ARTICLE WRITTEN BY FORMER ENGLND CRICKETER, JEREMY SNAPE
It is a difficult time to be a business leader in the motor trade, and as Brexit uncertainty amplifies, businesses that rely on the EU for supplies and trade, are being tested like never before.
Already we are witnessing suppliers stockpiling parts to avoid the mayhem that chronic uncertainty has caused this vital sector.
Imagine you are the boss of an independent garage that sources obscure but vital components for a certain make of van. Your biggest customer has a 50-strong fleet of these vans, and they need to be assured that your garage will keep supplying those vital parts without disruption that Brexit could bring – what do you do?
The UK’s future trading relationship with the EU is just one of the many ongoing concerns facing independent garages and distributors. The sale of diesel cars in freefall following the 2016 emissions scandal, while automated cars are the way of the future with petrol being phased out by 2040.
Even after the Brexit dust settles, they will be no end in sight for the huge environmental issues affecting the motor trade. London, for instance, has introduced a new charging zone for older polluting vehicles that enter the city, something that could be rolled out across the UK.
These fundamental challenges call for leaders who are capable of withstanding intense pressure.
Now is not the time to dither, but instead focus on showing courage, clarity, action and most importantly, leadership.
For lessons in leadership you could do no better than look to the military or elite sport, which operate in environments of intense pressure, constant uncertainty and, in the case of the military, life or death decisions. You might argue that in professional sport, international football and rugby teams operate in environments where some people think the outcome is even more important.
The pressure powerful enough to unnerve even the most experienced players as I have learned from personal experience. Mental preparation is key to success.
Back in 2002, when I was privileged enough to be included in the England Cricket squad tour of India, my game collapsed in front of 120,000 people while I was up against batting legend Sachin Tendulkar.
The crowd roared as the pressure built up inside me that day, I couldn’t hear a thing and I ran Freddie Flintoff out. Right there and then I felt I wasn’t good enough to be there. It was only later when I started exploring psychology that I understood it wasn’t India that beat me that day, but my own mindset.
This started my research quest to find out what neuroscientists, military leaders, and Olympians could teach us all about performing under pressure.
In the last decade I’ve interviewed some of the world’s most impressive and prolific leaders, from Sir Alex Ferguson to military generals and even the Performance Director at the Cirque du Soleil to understand what tactics and strategies they use to mentally prepare for uncertainty.
In doing so I have distilled the secrets of their success into a digital library which helps my clients to maintain a winning mindset when they need it most.
Here are some essential tactics to help you cope with chronic uncertainty.
Stop blaming others; own the situation.
With our current Brexit situation there are plenty of people you might feel like blaming– the electorate; former Prime Minister David Cameron; the EU; MPs in Westminster; our Prime Minister. But when Brexit is done there will be another fundamental problem in its place. You can’t continue to blame others for everything that is wrong in the world, you need to get over it.
In the world of sport, we see elite coaches stepping up when things have gone wrong, not making excuses.
Ireland Rugby coach Joe Schmidt didn’t hide after his team was beat by Wales in the final Six Nations match in February. It later turned out some of the squad had been hit by a stomach bug in the run up to match, but that wasn’t an excuse for poor play, said Schmidt, they were simply beaten by a better team and would need to work out a strategy for the World Cup in Japan.
As Schmidt shows, great leaders don’t waste time blaming others: it may win you sympathy, but it won’t help you solve the problems.
Uncertainty creates opportunity so start by owning the situation and making a plan that turns the uncertainty into an advantage. After all, other businesses have the same problems so those that actively tackle the situation will be the ones that succeed.
- Pressure is a privilege.
Having played in and worked with some of the world’s highest profile sporting teams, I’ve seen how they use pressure as privilege and use this mindset to tackle potential issues head on. Worrying about what might or could happen leads to paralysis, so an effective leader must embrace the challenges ahead.
In the military, the best leaders prepare their teams for Plan A, but they also throw scenarios into the training that get the teams thinking on their feet. I’ve supported several senior leadership sessions at Sandhurst military academy and heard how they create challenging and chaotic scenarios to test the soldiers’ ability to think clearly and adapt under pressure.
In a business context, this could mean equipping teams with the skills to make decisions under extreme pressure and rehearsing with scenarios. By pressure testing various challenges, you will be more familiar with the decision-making sequence that follows when chaos ensues. What if vital parts for your biggest customer was stopped at the border?
- Don’t micromanage – enable.
An effective leader needs to have confidence that their team so that they are empowered to make crucial decisions when needed.
This may sound good on paper, but, I hear you ask, what does that mean in practice?
Making sure that vital employees are given the right training is essential for building confidence in them. Equipped with the right skills and level of autonomy, team members will feel empowered to make decisions – and this could be the difference between you and your competitors, who are dally without making business choices.
- Be fluid not fixed.
Rapidly changing situations calls for leaders who can bring together diverse people to fix problems and exploit opportunities, fast.
Leaders must understand that they can’t predict and prevent all problems from arising, they must prepare teams so they can assess and respond quickly.
Understanding your biggest business threats, whether that is Brexit or environmental issues, and how your business will respond if they become reality is important to be able to withstand the pressure that comes from uncertainty.
Confidence comes from preparation, so plan for the unexpected and turn disruption to a commercial advantage.
Very few will have the perfect strategy to deal with the political uncertainty in coming weeks but those who maximise their mindset and culture will have the best chance of winning whatever the position.
Former England Cricketer Jeremy Snape founded Sporting Edge, a consultancy that ‘unlocks the Winning Mindset in business’. Stated in 2005, the firm’s approach to corporate learning helps businesses to stay ahead of the game.