As part of our series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times,” we had the pleasure of interviewing Kate Davis.
Kate is a business mentor and leadership coach for creative business founders. For over two decades she has been building and developing teams and mentoring people to be able to work happier. From law, to live corporate event management to transformation and change, Kate understands how to enable businesses to be more resilient and adaptive to change. Her motto is to ‘do more of what makes you happy, and earn more money doing it’ — happiness is the key to resilience, growth and life!
Kate is a qualified ICF coach, an agile practitioner and qualified solicitor.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
My background is one of sensible rebellion — flipping between what was expected of me and what made me happy. This experience, and coming to my own way of being, is a big part of why I do what I do now.
I qualified as a solicitor in my 20s and worked in a number of high profile law firms, but my heart wasn’t in it. I loved working with people and understanding how they cope with change and when things go wrong — but I didn’t like always being the bad guy.
I moved into corporate live events, working with global brands, household names and governments. I ran my own business for nearly twenty years, specialising in operations and logistics. I loved working with creative people and helping them bring their visions to life — and in the process exciting, educating and inspiring audiences of thousands. I often created and led teams of up to 30 people in high pressure environments. There’s nothing like the stress, and the thrill of a live event!
When I had my children I made the choice to step away from events so that I could be with them as they grew up. I took a job in transformation and change management for a large utility company. Like my time in law, I loved the ‘people’ side, but the infrastructure and bureaucracy frustrated me — so I knew it was time to pursue my own dreams again.
Qualifying as a coach combined all the things I love with my passion for helping and motivating others. And at the heart of what I do is empowering my clients to be able to lead themselves first and build their teams and businesses, from their own vision and zone of genius.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
One story that will remain with me was when I was onsite at my first live event. I was in charge of furniture and catering and I completely messed up the order when hiring. I hadn’t factored in that the crew would still need furniture once the event was over for derig (and to eat!) The panic that landed in my chest is still so vivid. I ran around like a mad thing, utilising what I could, begging and borrowing from other locations and companies until we had enough to complete the derig. All at 2am.
I learned some lessons very quickly — but they still stand me in good stead — look at the bigger picture and think things through. Take responsibility for your own actions and fix your own mistakes.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
It may be a cliche, but I have to say my family. My dad raised three of us solo after my mum died, and ran his own business. He has an amazing business acumen and his tenacity and growth mindset still amazes me, even in his 90s!
My sister always keeps the creative in me alive — introducing me to incredible independent artists and innovators.
My brother is a chip off the old block and then some. He is logical and practical and his business knowledge and ability to network is phenomenal.
I am inspired and supported by them daily and am so grateful to have them in my life.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
Purpose is a huge part of my life and business, and that of my clients.
Connecting the dots to uncover my own purpose led me here, so it’s where I start with my clients too. Creating the vision and the purpose behind the business helps to guide, motivate and inspire you and those around you.
That’s why my vision is to help people create a business that makes them happy and makes the change they want to see in the world. When you are aligned to your bigger vision and you are working in your zone of genius, you will be happier and you will be able to earn more money doing the work that you are innately gifted at doing. ‘Do more of what makes you happy and earn more money doing it!’
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?
My background in events really developed my own resilience and taught me how best to adapt to changing circumstances. Being able to be focused, positive and adaptive meant being able to ‘roll with the punches’ and still deliver exceptional quality.
During the Covid-19 lockdown in 2020 I led my clients and members of my online community via a popup group, bringing people together to be able to share their highs and lows, concerns and aspirations. Creating communities is a passion of mine. Running a business alone (or with a small team) can be overwhelming and lonely, but having a close knit community of people to support you is invaluable.
Keeping people focused on the bigger picture, offering free advice and motivation on a weekly basis kept my own momentum going and I know it inspired and motivated others to grow their businesses during turbulent times.
Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?
As a small business owner, the idea of giving up will pop into your head most weeks, albeit fleetingly. When things get hard it’s easy to think ‘there must be an easier way’, but I know from experience that the ‘other’ ways are not for me.
Reminding myself of my ‘why’, my vision for myself and the people I work with always reboots my motivation. I have this written out on my wall, and always think ‘is this next action going to get me closer to achieving it?’
It’s important to remember that change is always turbulent and always with us.
Without change there is no growth, no creativity or innovation and therefore no business.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
Being seen to lead — stepping up and being as visible as possible is critical. Being able to communicate with your team, or staff, and showing yourself willing to get stuck in will give them greater confidence during uncertainty. Showing them the path through, as well as empathy and understanding will show you as a true leader.
Your visibility to the outside world — your clients and competitors, shows you as the leader in the field and may inspire them to consider their own responses to the challenge.
