Sharon Critchlow on How To Navigate Uncertainty.
Sharon Critchlow is Executive Director of Discover Your Bounce and is a thought leader on the topic of leadership.
Could you please share a bit about yourself, your background, and the journey that has led you to become an entrepreneur? What makes your perspective unique on the subject of leadership and navigating uncertainty?
I am a serial entrepreneur with businesses in publishing and corporate leadership and wellbeing and a Non Executive Director of finance in the housing sector. My background is in finance and my first business was in the highly regulated area of financial services where I joined a firm in a junior role and ended up on the board as a shareholding director. I went from this sales driven environment to wellbeing. Having seen so many people chewed up and spat out across business sectors I knew there was a better way to lead and a better way to sustainable business. I am a leader who uses her influence to change how we do business and having stepped in to the corporate wellbeing areas 7 years ago, which is 5 years before it went mainstream, I have learned a lot about navigating uncertainty!
You and your business have presumably faced some interesting challenges and changes over the years. Can you describe a key moment when you felt uncertainty was at its peak?
At the start of Covid when people needed wellbeing the most, all of our corporate clients cancelled their contracts. So a pivot was needed and we started to focus on publishing. Why publishing? Well, we had a couple of books published and the main thing that stopped people writing was time - with so many people on furlough we thought it was a good time to promote that side of the business and it worked! Those early days of covid was highly uncertain on a personal level but also for the business. This wasn't the first time we had experienced uncertainty. Entering the corporate wellbeing market in 2016 was hard and we spent a lot of time educating people, we were convinced the market would grow eventually but the question was whether we survive long enough to benefit from it.
From your experience, what are the core principles or values that guide a leader during uncertain times?
You need to remember why you started this track. Why does it matter to you and your clients? I often found myself asking the same two questions "What happens to them if I don't succeed? "What happened to them if I do succeed?" Another one of my values that kept me moving and productive was to keep a sense of perspective and understand that my clients and prospective clients were on a journey too and to evaluate where they are on that journey so I spend my time with those who are genuinely interested.
How do you cultivate a culture of resilience and adaptability within your team? Can you share a practical example where this culture made a significant difference?
It's important to keep people in the loop and listen to what they are saying. There is no point having a crisis conversation and hoping your team will help you by overwhelming them with what has just happened. It's much better for you and them, to take your team on the journey so that they can spot opportunities and issues as they arise. Try not to be too prescriptive with delivery methods and allow other to contribute where they can. One of my team had a totally different idea to how we should promote our events and the look and feel of that promotion and it worked! Be open when you can - it may help you to share some of the burden - and could broaden your thinking.
Many aspiring leaders struggle with the fear of failure, especially when the path ahead is unclear. What strategies or mental frameworks have you developed to overcome this fear and embrace uncertainty as an opportunity?
It comes down to self talk. I often ask myself "what happens if I fail and how will I spot failure early?" Establishing your boundaries on a project whether that it time scale or financial will help to see a project as a standalone alone thing. One rubbish idea doesn't make all ideas rubbish. People seem to be worried about what others will say about their failure but the reality is that most people are too busy worrying about their own failure to worry about yours. There is an old saying - you either win or you learn.
In your opinion, what are the most common mistakes leaders make during uncertain times? Can you offer a real-life example where recognizing and avoiding such a mistake led to success?
Leaders can get very singularly focussed which has its benefits but it can also make things harder for you and lead to missed opportunities. When our business struggled at the start of covid we kept reaching out to our clients and getting knocked back. So we kept in touch in a more passive way and on understanding the mood in the sector we knew it would take time to get running again so we changed tack and looked at what else we were good at. We had published some books but didn't have a niche, so we focussed on what that might look like and went to market with something new and seemingly different to our core business of wellbeing. In fact, we knew a lot of people in the wellbeing sector were struggling and had time on their hands so we offered to help them to plan, write, publish and promote their book. It worked.
Looking towards the future, how do you plan to continue evolving your leadership style to meet new uncertainties and challenges? What advice would you give to others looking to do the same?
Work on yourself first. I challenge my leadership style by volunteering and leading groups of people which I have never worked with before. It enhances my listening and communication skills! I would also suggest you join a community which is going to challenge your thinking. The issue with being the boss is that few people really challenge your direction of travel, but a network of peers brings about other ideas and challenges your assumptions.
You've clearly demonstrated a willingness to learn and grow through experience. Are there any books, mentors, or resources that have particularly influenced your leadership style? How would you recommend others to approach their leadership development journey?
The work of Daniel Golman on Emotional Intelligence. This subject as a whole fascinates me and I think there is a lot to be learned from understanding how you feel and what is pushing your buttons.