2 The Challenge of Leadership

Recently I was working with the leadership team of a medium-sized UK business. They had been in decline for some years and, at the time I was briefly involved, were making a 0.5% profit on a turnover of £26m. The business was struggling and the managing director had led heroic efforts to sell their way out of trouble. By the time I was asked to help them he was working all hours and the senior staff were running on adrenaline. All activity was reactive, fire-fighting. Quite apart from the complicated history and politics of the organization, one of the things that became clear very early on was that there was no sense of a leadership team. The MD felt it was on his shoulders to “rescue” the organization, which he had done time and again by finding another sale. The trouble was the business he procured was not necessarily producing profit because the margin was very low and the factory operated in a very inefficient manner, meaning that any potential profits could easily be lost in damaged goods or quality errors. And so on they struggled, not quite on life support but getting uncomfortably close.

So the two first priorities seemed to me to be to create a leadership team from the other directors and senior managers, who were presumably being paid to take some of the pain, and to develop a strategy for the future. (There was no sense of a future, only an endless panic-inducing present.) At the same time “Group” started to take more interest ...

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