We asked some of the region’s prominent business leaders for their crisis leadership tips to share with others who have responsibility of leading a team in these most challenging of times. Here’s what they had to say…

Natasha McDonough, managing director, MMC Research & Marketing, Sunderland

“I would recommend that leaders remember that individuals in their team all have different challenges that they’re facing and no day is the same – especially from a mental health point of view.

“There will be team members struggling with the juggle of childcare, schooling and working – and offering them a totally flexible working pattern to suit them can alleviate that pressure. There will be those suffering with high anxiety, so look out for red flags and make sure you encourage self-care.

“And from a communications point of view, it’s ok to let your team see the human side of you too. It’s ok to let them know when you’re having tough days. It’s a lot of responsibility for business owners right now and I’ve learnt from my team that I need tell them when I’m also struggling with the enormity of it all.”

Dan Makaveli, managing director, Media Savvy CIC, Sunderland

“To stay relevant and meaningful as a front-line social enterprise, we had to quickly adapt, reimagine and evolve our delivery approach and methods, which we accomplished within the first week.

“Thankfully, this has proven to be a great success, and we’ve even had a hand-written thank you letter from Her Majesty’s Lord-Lieutenant of Tyne and Wear.

“Especially for those businesses who were already at arms-length from the digital world, my main tip would be to embrace the current situation and look for the positives where you can. There WILL be some, even if plugging away seems like a losing battle at first.”

Ian Gray, general manager, George Washington Hotel, Golf Club and Spa, Washington

“Having well thought out plans and executing them efficiently has been crucial in the hospitality industry. We were given one week’s notice before hotels were closed on March 23 and we had to make the most of that time, so early leadership was essential.

“There has to be a focus on the long-term health and preservation of the business but along with that, there’s the need to look after our staff and guests too. In that respect, we have concentrated on good communication and clear direction and have tried to show empathy and support to our staff.

“The lockdown has forced difficult decisions on the hotel, leisure and hospitality industries but the best leaders have been looking to the future from the start – working out the best plans and solutions from the future.

“In the last few years at The George Washington, we’ve had a laser-sharp focus on the goal of enhancing our reputation and for us, when the hotel re-opens, we’ve got to retain that focus on incredible service and work hard to reassure our guests that we are doing everything to make our site as safe for them as their own homes are.”

Simon Robson, managing director, Improtech Soccer football coaching company, Wearside

“The most important first step is: remain positive, no matter how difficult that is. The second step is: Ensure you include your team in as much of the inevitable changing process as you can.

“As the largest provider of football coaching in education in the North-East, we operate across multiple sites, so communication is key. In so many businesses, difficult decisions may need to be made and understanding why and how will help your workforce to accept and adapt. Improtech Soccer has encouraged our staff to focus on the future and how our service and product may adapt for us to stay competitive.

“In a difficult time, we feel that our open and inclusive approach has triggered creativity – something we were keen to make happen. We have been proactive rather than reactive and maintained what we deliver in schools through support and communication with senior leaders, parents and stakeholders.

“Our main business is developing partnerships with schools and colleges so we have included all of our pupils and students through increased football-specific content on our social media platforms. A bit like football itself, it’s about adapting as efficiently as possible to change.”

Phil Harbord, managing director, Harbro Electrical, Peterlee

“I think leadership comes from good planning and good communication and all the businesses that I’ve dealt with, which seem to have the best long-term chances of successfully coming through this pandemic, have had those two objectives at the top of their list.

“Harbro Electrical is a service business to companies, sole traders and individuals and so it is vulnerable to other businesses being shuttered or locked down. We took an early decision though that while we couldn’t influence the footfall at our premises, we could take this time to influence the way we deliver our services.

“We launched a full business spring clean, looking at every aspect of the way we deliver our services, looking everywhere for ways to improve. We’ve also made sure that furloughed staff are constantly kept in the loop in the hope that once the country starts to get back on its feet, which it will, we’ll be able to rapidly gear up again and all come back from this as a more successful and efficient company.”

Harry Collinson, director, Looking Glass and Pandora, Sunderland

“Try to keep a positive mind set and attitude. It can be difficult in uncertain times like this but keep focused and keep remembering why you started in the first place – revisit times when you have had your best months of achievement or when you won an award.

“Be honest and communicate clearly to your team – they will respect you more if you do. Listen to their ideas which might help drive the business move forward. There might be talent in the team you didn’t realise was there.

“In uncertain times like these, rough diamonds often come to the fore, so give them opportunities to share ideas – it might just be the thing that drives the business forward.

“There are always opportunities to learn and develop your business, even in a pandemic.”



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