Brexit: A time for leadership

More than a month on from the vote, UK business leaders are needing both to focus on the resulting "here and now" issues while also looking to the future opportunities and challenges, domestically and overseas (both within and outside the European Union). Uncertainty and unpredictability has for some time now become a normal part of business life but Brexit, and its uncertain timing of implementation and uncertain impacts, adds a significant additional layer of complexity. Never has it been so important for business leaders to be outstanding inspirers of confidence, courage, agility, motivation and performance.  

This is a defining moment for leaders: in uncertain times customers, shareholders and employees pick up closely on what business leaders say and how they behave. In a world of fast-paced change and uncertainty, leaders must provide clarity of direction to continue to meet (often changing) market and customer needs and to energise the workforce to focus on the right issues, which in themselves might dynamically and rapidly change. It’s vital that leaders set the tone from the top and, in this case, the tone should be purposeful, calm, and positive. While being optimistic, leaders should also ensure they acknowledge people's anxieties and ensure open and honest engagement with those affected. And now is the time for leaders to be especially mindful of ensuring that there is complete alignment between what they say is important and how they behave, and that this is reinforced in the way that other leaders and the wider workforce feels valued and rewarded.  

It's important to recognise that there are diverse views and impacts among employees (and their families): any organisation will include those who voted to remain and others who voted to leave and, in an organisation that respects and values diversity, the perspective of both must be taken into account. Additionally, many organisations will no doubt need to adjust some aspect of their market and product or service focus, with the inevitable need for personal and organisational agility -- and resulting changes in workforce deployment and competencies needed. Some organisations will experience "performance dip" if a significant proportion of the workforce feels overly anxious and distracted through change.  

Living truly the company values of openness, diversity and tolerance will be invaluable in the coming months and should be reinforced as much as possible, along with clear communication of (and access to) the support that the organisation is offering to its workforce. It’s essential that people throughout the organisation are clear on what’s expected of them and how they should meet the opportunities and challenges they will face. And, to ensure the agility that is likely to be needed, people should (wherever possible) be empowered to deal with these opportunities and challenges as they arise.  

The emotions and uncertainty around Brexit won’t be over for a while; some of the passions roused by the debate are likely to linger and will continue as the exit negotiations begin. Times like these test the resilience of organisations and the people that make them work. But it can be navigated successfully – with strong leadership, skilful engagement and a clear and collective awareness throughout the organisation of the people challenges and opportunities that Brexit brings.  

Finally, let's not forget that leaders are human beings too, with their own anxieties and vulnerabilities. Organisations should ensure their leaders feel supported through their own personal and family challenges, and that the wellness of both them and the wider workforce is encouraged and maintained.  


View Marc Hommel’s profile on LinkedIn