When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?
When a leader can turn the panic into passion, that’s where the gold lies. Uniting your team in a common passion, especially one with the customer at the heart, will empower and engage the team.
When the team sees you walking your talk too, it will encourage greater confidence and forward momentum.
We all want to be working together towards something we are passionate about, that’s human nature.
What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?
Don’t hide. Being honest and open is always the best policy, especially when there’s bad news. If you don’t know the answer — and we often don’t know the full picture in times of change — be honest and show them how you intend to give them the answer and when.
You need the ability to be firm but understanding and listen to people’s concerns and questions. Repeat the message regularly, even if it is bad news. Giving people a consistent message and consistent plan of action will create the stability that the uncertainty may have exacerbated.
How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?
Firstly, some quick decisions may need to be made for the immediate future. Calm and considered action is needed here.
Then, focus back on the big picture. What is the ultimate mission for the business? What has the uncertainty put into question and what do you need to rethink?
Creating short and medium term plans that are agile in nature, will allow for consistency during periods of huge change and allow for time to take stock and regroup in between.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
The words of Rudyard Kipling ”If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you”. Keeping your head focused and clear and not listening to the noise and the panic will guide a company through the hard times.
Remember why you do what you do, and how you serve the people who need you. Always keep these at the forefront of your mind.
Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
- Carrying on regardless, with the blinkers on — the equivalent of putting your fingers in your ears and singing ‘la la la, I’m not listening’. Turbulent times require resilience, not inflexibility.
- Putting profit above people — I see businesses so worried about keeping the money coming in that they forget about the people who make it all happen. Having empathy for your team and allowing time and some leeway to be able to adjust to the changes around them. Long gone are the days of Business Above All Things. Leadership is about people.
- Not focusing on your customer — in the same way that your team is experiencing change, your customers are too. Those businesses who take the time to listen to their customers and adapt to their needs will fare far better now and in the future.
- Waving the white flag too soon. We all saw some businesses that took the opportunity to shut up shop during the lockdowns, and those who decided that there could be another way. Who are you supporting now the world is righting itself?
Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?
Listen to your customers; what do they need from you and how can you support them in their own struggles. Businesses that do this now will be remembered long after the issues have subsided.
Look at where you could adapt what you already do. I don’t think anyone will forget the word ‘pivot’ in a hurry after 2020! How can you change your products or services, or their method of delivery, to be able to serve your customers and still remain profitable and on brand?
Staying true to your company’s values and mission is key here.
Creating resilience has been proven to work time and time again. Think of Victorinox, whose business was reliant on people buying knives to travel with. After 9/11 this was no longer possible or popular, so they pivoted and added additional income streams to their travel ethos. Knives now account for a fraction of their overall revenue.
Or the local cafes that were the first to use their own networks, adapt to offer a takeaway or delivery service, or even use their supply chain to provide their customers with much needed groceries when the big supermarkets couldn’t.
Or those who prioritized vulnerable or elderly customers, or the 1000s of yoga teachers who took their businesses online so that they could continue to serve their clients when they were needed most.
Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Start Now. Whether you are reading this during a time of economic or political turbulence or not — start straight away. Model the behaviour you want to see in your business right now. Developing resilience, resisting the temptation to micro-manage and empowering the team to make the right decisions, so the culture is already there when the waters get choppier.
- Read the room. Listen to your team, to your customers, to the market and other leaders you admire. Understand your position in the market and your strengths and weaknesses (try a good old fashioned SWOT analysis) and then build an agile plan with that knowledge and your own instincts.
- Communicate. Honesty, humility and empathy will carry you far and also help you sleep better at night. Keep talking. And did I mention listening?
- Overdeliver for your customers and clients. They will remember you and stay loyal during the good times and the bad. Excellent customer service is still too rare — be the difference.
- Be human. Let yourself and your team have some downtime, let off some steam, laugh together. This is so important in good times, but even more so in bad. Foster friendship and happiness. Life is just too short not to.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
The quote that stays with me and I refer to when the going gets tough is the ‘man in the arena’ quote from Theodore Roosevelt. It reminds me to not listen to the doubters and get stuck in.
The credit does belong to the man in the arena who tries hard and spends himself in a worthy cause, and knows that if he succeeds it will be at the highest level, and if he fails, he does so ‘while daring greatly’.
It sums up so many things for me; creativity, innovation, leadership and purpose. It’s the ultimate ‘battle cry’ for those who don’t want to follow the same path as everyone else.
How can our readers further follow your work?
Come and connect with me on LinkedIn or Instagram — I’d love to hear from you.
My website has regular updates and blogs on the things I am passionate about too.