“Leadership is questioned in difficult times” Business for Breakfast MD says, while PM calls for “fresh official leadership” at DfE

Published by Rhys Taylor-Brown on August 27th 2020, 6:06am

It is often said that one learns more about themselves, their colleagues, and their business in times of adversity than when things are going smoothly. It is a view that is also shared by Melba Fisher, chairman and managing director of exclusive business club and network Business for Breakfast, who believes that leadership is often ignored when things are going well and then called into question in more testing times.

In Fisher’s view, the Covid-19 pandemic has been one such difficult period which has forced leaders to stand up and be counted, a point she elaborated on in a one-to-one interview with Leaders Council interviewer, Scott Challinor.

Elsewhere, prime minister Boris Johnson has distanced his government from blame for this year’s exams controversy, which saw thousands of A-Level students have their final marks downgraded by a controversial standardisation method, before the government saw fit to switch to teachers’ predicted grades

Johnson insisted that the responsibility for the issue lay squarely at the door of exam regulator Ofqual’s “mutant algorithm”, which calculated the grades.

The Telegraph reports that PM has also called for “fresh official leadership” at the Department for Education, following the revelation that its permanent secretary, Jonathan Slater, will step down on September 1. Slater’s departure is the second post-exam results casualty in as many days, after Ofqual’s Sally Collier relinquished her post on Tuesday.

Leadership in Focus

Speaking on the Leaders Council podcast, Fisher explained: “Leadership seems to be ignored when things are going well and is then questioned in difficult times. Leaders are expected to rescue situations and come up with solutions to certain challenges. So, when times are tough, leadership and different leadership styles are assessed and shown for what they really are, and Covid-19 is an example of one of these tests.”

Fisher also shared her view that good and effective leadership must be demonstrated in business every day by maintaining a close relationship with colleagues and staff.

“I believe good leadership has to be demonstrated every day, not just at given times, otherwise you will get caught out because you won’t be able to resolve problems, work with people, understand complex personalities and take everyone toward the same goal if you haven’t put in the time and effort to work closely with your people and get to know them and what motivates them.”

When asked about her own leadership style, Fisher described herself as a collaborative leader who aims to surround herself with people who can compliment her skill-set by bringing fresh talents to the table at her business.

She said: “I consider myself a strategic and collaborative person. I like to work with people of different skill-sets because I do not have the capacity to resolve complex issues on my own. You must make the effort to then bring that team together in a cohesive unit with all its various personalities, and do so quickly, or else getting a group of people to work together can be a significant challenge in itself. But when everyone is working together toward one goal, you have a greater chance of success. It is rewarding and far more fun running a business when you are facing down a challenge as one unit and pulling in the same direction.”

In order to be prepared for the difficult periods where one’s leadership is to be tested, Fisher stressed that a balance must be struck between pro-activity and planning for the future, and the ability to be reactive and adapt to changing circumstances.

“I am a combination of proactive and reactive”, Fisher said. “You must plan for the future rather than just resolving present situations. You do sometimes have to sit and watch and then act in a reactive way, but you have to be proactive in planning for the future and for certain eventualities.

“People around you will look to you as a leader and assume that you are looking ahead and have a vision and see things that are coming ahead of time. Ensuring you have that foresight can be complicated, but it is the role of leaders to embrace that challenge, especially in the here and now when the future is so uncertain due to Covid-19. Adaptability as well as pro-activity defines you.”

Another quality that Fisher insisted that today’s business leaders must have is self-belief, explaining that it is the very quality which breeds resilience to overcome challenges and prosper.

She said: “If you believe in yourself all the time, you will find a way. You have to keep going and keep believing, even in difficult times, because that is persistence. If one does this, then solutions will present themselves.”

Addressing what the post-lockdown world has in store for Business for Breakfast, Fisher was optimistic that the network can look forward to a fruitful future.

Fisher explained: “I am excited about the future and being able to fully network again. We have had time to innovate our systems and are excited to re-engage with the local and global business community. Incorporating technology into our methods of connectivity with businesses worldwide allowed us to open a new market within three weeks of the lockdown, and in May we were in talks with the business communities in Africa, India and the Gulf states, using technology to connect.

“Technology can work wonders for business and even as a network, it does not mean that we have to travel around the world while Covid dictates that we cannot. We will look at globalising our services going forward, and much sooner than we thought. We had projected a seven-year plan for this which has been brought swiftly forward by the pandemic, but that is all part of adapting!”

Leadership Today

Speaking at a school in Leicestershire on Wednesday, prime minister Boris Johnson pinned the blame for this summer’s exam results controversy on Ofqual’s “mutant algorithm” which calculated pupils’ grades.

Johnson said: "I am afraid your grades were almost derailed by a mutant algorithm and I know how stressful that must have been.”

Following Ofqual head Sally Collier’s decision to step down in the wake of the fiasco on Tuesday, the Department for Education’s most senior civil servant, Jonathan Slater, announced on Wednesday that he will be leaving his post on September 1 having initially been due to be replaced next year.

Slater will be replaced by Susan Acland-Hood, who will take on the role of DfE secretary on an interim basis.

A statement on Slater’s resignation said that Johnson had “concluded that there is a need for fresh official leadership” at the department.

The National Education Union has accused the prime minister of attempting to “idly shrug away a disaster that his own government created” by deflecting the blame onto officials, labelling his comments as “brazen”.

Leadership in History

On August 27, 1956, there was a landmark moment for the energy industry as the nuclear power station at Calder Hall in the UK was connected to the national power grid.

It saw the Calder Hall site become a leader in nuclear energy by becoming the world's first commercial nuclear power station to generate electricity on an industrial scale.


Photo by Rob Walsh on Unsplash


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The Leaders Council of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is a network of the most influential figures from across the country. Through detailed case studies, news coverage, podcasts and leadership events, we strive to unearth the authentic voice of British industry. Find out more About us and our Membership Benefits.


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Authored By

Rhys Taylor-Brown
Junior Editor
August 27th 2020, 6:06am

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