How leaders are persevering and winning one year into the pandemic

How are business leaders managing the challenges of the pandemic one year in? What are their toughest challenges, and how are they surviving and thriving?

How leaders are persevering and winning one year into the pandemic

How are business leaders managing the challenges of the pandemic one year in?  What are their toughest challenges, and how are they surviving and thriving?

The last year has changed our everyday working lives and impacted our businesses.  We all know this has meant greater emphasis on caring and communicating with our teams.  Less talked about is the impact of all the changes on where leaders and their challenges are. 

Managing remote teams is undoubtedly part of the new life.  Some companies have always offered it, such as the tech ski-company Maison Sport.  But Nick Robinson, CEO, and co-founder says that remote working five days a week is a very different challenge.  This has resulted in me spending a lot more time focusing on the team than we might otherwise. As part of this, we have made sure the leadership team is spending more time re-emphasizing the company mission and our objectives to keep everyone on the right track.”  But in addition to spending more time on the team, Nick says the running of the business has become considerably more demanding too.  The financial side takes much more of his time, both on day-to-day finances, cash flow, and obtaining any government support available.  Nick says that their relationship with their investors has also changed, with the investors becoming “extensions of the team, and their experience really helping guide us through the various ups and downs.”  They look forward to this continuing even after the pandemic.

Planning is one of the biggest headaches for leaders.  Nick says he spends more time planning than ever before because the outlook is changing all the time.   We have ripped up plan after plan over the past year, as rules, regulations, and lockdowns change the course of the business. It’s incredibly frustrating, and the on-going crisis management can be very challenging.  Rob Edmonds, Founder of the visual communications agency, NRG Digital, says that for them too, in 2020, standard business planning went out the window.  “It was a lot more about reacting and coping on the fly than following a strategic plan.  He describes it as a year to survive and try to keep everything going,” and says it has taken them till now to get back to full business planning for the next five years.   

Catherine Ellis, the founder of the luxury cycle bags Hill and Ellis, also finds that business planning has been one of the biggest challenges.  She says the pandemic instantly ripped up our 2020 business plan.  She also agrees that managing cash flow has been very challenging as it is impossible to predict sales with lockdowns throwing off the normal rhythm of the year.”  She tells of how three weeks before Christmas, their warehouse partners had to shut down entirely at the busiest point of the year due to COVID cases.  Catherine says it has taught them to “stay prepared for the unexpected and continue to react quickly.”  On this occasion, they used stock they stored at their offices, set up to pack and ship from there.  Nick Robinson notes Maison Ski has to spend much more time following government and international news much more closely than ever before, trying to anticipate and react to continuing changes in terms of regulations and exchange rates.  When there is a problem, solving things takes longer.  Rob Edmonds notes, “There are no more fixing issues quickly, creative discussions take longer, you can’t just nip to a breakout room and have a face to face. This all sounds very obvious, but it does add extra stress to what is already a very stressful situation.”

The loss of ability to plan, the continual pressure change, of reacting and changing course, while at the same time giving more time to the team, presenting clear mission and a positive front, is an unprecedented challenge.  Add in that leaders, too, suffer from the isolation factor.  Nick Robinson says that one of the things he misses is the lost social connection with the team.”  As a former British ski-champion, Nick is also particularly conscious of the need to look after himself, ensuring he manages his time effectively to have enough time to maintain physical exercise.  Doing so enables him to be in a positive frame of mind each day and inspire his team with his positivity.  

It is hugely challenging for everyone out there right now, but it is exceptionally so for leaders.  They have to excel at leadership at a whole new level.

Jan Cavelle
Jan Cavelle

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