leadership

“Stepping out of your business to work on your business is a requirement for every leader today,” says Nathan Farrugia, Managing Director at Vistage Malta. And a business coach can help to achieve that, adds Marion Gamel at www.mariongamel.com, describing coaches as “thinking partners”.

Now more than ever, faced with the unprecedented crisis brought about by COVID-19, the need for such action is made all the more evident: “leaders have always felt isolated, but right now, they need this partnership even more,” she adds.

The difference between a leader and a brilliant leader, according to Jonathan Shaw, Director Coach at Coaching Minds Ltd, emerged in the way they handled COVID-19. “The main issue in this pandemic is not the element of risk or losses but that of uncertainty,” he says, adding that some of the steps which are helping leaders navigate these uncertain times are a commitment to maintain a full and regular channel of communication, remaining resilient in the face of the unknown, and fostering trust. Trust, he elaborates, especially towards remote working, was a big challenge for some leaders.

“It’s clear that COVID-19 has acted as a catalyst for such, and yet, some business leaders and owners would have never allowed this unless it was pushed onto them because of the pandemic.” Other challenges leaders faced, according to Nathan, were keeping a level head, avoiding panicked decisions and staying objective, whilst true leaders maintained a growth mindset and used their creativity as key tools.

All three coaches agree that it is now time for leaders to start asking a series of questions. The first, according to Nathan, should be “what is my purpose?” and he challenges any entrepreneur and business owner to ask what the scope of their business is and how they can achieve it in spite of the current situation.

“Is this what you want to be doing over the next three to five years, or as long as it takes for the economy to recover? Would you rather downsize and have a less stressful life, or pivot your business to move into another industry?”

The way one thinks, according to Jonathan, is also crucial. “How we are  thinking about a situation is more important than what is actually happening around us,” he says, adding, “as of today, what can I learn about the world we live in, the business sector I operate in, my company, my people and also about myself?”

Marion adds that certain core business questions need to be addressed, like how agile the business is, whether it can pivot tomorrow and what opportunities or threats owners are not seeing. Apart from this, she continues, one should ask, “what should we stop doing?”

The next step for leaders is to strategise, and according to Jonathan, one possible short-term strategy to survive is adapting, whilst maintaining a regular and open line of communication from top to bottom. A short-term tactical approach to overcome this uncertainty is to work closely in order to respond with agility and flexibility.

Whilst going digital is the optimal way forward for Marion, she also says that, during these difficult times, leaders should define and de-dramatise changes, communicate clearly about them, find a change process that works for their team and gradually increase the pace of change, until the entire workforce is “change friendly.”

In the long term, according to Nathan, the companies that will survive are the ones that traded carefully and sustainably, that maintained cash reserves and consolidated their core competencies into market-leading products and services.

When it comes to post-pandemic business goals, Jonathan insists that the main focus should be to put people first, and that getting this right will help any business move forward, irrespective of their goals. For Marion, retaining key talent, giving precise objectives and making accountability clear are all goals each business should strive to achieve, whilst also getting everyone refreshed on the ‘why’ their particular business does what it does. She also stresses that one should give more support to their leaders. “They’re doing incredible work and are staying alive thanks to adrenalin, but you need them to also be on top when the storm quiets down,” she offers.

Moving forward, if there was ever a silver lining for businesses in the wake of this pandemic, it’s one of opportunity; opportunity to make the right changes, for leaders to stretch themselves, their team and their business model beyond any boundaries, to grow, learn, and start again on more solid grounds, Marion advises.

“While some big companies simply have to weather the storm and come out at the top just by surviving, most small companies, including tech start-ups, are in a phase of intense transformation and learning,” she explains, adding that “learning has replaced revenue growth for some, for a while. Companies, small and large, are now understanding the value of being able to pivot.”

Jonathan is in agreement, adding that “opportunities arise through the process of learning and challenging the status quo. It’s up to the individual to tap into such opportunities and exploit them.” In terms of growth, Nathan suggests that now, more than ever, business leaders must step away from their business to clear their mind and think strategy. “These pressures help build resilience and help us grow through adversity. In essence, these hard challenges are a stepping-stone to growth, if seen in the right way,” he states.

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