Mark Stevens is the director and MOT manager at R&G Motors, a family run garage in Cornwall that specialises in car and van servicing, MOTs, and all general motoring requirements. Entering the business world following a 24-year career with the Royal Air Force, Stevens has experienced working with various leaders in different walks of life, all with varying styles.
Sitting down with the Leaders Council of Great Britain & Northern Ireland’s Scott Challinor, Stevens offered his perspective on leadership as whole and outlined his view that leaders must be able to guide industry and people through any scenario, revealing how his business has adjusted to the devastating impact of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
Stevens said: “Leaders must guide industry and people through any situation. Integrity, honesty and being able to empower people is an important part of that, as is trying to be positive at all times and collaborative with others.”
In Stevens’ view, a key quality that today’s business leaders must have is a capacity to be adaptable, something which he has learnt from his personal experience in guiding R&G Motors through the Covid-19 situation.
“People react to different situations and crises differently. We have staff here who are willing and able to carry on as normal and others who were somewhat more hesitant and worried, so in my role that is something I have had to manage carefully. I do believe, however, that resilience is key. If you give over to every crisis the world will grind to a halt, so you simply have to carry on.”
The key to being able to continue operating lies in adaptability and flexibility, not solely in the case of Stevens’ business, but also others in the Cornwall region that have faced their own problems brought about by the outbreak.
Stevens said: “The experience of managing through a crisis breeds resilience. Looking at local businesses here in Cornwall whose incomes have shrunk dramatically as a result of Covid, including pubs and restaurants, they have overcome the obstacle by adapting to provide mobile services such as deliveries, even though some have had to furlough members of staff.
“You simply have to find new ways of moving forward.”
When asked about how the business had adapted in its own ways to meet these challenges, Stevens said: “We’ve opened a restoration arm of the business which already has some bookings. We hope to invest into that and build that up by recruiting more people.
“On the other hand, the MOT side of things is a bit trickier and there is worry in the wider industry. We’ve lost 40 to 50 per cent of our workload due to the pandemic and the six-month extension on MOT deadlines. We expect this trend to continue in future years, so we will be looking at the first half of the year being quiet, with a huge pick up in the latter half.
“As a business, we have to therefore look at taking different things on in the earlier part of the year, which will mean further adapting and diversifying.”
It is when businesses have to make the decision of diversifying its offering that Stevens believes leaders must be at their most decisive.
He said: “Leaders are in their role to make the tough decisions and these decisions might not make everyone happy. Those in these roles need to take command regardless and drive people through these situations.”
Stevens’ tactics for managing the business through the pandemic have also taken some inspiration from his military past, but the enduring qualities of leadership in both the forces and businesses have been honesty, kindness and empowering others.
“My wife, who is also my business partner, has to keep reminding me that I’m not in the military! The way you address military personnel compared to addressing people as civilians differs hugely, but if you are honest and kind, you can empower people to do things for themselves and get the best from them.”
For Stevens, empowering others translates into allowing them to be independent on the job and learn certain things for themselves without constant referral to more senior members of staff.
Stevens explained: “We have an apprentice here who is now two years into her course. She does come to us to ask questions but if we provide answers to everything, she will never learn. People have to be encouraged and indeed have the willingness to take action themselves, and where there are setbacks, you have to embrace those failures when learning. As a manager, it is about being understanding of that and not creating a blame culture. There are always positive outcomes to take from failings, providing the failure in question is not a catastrophic one.”
Stevens’ mentality around not building a blame culture ties in with a mantra from his military days: getting the job done with a minimum amount of force.
Stevens explained: “I had some great bosses in the military, as well as during my time with Falmouth Coastguard where I had some great teammates and strong leaders. As long as people stand up and take ownership of situations regardless of the outcome, they command respect. By doing this as a leader, any leadership style will help carry you through, but again adapting your style to nurture different personalities is hugely important because people really do react differently to different things.
“Knowing your audience, in this case your workforce, and knowing how they work, is key.”
The full interview with Mark Stevens may be heard here.