Top tips for strong leadership during uncertain times

Stewart Barnes of Quolux

Stewart Barnes of Quolux - Credit: Archant

With Brexit looming and a year of uncertainty ahead, how important is it to get all your ducks in a row and make your business as solid and as successful as it can be? Stewart Barnes, MD of QuoLux, talks strong leadership, teambuilding and innovation

Change is rippling through our political systems, financial markets and society. So how can businesses focus on the priorities, principles and practical steps that deliver positive change in uncertain times?

As individual business leaders we can’t influence the world stage, but we must respond to the impacts of change, then proactively lead change in the context of our own companies.

Clear vision

Setting out a business strategy based on marketing planning – where to compete in order to gain (and sustain) competitive advantage – is critical.

In order to formulate a strategy that will deliver significant and lasting impacts, leaders first must understand where sales and profits come from, segment their market, build strategies for the segments they choose to compete in, then align their operations to deliver the value that customers seek. Effective leaders do this over a period of time. When markets are changing at pace, it may be necessary to refresh this process more frequently.

Finding your focus is crucial but it’s not an end in itself. What requires concentration is the relentless follow-through and even accomplished business strategists can’t do that alone.

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Creating a strong team and equipping them to lead their departments towards a simply articulated vision is vital.

Keeping your people engaged

Leadership holds the key to developing truly engaged employees. Research shows that firms with engaged workforces are 18% more productive than those with low engagement.

But when the world around us is in flux, a climate of uncertainty can penetrate the workplace. Employees may be concerned about job security, perhaps their targets feel impossible to attain in the current market, or they may feel burdened by unknown impacts on the supply chain.

Keeping your people engaged and focused on the business goals requires strong leadership and effective communication. The ‘change curve’ is useful for understanding people’s emotional response to change; by adjusting messages, leaders can bring their team through the highs and lows.

Reminding people of the business’s strengths and your clear strategy can help staff to focus on their role and what everyone is working towards. Look out for the positive, open-minded and most loyal individuals; encourage them and their positivity will ripple through the majority, drowning out the moaners.

Opportunities for innovation

An engaged workforce isn’t only more productive, research shows that innovation grows too. In fact, 59% of engaged employees said their job brings out creative ideas, against just 3% of those less engaged.

Consider the strategies you could introduce – or strengthen – to establish an innovative culture, where adapting to future changes in markets or regulations becomes part of your DNA.

Recognise, acknowledge and share the initiatives that colleagues put forward, whether that’s a great idea for a hot new lead, how to make a small improvement to a best-selling product, or research on a potential new market to exploit.

In or out?

As a leader, it’s necessary to continuously switch focus between the big picture and the close detail; looking ‘in’ to our businesses and ‘out’ to the markets; through the microscope or from the helicopter. It’s important to get the details right; to understand what’s happening on the factory floor or customer service desk, what’s impacting productivity or the order book.

But spend too long looking through the microscope and when you lift your head your goals could be further out of sight; you risk strategic drift. It takes practice to become comfortable switching to and fro, but this is what we see leaders achieving on our programmes.

Find out more about QuoLux’s leadership programmes at

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