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Emma O'Connor


"Business leaders have undoubtedly had the most challenging experience of their careers leading their organisations through the COVID-19 crisis.” Having courageous leaders has never been so important.  But as we move forward into the winter months and more uncertainty, how can our leaders keep up the management momentum? Emma O’Connor, Head of Training explores the issues facing leaders now and beyond.

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It’s a marathon not a sprint

The personal challenge and toll of the lockdown and current uncertainty have been immeasurable for many, including our leaders.  It’s your business, your team, your workforce, your reputation, your livelihood – you are the one others will look to for the answers, which you may not have.  Many leaders have found the lack of certainty and clarity frustrating; whilst leaders themselves may be facing the same uncertainty both at work and at home.  

A recent article for LinkedIn by Jon Addison Vice President, EMEA Enterprise Sales, Talent Solutions at LinkedIn, suggested that the lockdown period had been a very lonely time for leaders.  Whilst the last few months - and the months to come - are a marathon and not a sprint, for many the marathon has become far more than just a test of endurance. Maintaining management momentum is key.

To understand the experience of lockdown on leaders, LinkedIn surveyed 700 C-level executives across the UK, Germany, Netherlands and Ireland, from companies with 1,000 employees and annual turnover of £250 million. The LinkedIn report highlighted that 72% of leaders who responded have struggled during this time with not having all the answers, with over half (52%) at times doubting their ability to lead. A third of leaders said they have had to rely on “gut instinct to make decisions”, and three-quarters have put on a positive face even though they do not feel optimistic about business performance. 

The migration to remote working has also increased the pressure on leaders to deliver a coherent message, ensure productivity, quality and drive is maintained (and increased) as well as ensure colleagues are supported. More than half (58%) of those surveyed by LinkedIn said that they found leading virtually challenging. Many leaders have also been managing hybrid teams with some continuing to work in the workplace, some on furlough and some working from home.  This has brought issues of consistency of messaging as well as testing one's leadership skills to the limit.

There are also many legal challenges – ensuring fairness of approach and legal compliance in issues such as accessing the JRS, selecting for redundancy as well as managing the redundancy process – which have been thrown on the to do list.  

“We’re all in this together”

Many leaders have shown solidarity with their furloughed workers by taking a pay cut or reducing their hours.  A poll released in August 2020 in the Financial Times undertaken by the Chartered Management Institute found that just under one-fifth of senior UK managers took pay cuts during the coronavirus pandemic, whilst almost half of the 2,000 members who responded said that their businesses had been forced to put operations “on hold”.  Whilst many businesses were beginning to restart their businesses as restrictions were relaxed, many of those surveyed stated that they were “far from restoring normal operations”.  Certainly, local lockdowns, changing government messaging around home working, wider economic uncertainty and Brexit looming are recipes for a perfect storm. 


Encouraging good leadership behaviours and stressing the importance of "purpose" have never been more important.  Purpose - and explaining the why - is sometimes overlooked but it is incredibly important.  If your people understand their purpose, their businesses purpose and that what they are doing is valued and will make a difference they are more likely to feel engaged and motivated – and get their job done.     

Challenges bring opportunities 

Back in April, I recorded a podcast exploring "Leading in times of uncertainty” - The messaging around having courageous leaders, those who are prepared to be honest, have those difficult conversations are still relevant in October as they were in April.  As the winter months begin to draw in and the sunny days of the summer months of lockdown are forgotten motivating undoubtedly becomes more challenging. 

During this time of rapid change, now is the time to reflect on your leadership style and develop new skills, to grow in confidence, knowledge and develop practical expertise. Think how you want your team to remember you as a leader during this time? Did you rise to the challenge?

Leading and Managing Remote Teams

On 20 October 2020, we are running a live, interactive, virtual opportunity to find out how you can become a more effective virtual leader.  We will explore the challenges of the recent months and how the migration to remote working has presented leadership issues.  We will explore:

•    The important of building high trust relationships within your teams
•    How to give feedback remotely
•    Importance of purpose
•    How to demonstrate other skills such as empathy – being “human”
•    How to be that effective but compassionate leader

Join us.  It’s an opportunity to discuss ideas and issues with like-minded leaders.  There is no textbook for these unprecedented times. To find out more, to book your place or to find out how remote leadership training can be rolled out for your leadership community, click HERE

So, how do you want to be remembered as a leader?

For more information about leadership, coaching and employment/compliance training for your leaders, Board, HR and wider employee populations get in touch with the team. Or contact me directly. Training can be delivered virtually live or pre-recorded.

To book on to our Managing Redundancies – Practical Solutions in Challenging Times course then click HERE

The LinkedIn article can be found HERE

The FT article can be found HERE

Consistent with our policy when giving comment and advice on a non-specific basis, we cannot assume legal responsibility for the accuracy of any particular statement. In the case of specific problems we recommend that professional advice be sought.


Get in touch

If you have any questions relating to this article or have any employment issues you would like to discuss, please contact the Employment team on [email protected]

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