How can purpose help us in these uncertain times?

Theresa May’s brokering of the latest extension to Brexit Day means the only certainty is more uncertainty. Ben Renshaw, an acclaimed leadership expert, explains how leaders – and individuals – can best manage in times like these.

Black and white image of Ben Renshaw, author of Purpose
Working alongside an impressive number of successful international companies, including IHG and Heathrow Airport, it’s fair to say Ben Renshaw knows a thing or two about transforming organisational cultures and the role of purpose. So much so, he’s written the book. Eight in fact.Together, his titles, including Lead, Purpose and Super Coaching, articulate Ben’s belief that everyone has a purpose, and that to discover and lead with purpose is the greatest opportunity in life.

Linking purpose to global mobility

Igniting day one of Relocate Global’s Festival of Global People on 14 May with a keynote address, Ben will also be a panellist in the “Change, Trust and Engagement” session on 15 May chaired by organisational development and agility expert, Dr Linda HolbecheBen and his straightforward perspective will be both refreshing and timely in the context of current Brexit-related parliamentary and political melees.Offering certainty and a firm base from which we can all frame the practical, day-to-day challenges arising from Brexit and other external factors, his insights are highly relevant for companies operating over international boundaries, globally mobile employees and their managers pondering the status of future assignments

Doing the right thing

Asked if a lack of purpose could be said to explain the latest renewal of uncertainty, Ben says that any vision – political, organisational or personal – needs to have clarity about the why and why it matters for their endeavours.“The government is clearly dealing with a very complex scenario,” says Ben. “I start from the point that almost everybody wakes up with good intentions about doing the right thing.“When it comes to issues like Brexit, we can understand it by making a distinction between management and leadership. Government is essentially in the management bucket. Leadership is about hearts and minds.“You could say we have arrived where we are with Brexit because there’s a huge leadership gap,” says Ben. “This is about political leaders’ ability to really connect from a place of care and empathy with the people they lead. This has consequences, as we are seeing. People are exasperated.”

Vision – and reality

Fortunately, when it comes to leading through uncertainty, there are certain principles that help to make sure it is done well. Using the road to the referendum and its aftermath as an example of what can go wrong, Ben observes “the referendum gave us a rocky foundation because the first step – clarity of purpose – was lacking,” says Ben. “’Exiting Europe’ was not a strong enough vision.”As Ben explains, having a clear purpose lifts goals “to a higher plane” and a place where everyone is united behind a common purpose. “It enhances people’s lives and enables people to be far more productive.”

Being vulnerable as a leader

To create purpose and so be able to frame uncertainty in a meaningful way, leaders need to be more transparent and build trust.Taking Theresa May’s premiership as an example, Ben acknowledges that much like business leaders, “politicians can’t be seen to be vulnerable because it just sets them up for the opposition.”However, a fixed mindset does not work in times demanding flexibility and agility. “Leaders have got to get out there, understand what the problems are and empathise,” says Ben. “It’s about engaging in meaningful dialogue. It’s so important to connect with people during uncertain times. This creates the conditions for psychological safety and in businesses environments where it’s ok for people to fail, not least because that fosters innovation and creativity.“Jeff Bezos of Amazon is one leader who does this really well. He is very vocal, leads from the front and if he makes a mistake, he admits it and owns it.”

‘Life is a risky business’

As we’ve seen, uncertainty around Brexit is already curbing investment levels in the UK and outbound. Asked what advice he’d give to individuals and organisations dealing with uncertainty, Ben says we all need to be able to live with it as a matter of course.“Uncertainty is here – it’s all around us. It doesn’t matter where we are on the planet. We need to help people be equipped to lead with purpose and work through uncertainty in a constructive way. “The only way we progress in life is if we face the fact of uncertainty and understand that risk is never far away. If we follow our hearts, most of the of the time when we take a risk they will pay off. We just need to trust the outcome.”

Every delegate attending the Festival of Global People will receive a copy of Ben Renshaw’s new book, Purpose. Find out more about about the Festival of Global People and how to book your place. 

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