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Five ways to create Brexit-proof leaders

The implications of departing the EU are proving to be wider-reaching than many anticipated, and organisations are re-planning strategies, restructuring businesses, and re-considering recruitment, all without the clarity of new legislation.

In an already fast-paced world, Brexit is placing additional pressures on stressed businesses and executives. Many organisations have never had to cope with change of this scale or complexity, and are struggling to lead teams through the period of prolonged uncertainty.

But those that can harness the opportunities of Brexit will really thrive. So how can organisations create the resilience to manage this period of change, and the innovation and flexibility to seize the opportunities it presents?

In our experience, this cultural shift needs to start from the top. To help with this, we have five tips to help your executives become Brexit-proof:

Inspire your cultural architects

Leaders are the creators and curators of culture. How they act and where they spend their time sends a clear message to teams about what’s important. Working with leaders to create a distinct short-term vision, and then ensuring time and energy is focused on that vision, will reassure teams that a clear strategy exists.

Even among leaders, there are those who are more skilled at communicating a vision the team can rally around. Put these leaders front and centre to demonstrate what’s needed and encourage others to learn from them.

Promote the pioneering and bold

One way to capitalise on the opportunities presented by periods of change is to give greater scope to your more innovative and experimental leaders. Seek out those who challenge the status quo and give them the space to achieve an objective in a different way.

With support from others, they may be able to radically simplify the route to an objective, going around complex processes or eliminating traditional blockers altogether. Leaders who can establish this creative space to let their people pioneer new ways of thinking will also attract fresh talent and create a culture of constant learning. Our research gives more advice on creating a culture of innovation: changing the way people lead, work and are rewarded brings success.

Innovation Matters: What are the 'innovation leaders' doing right?

Download the report

Cultivate innovation opportunities

Identifying the opportunities in change isn’t just the role of leaders. But traditional hierarchical structures can stifle new ideas from lower levels as people worry about being knocked back or ignored.

To get the best from teams, they need to be trusted. Having got the best people you can on board, ask them how to achieve objectives. Give them a goal and get out of the way, only stepping in when they need support. Leaders who do this well will access bigger opportunity, greater creativity and respond to change more quickly and effectively. And recruiting people with a range of backgrounds and skill sets creates a powerful force. A significant majority of the most successful innovators in our survey said they were making good progress on diversity.

Promote end-to-end thinking

In specialist functional teams, it can be easy to focus on your own immediate issues. But Brexit presents a more wide-reaching and systemic challenge than many organisations have seen in the past.

Leaders who can see the bigger picture and think outside their specialist area will identify more opportunities. Being whole-system oriented will present better prospects for significant transformation than addressing specific Brexit-related issues independently.

Encourage emotional adaptability

Brexit presents a significant organisational challenge. But for many, the change may also bring personal consequences. The risk of having to leave roles or re-locate families will undoubtedly rest heavily on peoples’ minds and reduce personal security.

Creating a culture of psychological safety, where people feel they can ask questions and raise concerns, will foster trust, security and the ability to continue to deliver successfully.

The UK’s exit from the European Union presents numerous challenges – but also opportunities for organisations and individuals. Mobilising a team of Brexit-proof leaders with the emotional intelligence to support teams through the change will ensure you’re well positioned to harness those opportunities.

Contact the authors

Contact the People and change team

Rachael Brassey

Rachael Brassey

Ashley Harshak

Ashley Harshak

Radhika Philip

Radhika Philip

Bitten Højmark Døjholt

Bitten Højmark Døjholt

Nigel Lowe

Nigel Lowe