzzies, what can we all take from these stellar examples? I asked the team what lessons we could learn from who.

1. From Jurgen Klopp: Intelligence means sometimes admitting you don’t know

    Pete Fletcher, senior creative

    When Jurgen Klopp was asked about the coronavirus, his response was direct. Absent of BS, there was humility. In a time of self-appointed ‘experts’, constantly overstepping their boundaries, it was refreshing to hear someone say, with honesty, ‘I don’t know.’

    We wouldn‘t ask a doctor about Liverpool’s tactical attacking options and Klopp knew he shouldn’t presume to tackle the science.

    The same is true for the rest of us. Saying you don’t know the answer isn’t weakness – it’s honesty and colleagues will respect that.

    2. From Nicola Sturgeon: Communicate with crystal clarity

      Daniel Lambie, senior consultant

      Political leanings aside, Nicola Sturgeon’s response to the Westminster government’s Stay Alert message was a fine example of good leadership. She took personal responsibility to bring clarity to what was widely criticised as vague guidance, removing ambiguity and retaining clear guidance on what people could and should do to protect themselves and their communities.

      Be clear about what you want your colleagues to do. You might think it’s straightforward but be aware you might be too close to tell the wood from the trees. People have different abilities, different agendas and different ways of accessing information. Run your message past people before you announce it and if something is vital, don’t leave it up to others to communicate it. Take responsibility for where the buck stops.

      3. From Georgie Cleeve: Be vulnerable

        Elle Bradley-Cox, senior writer and editor

        Georgie Cleeve, founder of British skincare brand Oskia, is a great example. In a raw and unpolished Instagram video, she demonstrates genuine authenticity and vulnerability as she talks about her personal adjustment to the new situation and her commitment to refocusing her lab team’s energies. The love for her talented team shines through.

        The freedom to show emotion and vulnerability is perhaps the biggest leap forward this pandemic has prompted. Now we’re having Zoom calls in our homes, it feels wrong to pretend our leaders aren’t humans too. This might be a tough one for certain personalities….

        4. From James Timpson: Take a colleague-first approach

          Jeremy Petty, managing director

          I have to point to James Timpson as a solid and inspiring example of what great leadership looks like. Timpsons say that the key to their business growth lies in ‘Upside Down Management’ and James’ job is to make sure his colleagues are happy. The results are evident if you watch a recent thank you video produced for him in response to his handling of the COVID-19 situation.

          Many managers have been able to safely work from home, while colleagues have been on the frontline, facing rapidly changing guidance and alarming statistics. The best leaders won’t just reward that commitment financially, they’ll reward it by listening. By getting out of the way and giving colleagues a platform to share their stories in their own words – and make changes where people want them.

          Even where this scenario isn’t relevant, employees may be struggling with WFH or being furloughed. Whether you’re reboarding or changing processes, successful leaders will be the ones who ask questions – and act on the answers.

          5. From Edward Enninful: Become a champion

          Jacey Lamerton, senior writer and editor

          Vogue‘s first black editor-in-chief has been shaking up the fashion behemoth since he took over from Alexandra Shulman in 2017. He‘s taken a clear and vocal stance on inclusivity - and not all about race either, giving a platform to pioneering women of all backgrounds.

          He‘s well aware that fashion is lavish and escapist but his response to the pandemic was to feature three frontline workers on the cover - and celebrate even more of them on the inside pages.

          Enninful‘s determination to make a stance – to put his money where his mouth is – is making both waves and changes. The finest leaders won‘t shy away from controversy in future, especially when it comes to championing colleagues at the front line. True reward and recognition will go well beyond a half-hearted pat on the back in future.

          6. From Steve Murrells: Live your values

          Lisa Hawksworth, senior consultant

          Co-op CEO Steve Murrells is at the helm of a business that has, in the past, sometimes struggled to square its heartfelt and active values with the need to drive profits. But his bold stance during COVID-19 crisis could perhaps mark the turning point for consumers to reconnect with the good works that have always underpinned the Co-op.

          He took a 20% pay cut to kick off the Members‘ Coronavirus Fund – and followed that up by becoming one of the first high-profile bosses to condemn the death of George Floyd.

          Murrells‘ statement backs up Co-op‘s major campaign Safer Colleagues, Safer Communities, which lobbies at the highest levels for retail staff. He‘s proof that a business can have genuine - and sometimes controversial - values at its core, instead of tacking on a corporate social responsibility policy that will never a ruffle a feather or impact the bottom line.

          Looking for more content on great leadership?

          Watch our webinar on The Future of Leadership in a Post-Covid World for thoughts from leaders and experts from Sampson Coaching, Prosus, Naspers and Welsh Gymnastics.

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