During a time of crisis, many leaders within all walks of life are forced to inspire confidence within their colleagues and become beacons of motivation and reassurance. Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic which has ravaged the global business landscape, this has been seen across not solely industry but also within communities and governments alike. Appearing on the Leaders Council podcast, David Park, a partner at chartered accountancy firm Haines Watts, discussed why leaders are required to inspire confidence every single day that they go to work and the impact that this has on the people around them.
Sitting down with Leaders Council interviewer Matthew O’Neill, Park explained: “Out there at the moment there are so many frightened people that are in need of leadership as we continue to get to grips with this pandemic.
“In our case at Haines Watts, we are fortunate that we have been well prepared to adapt to Covid. We had a business continuity plan that we have now triggered so that we are ready for any emergency and systems are set up to continue our operations regardless of external circumstances. We had staff as early as March working comfortably from home and a business server platform ready for them to carry on doing what they do. Being proactive and having plans in place for any eventuality is one aspect of leadership that inspires confidence.”
When asked about the qualities that a leader ought to have, Park explained that there is a temptation to immediately associate the word with glamourous figures and wartime heroes in the mould of Winston Churchill or Napoleon, but stressed that one of the most important things a leader should do is inspire confidence in the difficult decisions they make.
Park said: “When one thinks of leadership it is easy to associate the word with romantic images of figures like Napoleon or Churchill, or more recently Boris Johnson! However, a leader needs to not only be able to take difficult decisions but be able to take them whilst inspiring confidence within the catchment audience.”
Elaborating on how he sought to do this within his own leadership model, Park added: “I do try to inspire confidence like the proverbial swan. You will not see me ruffled, anxious or unsure publicly even though I may feel these things inside on a regular basis. I will make decisions, be confident in them and stand by them. But one must also think strategically and when they take one decision, they must be able to second guess the next move so that they are already there. I think that ability is what holds leadership decisions together.”
Reflecting on how his earlier career as a junior manager at an accountancy firm helped mould his leadership style, Park said that the negative experiences of working under a more old-fashioned hierarchical way of running a firm helped him develop just as much as some of the more positive experiences he had had working under other leaders.
“In a traditional business hierarchy when it comes to accountancy, whoever got to be that ‘big boss’ was invariably the best accountant, and they were the worst people to be any sort of leader.”
Park joked: “I find from my experience of the industry that a good accountant does not really have many leadership traits!”
Elaborating on this point of view, he continued: “I realised then that what one actually needs in leadership is a good understanding of who you are leading because that will then dictate your leadership profile and how you go about instilling confidence in these people. Equally important is letting people grow and develop in your team so you have to know when to lead from the back.
“If, for example, you are constantly taking a frontal role and making decisions for people, they won’t develop. A good leader, therefore, has to know when to take a step back as well.”
Park revealed that his tendency of taking the approach of leading from the back and letting others make the decisions for themselves is modelled on one of his inspirations throughout history: Napoleon, whom he considers to be one of the greatest leadership figures throughout human history.
Park explained: “Napoleon had a great leadership style. He would entertain his field marshalls in discussion only if they came to him with a problem that they already had a solution for or had already been resolved. He would then ask them ‘what are your favourite three solutions and which one did you use or are you planning on using?’
“I think this style of leadership is a great way of thinking outside the box and that is such a vital trait in leaders. It links back to that need to already have an idea about what your next move will be, once you have just made your last one.”