Samantha Murfitt is a director who has been left with plenty to ponder during the Covid-19 pandemic. Working at the helm of two businesses, namely creative marketing agency, Brighter Splash, and horticulture and landscape practice, The Oxfordshire Gardener, one may assume the trials and tribulations of the crisis could leave anyone in such a position overwhelmed. Yet, not only has Murfitt shown resilience in her leadership of her companies, but she has been determined to use the pandemic as a stimulus to rethink, take a fresh approach and have a positive impact on people’s lives. Sitting down with the Leaders Council of Great Britain & Northern Ireland’s Scott Challinor, Murfitt discussed her approach further and revealed some of the influences which have helped mould her into the businesswoman she is today.
Offering her own personal definition of leadership, Murfitt said: “Leadership in its nature is to be well-planned. A business leader has to share their vision with integrity and fervour as well as be clear and personable.”
The mentality that has helped Murfitt adopt such a positive mindset through the Covid-19 crisis thus far is to remember that there will always be setbacks in running a business, and that one must view a moment such as this as merely another obstacle to get over on the road to fulfilling a greater vision.
“It is important to remember that there will be hiccups along the way. As is the case with Covid-19, it is about taking these setbacks head on and being open and willing to talk to those around you through them.”
Indeed, good, and effective communication has been vital for Murfitt in nurturing her employees, which she views as vital in running a business under any circumstances.
Murfitt said: “Nurturing people as a leader is important and communication is a key part of that. It’s also essential in my view to have a sense of humour and make pathways fun and engaging wherever you can.
“This is a necessary element of building trust between yourself and those around you and it is imperative for one’s mental health and wellbeing to keep connected. This is especially relevant with the current pandemic situation where much of that regular human interaction has been lost.”
When asked whether she viewed the setbacks of Covid-19 as a learning curve for business, Murfitt was keen to stress that learning on the job is a constant process and adaptability is key.
“Learning never stops. We are always learning as leaders and reshaping ourselves as the world changes. Being able to be agile and aware of the changing environment around you is important. You must be intuitive.”
Inevitably, part of the learning process in Murfitt’s view includes setbacks which come in the form of mistakes. In her view, it is how an individual responds which is critical.
Murfitt explained: “There will always be times when you don’t get things 100 per cent right. It’s how you move forward and respond to that. I think you have to be honest with yourself and take ownership of your mistakes and then use it to improve and demonstrate that you are continuing toward that greater vision in a more effective way. Responding in such a way breeds resilience but also greater confidence from those around you.”
Resilience and the ability to adapt are two key qualities of effective leadership which have certainly served Murfitt well as her companies have adjusted during the lockdown.
When asked to discuss her experience of the pandemic further, Murfitt outlined: “All business leaders have in some way been affected by this virus. From the outset, we decided to show real leadership through the pandemic.
“At The Oxfordshire Gardener, we began producing and sharing online horticultural content with our community to help them with their health and wellbeing, just to bring something new into the home environment. From a mental health perspective for my employees, it was important to accept early on that coronavirus would have an effect on us for some time. As a leader, I have had to step-up as a support provider, keep the communication channels open with my team and reassure them where I can to make sure they are in a good head-space.
“We have had to be adaptable in taking rapid but sensible action and balancing that with more considered responses having consulted with industry bodies and the government.”
It is in many ways to be expected that when employees are looking for reassurance and direction, the natural response is to look toward those in leadership roles within the businesses, organisations and institutions they represent. Yet, when those in leading roles have nobody above them in the hierarchical ladder to look up to, inspiration must come from elsewhere.
In terms of her own inspirations, Murfitt formed her own leadership approach not only in modelling after her father, but also pioneers in the business world she has encountered throughout her career.
Murfitt said: “In my early twenties, I encountered a pioneer in her field for a company which was offering alternative technology to BT during the 1990s. She had a deep resolve, and for the leadership she showed in both the market and the industry, one could be forgiven for thinking she had super-powers. Her determination, assured approach, and aura of calm are all qualities which I have tried to integrate into my own leadership style, along with her humility and invested interest in her employees.
“To add to that, my father was a fervent entrepreneur and became the UK’s leading optical manufacturer when I was 12 years old. He was widely respected, and I saw his personal leadership style firsthand, in that he had the humility to visit workers on the factory floor and in the glazing labs. He never viewed anybody as being beneath him and this approach forms the cornerstone of my leadership style.”
As the UK begins to move into the next stages of the Covid-19 pandemic and the government is eyeing up a swift economic recovery, Murfitt remained adamant that the future for her and her businesses remains bright.
She said: “We’re looking at the future positively. With The Oxfordshire Gardener, we are bringing that bit of tranquillity into people’s lives. Our latest project is looking to help people spend their time at home in the garden productively, and helping pubs and restaurants with their outdoor spaces by adding a bit of plant life and comfort to spaces where people will now be starting to return to for unwinding and relaxing.“This is very much a new element of our work, giving the team a new outlet and that links back to being adaptable and flexible and catering to new needs. If we can bring some softness to these new social distancing formalities with the help of green space, that can add a little more relief to people’s lives.”
The full interview with Samantha Murfitt can be heard on the Leaders Council of Great Britain & Northern Ireland's 'In Conversation' podcast series, which is available here.