There’s no doubt about it. Business is struggling. In this Covid-19 world we have regular updates about companies going into administration, industries wondering when they’ll be able to get back to normal – whatever that might be – and some wondering whether they’re still going to be around then.
I have been particularly interested in how the leadership within organisations are dealing with this all. What messages are they sending out to their employees and customers?
What price leadership?
James Corden, it was recently reported, is paying all of his staff in the USA despite there being no work at all for example. Willie Walsh announced major redundancies via the media first with the unions hearing second. A good start to those discussions? I think not. Jacinda Arden seems to be topping the leadership table with clear messaging, honesty, decisive actions and humour – think Easter bunnies as essential workers.
It’s difficult to pick out the industry that’s most been affected, with travel and entertainment perhaps the ones most immediately affected and likely to be one of the last to come out of it. How refreshing then to read in The Guardian about John and Irene Hays who rescued Thomas Cook.
When they took over Thomas Cook people believed they were making a mistake, but they had a strong business model, and an even stronger ethos which was beginning to win over the sceptics. Then came Covid-19. It was that ethos, the leadership they showed and their careful thinking that is sustaining them through the current crisis.
Three leadership lessons
What than are the lessons we can learn from the way they handled, and continue to handle the business challenges that face them?
1) Treat your employees well.
As it said in the article, their mantra is to ‘share the pain’. Determined to avoid redundancies wherever possible they are showing emotional intelligence and empathy with their workforce.
2) Treasure your customers.
Two thirds of their customers have opted to rebook, indicating a strong belief in the business and showing loyalty to the brand. They act as middleman too between holidaymakers and third-party operators. Where the third-party has been less than helpful, the Hayes decided to refund the money themselves, then fight with the third-party to get it back.
3) Be realistically optimistic
It’s great to be optimistic, particularly in times of pessimism, but optimism based on good knowledge and understanding of the industry and the environment in which it operates. It also requires an ability to scan the horizon and be pragmatic about what works and what doesn’t so that the optimism is grounded in reality. To be able think intelligently and with diversity also feeds the optimism as you challenge the assumptions made.
There’s plenty of examples of bad leadership evidenced in the business world today. We can learn from them in how not to do something but surely it’s more valuable to look at what is working – the good leadership that is out there – so that we can take inspiration ourselves and make our businesses better for it.
Laura Murphy blogs about things that interest her. They might not interest you but read them anyway. It might even change your mind.