Lessons in leadership during lockdown

In a career spanning nearly two decades and as many recessions, the Founder of Perth-based public relations and marketing agency Volpa, Tricia Fox, believes the past 10 months have been her most challenging yet.

With her team looking to her for leadership, she was awarded a fully funded place on our online ILM Level 5 Certificate in Leadership and Management in September 2020.

We got in touch with Tricia to discuss the course, how she’s used it to help steer her business and her team through the pandemic, and her plans for the future.

This is Tricia’s story.

When I saw the first reporting about Covid-19 coming out of Wuhan, I had a feeling it was serious. I had a strange fascination with the story right from the beginning, and started following it as much as I could, watching the tracking and the World Health Organization statistics.

Before long, I called my accountant to run cash-flow analysis based on different scenarios. It seemed ridiculous, but I could see this coming like a train. About two weeks before the first lockdown, I gathered my team and told them that we may not be back in the office for a considerable amount of time.

We all had to deal with the pandemic in different ways. There was no one-size-fits-all approach. It was a complete microcosm of life that I, as a leader, had to manage.

Looking back, I couldn’t have begun to conceive just how serious the situation was. Everything was put on hold. Most of my team were furloughed, while three of us worked full time to manage what was still on the books and any work that was coming in. We all had to deal with it in very different ways. Some had partners who had lost their jobs or been furloughed. Some had families of different ages to home school. There was no one-size-fits-all approach. It was a complete microcosm of life that I, as a leader, had to manage.

In the middle of all of that we still had clients to serve, and each with their own challenges. I can honestly describe the first four or five months of the pandemic as the longest crisis I’ve ever had to manage.

Time to reflect

It wasn’t until about August last year that I really had time to reflect on what was happening and what had happened. There were hints of some blue sky in the economy, but most of my team’s lives had been thrown upside-down, and leading through that is really challenging. My team were looking to me for leadership.

I decided to apply for a fully funded place for two main reasons. The first was to give me the opportunity to fully reflect on what had happened and what we as a business were going to do next. The second was to open up the possibility that there may be tools or approaches that I didn’t know existed that I could use to move the business forward.

Learning out of lockdown

The first module was about understanding myself as a leader. It was useful to clarify that, and the impact that my leadership style has on others.

There were hints of some blue sky in the economy, but most of my team’s lives had been thrown upside-down, and leading through that is really challenging. My team were looking to me for leadership.

The second module was really crucial for me. It was about change management, and we’ve undergone an enormous amount of that, albeit not through choice. That module gave me a lot of techniques for planning and for change management, and to also shed some light on the challenges that my team have been facing. It ultimately helped us create a road map out of the pandemic, which has been really useful.

The third module was about stress and risk management. This third lockdown has mentally tested people. The resilience has gone, the energy from the first lockdown has gone, and people are really having to dig deep through this bit. This module helped me open my eyes to that reality.

Moving forward

I actually got my team involved in some of the tasks I had to do on the course, specifically the preparation for one of the assignments. I didn’t think it made sense for me to be doing the course in isolation, and so I involved them in doing SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) and PESTEL (political, economic, social, technological, environmental and legal) analyses. There were a lot of takeaways from that which we’ll be moving forward with, so that in itself was really useful.

The fact that the course was online allowed me to study in my own time. I actually looked at it as my weekend job. Academically, it was a challenge. The course is rigorous, but that’s definitely not a bad thing.

I got my team involved in some of the tasks I had to do on the course. I didn’t think it made sense for me to be doing the course in isolation, and there were a lot of takeaways from that which we’ll be moving forward with.

Ultimately, we’re never too old to learn. The circumstances and context in which we’re all operating requires a much more open mindset than we’ve perhaps had in the past. Learning can help people achieve that and can push people beyond what they thought were their boundaries.

For my part, my entrepreneurial drive has kicked in in the last 10 months. At the beginning of the pandemic, talking with my husband about what we were going to do, we started an online coffee company. And in the midst of that, while walking to buy dog food, I observed an empty premises and thought, ‘Now that would make a good coffee shop...’.