How senior leaders can take a longer-term view in challenging times

Martin Leuw 20 Sep 2022

A hand drawing a yellow arrow using a crayon

Our Chairman, Martin Leuw spoke to The Times recently and shared some of his insights and advice for senior leaders. Whether you’re on the Board, the Executive Leadership team or are aspiring to make that next move up – the way you lead and manage people is critical to your success. Here are some of Martin’s thoughts.

Deciding not to do something is as important as acting. You may make the call to respond to what turns out to be only short-term pressure. In doing so, boards may live to regret deviating from their long-term strategy.

Our tolerance to risk is being tested, we’re dealing with the post-pandemic working from home culture and on top of that companies are looking for ways to improve productivity.

Against such a backdrop, I find chairing meetings of any kind quite challenging. It takes real effort to get the optimum balance of keeping everyone to the agenda, focusing on the priority decisions, managing the timing (without cutting too many people off) and most of all facilitating a meaningful discussion where the right questions get asked and hopefully answered.

This means that everyone needs to have their say, in a non-hierarchical way, without the quieter ones being drowned out by their more vocal colleagues. The very best meetings have the active ingredient of healthy tension, where our differences are based upon our interpretation of the facts and do not become interpersonal differences driven by egos, emotions and “how we used to do it”.

Real conflicts between individuals do need ironing out. It sounds obvious, but I have seen too many examples of where division in the senior team has simply been accepted and resulted in poor decision-making and low morale.

For many years I ran private equity-backed businesses. Board meetings were monthly, increasingly data-intensive and challenging, although on occasions they could be like a painful session with the Spanish Inquisition.

I have seen too many examples of where division in the senior team has simply been accepted and resulted in poor decision-making and low morale.

Although I have said that interpersonal differences are best kept to the side lines in the decision-making process, diversity of approach and thought are clearly essential. It means that we all need to understand how each of us ticks. A few years ago I ran a board strategy session at Leathwaite, using Edward de Bono’s 6 Thinking Hats.

I find it a useful tool. For example a black hat person usually lists the drawbacks/risks of a decision, a yellow hat sees the benefits and a red hat relies on instincts. Having identified the usual style of a team member, we got them to try one or more different hats/perspectives. Getting the most risk-averse person in the room to see opportunity through the eyes of someone who only sees opportunity, and vice versa, flips us outside our habitual ways of thinking. We can all get a bit stuck in our ways.

When I joined Ground Control I was asked me to complete an Insights Discovery Psychometric profile. I will admit that I had always been cynical about the value of psychometrics and was a bit wary. But in this case, a comparatively short questionnaire delivered a report that was extraordinarily accurate. I am now a complete convert.

We use it as part of our interview process but it also helps us to understand the balance in our leadership team of red people (competitive/determined), green (caring/encouraging), yellow (enthusiastic/inspiring) and blue (cautious/precise). We all have a different mix of these elements in our personalities so it is about understanding the key drivers of personality and thought processes of ourselves and our colleagues. Most of all it is about recognising and valuing the different perspectives that each of us bring and that are vital to effective collaboration.

Another change we have made to respond to these uncertain times has been to move from monthly/bi-monthly board meetings to quarterly meetings, plus an annual budget review and a strategy offsite. Fewer meetings sounds counter-intuitive, given how quickly things are moving. We still receive monthly performance decks but by focusing our board discussion on the quarter, rather than the monthly variations, we are getting a better insight into underlying performance trends, sales pipeline and delivery and quality indicators.

It helps to avoid short-term reactive responses, particularly to underperformance, allowing us to take a slightly longer-term view in a particularly challenging climate.

Martin Leuw is also Chairman of Ground Control, a UK-based grounds maintenance company powered by the latest technology. This article The diplomatic challenges of chairing board meetings was originally featured, in full, by The Times on Thursday 1 September 2022.

Image of Leathwaite employee Martin Leuw

Martin Leuw

Martin joined Leathwaite as Non-Executive Chairman in July 2015 and as of 2023 now provides advisory and coaching to the partners on strategic direction and operational performance. Martin is a digital and social entrepreneur specialising in technology, media, healthcare and…

See full profile