Photo of a post-it note saying 'Lessons Learned'

Leadership Lessons from 2020

Roffey Park 14th December 2020

Who could have predicted that this year we would be plunged into a global health and economic crisis? The challenges for both humankind and businesses have been enormous and for those in leadership roles, there have been some big decisions to be made about what to do and how to do it.

In many cases, including ours, reinventing the business at pace; creating a new future and a new normal, and trying to provide clarity where is either little or none, has been one of the key challenges.   For some organisations, this has not been possible to do and the future remains uncertain. In others, like ours, we have seen the most amazing feats of creativity and ingenuity and an absolute determination to come through this year in the best shape we possibly can.

What leadership lessons have we learned from the last twelve months?  We asked this question to Roffey Park’s leadership team and here is what they said.

Leadership Lesson #1 – it is ok to not be certain

Photo of blocks saying 'uncertain'

For me, the pandemic has brought a lot of uncertainty and anxiety.  At the beginning of the crisis, I was unsure of the direction we should take and worried about where we might end up.  However, what I learnt was that it is okay not to be certain – nothing ever is.  The most important thing is to move forward in line with your personal and organisational values.  I think this organisational attitude has led to big changes at Roffey Park in systems, design and culture and achieved at a pace that I would not have believed before.  Embrace the fear and move forward (with apologies to Susan Jeffers). Ken Ingram, Regional Lead (UK)

Leadership Lesson #2 – there’s no one size fits all when it comes to leadership

Photo of three people standing on a mountain holding their hands up

What I have come to realise is that different people need a different approach from myself, and I need a certain type of leadership too. My wife’s role was made redundant recently and she was offered a new role. I thought what she wanted from me was some guidance, but what she really wanted was just to talk about it and talk about it a multiple number of times as she got to grips with the situation. Some I work with need their hand held as we tackle the new issues that have arisen, whilst others are happy to have a go and then check back in. It is horses for courses. Simon de Winter, Head of Finance

Leadership Lesson #3 – be courageous

Photo of a signpost, with one arrow pointing to fear and the other to courage

Leaders need many qualities at the best of times but in a global pandemic, which no one has ever experienced, the one quality that has stood out for me, is courage. Courage to make decisions, to lead the way and to be heard clearly. Courage to inspire and to be confident when none of us had the right to be confident. Courage to empower, to delegate, to listen, to include and to direct. Courage to set the course and courage to change course when plan A did not work for you. Courage to be wrong and courage to continue to do what you believed was right when others doubted you. Courage to make sure you do what you said you were going to do. Coronavirus brought out the best and sometimes the worst in leaders but without the courage of your convictions you cannot lead, you can only watch events unfold. Courage gives you the strength to shape events even if you cannot always determine the outcome. Nigel Dean, Head of Roffey Park Services

Leadership Lesson #4 – you control how you respond

Photo of a puppet masters fingers

We can read about what it means to be a leader and there has been much research and much written on the subject and, whilst we may know what makes a good leader, this year has reminded me to

  • Talk less and listen more….. really listen.
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate even if it’s only to say ‘I don’t know’
  • Be patient
  • Be available
  • Be approachable.
  • Be compassionate
  • Be authentic
  • Be courageous
  • Be responsive
  • Be kind and understanding
  • Look after my own health and do all I can to help others do the same

I don’t know who said that “If you can’t control what’s happening around you, control how you respond to it” but it’s a quote that certainly resonates with me. Kerry Coxon, Head of HR

Leadership Lesson #5 – embrace challenge

Someone preparing to go on a run

Like many I embarked on 2020 with a clear sense of direction, purpose, and confidence.  Very quickly the events which were to unfold across the globe took many of the things I held as being key to success and flipped them on their head. Best laid plans quickly changed and continue to change.  There was uncertainty where there hadn’t been before, decisions needing to be made at greater speed with a background of changing views and opinions.  The connectivity of our people had never been in such sharp focus, nor the realisation of the greater personal challenges. Importantly I had to accept that I didn’t always have the answers figured out, road tested or even with a guarantee of success.  By choice we wouldn’t seek such an environment but acknowledging it, embracing the challenge and reminding myself that its ok has been my leadership lesson for the year. Mark Van Klaveren, Client and Student Services Manager

Leadership Lesson #6 – from crisis comes innovation

Photo of someone holding a digital lightbulb

Like most organisations we shifted our organisation overnight from being desk-based to virtual, creating an immediate spotlight on IT. Having the right technology infrastructure and equipment became crucial to business success.   This year we have lived our working lives online through Teams and Zoom.  It’s not surprising that “you’re on mute” has become the most used phrase of the year.  My leadership lesson was about embracing the opportunity to bring much needed technology transformation and innovation in our organisation.  We’ve had to overcome challenges, adapt continuously to change and become adept at multitasking!  It’s been a very quick crash course on leading, implementing and managing new technology to create the innovation needed to succeed. Patrick Lenton, IT Services Manager

Leadership Lesson #7 – remember the power of people

Photo of people holding hands

Leadership can be challenging at the best of times but 2020 has created challenges for leaders across the world.  Like many Roffey Park Institute had to change because of the pandemic.  We’ve shifted to virtual working, created a digital learning platform and adapted all of our learning programmes so they remain relevant.  It’s been an enormous effort and one that couldn’t have been achieved without our people.  Leaders can create the systems and structures for organisations but they without their people they will fail.  Our teams at Roffey Park have adapted, embraced and responded with strength, passion and unrivalled commitment.  We’ve collaborated like never before and ironically, working remotely has made our teams more connected.  We’ve talked, we’ve laughed, we’ve cried and we’ve succeeded.  That’s people power for you, and that’s my leadership lesson for this year. Janice McBrown, Head of Marketing and Business Development

So here are a few of our leadership lessons for 2020.  What would be your leadership lesson?