Why the post-Brexit world needs leaders more than ever

Pro and anti-EU protesters outside the Supreme Court, which heard the legal challenge to Brexit last week.
Matthew Chattle/REX/Shutterstock

With many organisations worried about the changes Brexit might bring, it’s easy to forget the importance of building leadership skills. John Yates, group director at ILM, considers why it’s still of vital importance.

Brexit and Article 50 remain at the top of the agenda for many businesses as we look to 2017.

While uncertainty can make some act like a rabbit in the headlights, now is the time to act and ensure that your organisation is fully equipped and ready for the future.

Never has leadership been more important than now: 2016 has thrust the issue firmly into the spotlight with a new UK Prime Minister, political party leaderships in turmoil and, lest we forget, a newly-elected President across the Atlantic who has no political leadership experience.

The next 12 months and beyond will require strong leaders to mitigate the uncertain and potentially challenging times ahead – and according to new research from ILM, that’s something sorely lacking in businesses today.

The reality at the moment is that there is a leadership lag; employees lack confidence in their leaders, there isn’t enough leadership talent in the pipeline and rigid workplaces are inhibiting workforces.

It’s time for everyone to pull together to ensure businesses have trustworthy and confident leaders at all levels in the forthcoming months.


What is the scale of this challenge? According to our leadership manifesto, which is based on data from 500 employers and 2,000 employees across the UK, more than half (53%) of employees will consider moving jobs unless their organisation changes, suggesting a considerable frustration with current leadership and business structures.

Worryingly, it also found that 28% of UK workers feel they don’t have a trustworthy and inspirational leader and nearly one in four (24%) say that leaders in their organisations make them feel stressed.

When it comes to the future, just 31% of HR professionals feel very confident about their organisation’s supply of leadership talent over the next three to five years.

What can HR do?

HR professionals play a pivotal role in helping businesses get ahead. We have outlined five key points from our manifesto, which will help tackle the leadership lag and set the foundations for businesses, and their people, to thrive now and into the future.

1. Recognise that leadership skills create competitive advantage

Skilled leaders are the driving force behind successful businesses. They can give teams the vision, motivation and cultural environment in which to perform. This, in turn will benefit the bottom line and drive organisational and national competitiveness.

2. Look longer term at leadership

It is far too common for organisations to take a quick-fix approach to leadership development – providing training only to management once there’s an obvious problem, by which time it’s too late.

This approach does little to help an organisation’s ability to deal with the unforeseen and what’s to come.

Alongside providing training early, it’s important to identify future leaders and give them the tools and confidence they need much sooner in their careers.

Next year’s apprenticeship levy will arguably offer organisations a route to identify and develop future leaders proactively and equip them to deal with, and capitalise on, change.

3. Adapt post-Brexit

Whether you’re in agreement with the outcome of this year’s referendum or not, the business environment faces significant uncertainty and change.

Now more than ever, it’s important to invest in strong leadership at all levels, and in the current climate these skills include strong communication, teamwork and problem solving capabilities.

This will ensure that you have embedded the resilience, innovation and motivation needed for people to tackle the risks and opportunities a rapidly changing business environment presents.

4. Develop from the bottom up

Long gone are the days when leadership was just about those at the top of a business.

Rather than being a necessary step in career progression, it is actually a set of skills that should be learnt from an employee’s first day at work, and before if possible, and honed until their last.

People at all levels increasingly require core leadership capabilities. They need to be able to communicate, to innovate, to plan, and to work effectively with other people – in order to take responsibility and pull together, rather than relying on a few at the top to implement change.

Developing leaders at all levels means your workforce is empowered to contribute to its success. And it future-proofs your business by creating a pipeline of skilled and loyal leaders.

5. Create flexible workplaces

Along with fantastic leaders, it’s vital to make sure that the workplace is somewhere everyone can thrive and work together.

Rigid structures, siloed working and overly complex hierarchies are deeply unpopular among today’s workers.

In fact, ILM’s research shows that more than half of employees feel that the structure (55%) and culture (53%) of their business is holding them back from doing their job more effectively, and many want more freedom and flexibility.

Flattening organisational structures and creating environments people really want to work and collaborate in is crucial to boost engagement and improve productivity across the board.

John Yates

About John Yates

John Yates is group director at ILM
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