The diversity dilemma of COVID-19: what good leadership looks like

Not everyone in a position of power knows what good business leadership means in a time of crisis. Resonance has some tips.

Daniel Brewer, CEO of Resonance, has been on a journey since the pandemic took a dramatic turn in the UK in March. Here he shares how good business leadership is making a difference.

The rapidly developing Coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic is dominating all our daily lives. Leading a business in a global emergency can feel very different, but at its root, it is the same. Fundamentally leadership is doing something that others want to follow. However, we also must focus on where we can have the optimum impact – controlling the controllable! Right now, protecting the health of my colleagues and those in our eco-system is my number one priority at Resonance.

Resonance is a social impact investment company employing over forty staff and with offices across the UK. We create and manage impact investment funds, which deliver a financial return and a targeted social impact, tackling specific social issues such as poverty, homelessness and inequality. We also work directly with social enterprises and charities helping them raise capital from like-minded investors.

Leadership can be a lonely space, but fortunately in our industry and in Resonance itself we have a collegiate approach.  Not only am I surrounded by a hugely committed leadership team with supportive challenge from a diverse board of non-executive directors, but in our industry, I am participating in weekly calls with my peers.  Support networks need to demonstrate mutuality and are essential for good leadership; if you need help, go and help someone else!

For me leadership right now is emphasising three key things:

Be clear, keep listening

My preferred leadership style is to point people at problems that need fixing, explain why and then leave them to it.  I get frustrated when I have to spell things out too much and I’ve never enjoyed being micro-managed by others.  However, this is a challenging and uncertain time for everyone so being extra clear is crucial. Clarity increases with explanation, with granularity and with examples.  However, there is always a scenario or circumstance that you hadn’t thought of which is why listening is key.  What you do next is still up to you: Do you adapt the instruction for all, make an exception or reject and reaffirm the current message, but never stop listening.

We are a close-knit team at Resonance, but this ever-changing experience has taught me that everyone has their own challenges brought about by COVID-19, be that sharing home schooling with their partner, or caring for elderly relatives who have had to self-isolate. This means that supporting doesn’t just stop by giving people the tools to do their jobs, it’s an ongoing and evolving process, it’s appreciating that what works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for another. We don’t always need rules for everything sometimes we just need to remember we are different.

Open lines of Communication

One of the promises I and my team made to the organisations and investors we work with is that we will keep lines of communication open by keeping in regular contact and being there for each other and others as they need us. The last thing we want is for people to spend precious energy on the wrong things just because they didn’t know something we did.  But our objective is more than this. Open lines are great but open networks are better.  Our second promise was to facilitate ways to help each other. We have seen some truly inspirational examples of this: One dementia cafe having had to shut its doors pivoted to become part of the supply chain for a meal delivery social enterprise that couldn’t keep up with demand.

Keep communications open, clear, relevant and straightforward. This means regular briefings with my leadership team, regular updates with the wider team as well as our community of social enterprises and investors. We have quickly developed a resource centre for our business community where we can distil and share information and advice, this resource centre is shared on our social media channels, creating a real sense of community and ‘in this togetherness’.

But I think it’s also important to remember that as well as checking in on the progress of work projects, making time to catch up with the whole team on a personal level during this time is invaluable; basically, making sure they are ok. We have started programming in time for people to share stories that have inspired them or something that they are grateful for.  Celebrating even small milestones or modest successes I think are important.  Keep encouraging one another.

Embrace the change

Often the best ideas come out of adversity. This pandemic has meant that we have had to quickly develop creative solutions on how we work together internally as well as externally with our social enterprises and investors, so giving the team the confidence and the forums to be creative and open-minded to generate and adopt new ideas and ways of working has also been fundamental during the past few weeks.

As with many businesses we have had to quickly move from being capable to being competent in using video technology and other online systems. A number of my team have been known to roll their eyes at the introduction of new technologies over the past few years, but the objective for me has always been developing digital skills as well as just finding efficient operational solutions. Some things will go back to how they were, but other things will have found a new normal.  New business models, partnerships, standards, behaviours will have been forged that will last beyond this current emergency; perhaps some technologies and practices were going to happen anyway, all that’s happened is we’ve removed the excuse of inertia – we’ve always done it this way, it’s just how it is.  

I wish I had all the answers to what makes great leadership in a pandemic, but I am, like so many other leaders around the globe am continually learning on the job. Keep listening, keep collaborating, keep innovating.   Accept that every day is different and presents not only new challenges, but new opportunities.  The world we emerge into I believe can be a stronger better society, we might have to let go of some old ways, but at Resonance we’ve been trying to get the investment world to do that for nearly two decades.  It takes leadership.
Good business leadership

By Daniel Brewer, CEO, Resonance.

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