Brexit in the boardroom

 The EU referendum result has yet to produce the apocalyptic conditions that many predicted both prior to and immediately after June’s shock result. In fact, apart from some initial panic, the fall in the pound and a few stories of economic unease, the legal sector (with a few exceptions) is yet to feel a significant negative impact.

However, don’t be lulled into a false sense of security: the decision will inevitably have some momentous long term repercussions for the industry – from the boardroom to the courtroom.

Of course, as we are sailing in uncharted waters, no one really knows exactly what will happen. A major factor will be the nature of the withdrawal and how efficiently and smoothly that is managed. So, it’s important to be prepared for the changes to come – whatever they may be.

It’s a question of attitude

As an executive coach working across a range of industries including the legal sector, one critical factor in adapting to change is attitude. Quite simply, if you have the right attitude, you can navigate most changes – including the uncertainty of Brexit. In fact, Rudyard Kipling’s classic quote ‘IF you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs’ has never been more apt.

Since the referendum decision was announced, I have encountered a range of responses from CEOs, directors and partners; from panic at reduced activity (most likely to be experienced by transactional lawyers), to apprehension, anticipation and excitement at the opportunities the decision could present. For example, with inevitable and numerous changes in legislation, trade, regulatory and financial services lawyers are likely to be kept busy for the foreseeable future!

Keeping the conversation going

As a coach, I voted to remain on the basis that staying at the table in a dialogue is far better than isolating oneself away from the conversation. However, now that the die has been cast, we need to accept what’s done, change perspective and look at the possibilities.

Although the initial sense of shock in some quarters has eased, emotions in the business community and elsewhere are still running high, with negative sentiments such as judgment, retribution and blame characterising many Remain voters’ reactions. However, this is a rift that needs to be healed in the legal and commercial world if we are to make the most of the potential opportunities post-Brexit.

So, what can coaching bring to this debate and how might it help?

A chance to reflect

The referendum provided a mirror which was held up to the whole country, and dependent upon your point of view, it reflected an ugly picture of division, protest, disconnection or, according to some, the sunny uplands of opportunity and a return to a nostalgia hued era of ‘greatness’.

Coaching is very similar in that it provides an opportunity to reflect; to look in on yourself as a leader and manager, your business and your people. Whatever one thinks of the referendum result, it has certainly brought to the fore our divided society with opinions that were previously either ignored or papered over. This same principle could be true of your own organisation.

For example, how many senior leaders have really examined the views and wishes of their stakeholders? What possibilities lie dormant within your own team, firm, chambers or within the legal sector as a whole? What would happen if you were able to expose these before they came to the vote? How could you create a culture that engages your people in delivering something amazing?

Above all, how can you, as an executive or a partner, take the current situation, where the UK has changed forever, and utilise it (and the thoughts and ideas of your people) to create something bigger, better and brighter – perhaps despite the current state of uncertainty?  A huge cauldron of challenges has bubbled up in the space of one momentous day and while few of us can make a significant impact on the national or international stage, it is important to avoid passivity and ensure that we seize the opportunity to shape what is in our control.

Starting a new conversation

I have already worked with a number of senior leaders working in the legal sector who are seizing the opportunity for a new conversation. Even those where activity has fallen since Brexit are standing in a place of possibility, having learned that there is no point moaning, blaming or wishing for the past.

It’s important to open up new dialogues around issues specific to the industry: the impact of Brexit on practice rights and EU professional legal privilege, the effect on the influence and currency of English common law as well as general regulatory and legislative reform. Firms and their clients will also be dealing with potential currency fluctuations, resultant cost hikes, plummeting share prices, job insecurity, complete strategic changes in direction and the impact on London’s position as one of the world’s key legal, financial and business centres.

It’s a time for leaders

With all the uncertainty around, now is the time to show leadership, as well as developing the leaders in your firm. Ironically, the behaviour of certain political figures in both parties post-referendum has been a great lesson in how not to do this.

But can you teach leadership? As coaches, we would say ‘a bit’. Leadership training courses can be invaluable in helping to create a shift from tactical to strategic issues, broadening the understanding of the wider context in which the organisation operates and identifying and the importance of communicating with stakeholders to get things done. However, a training situation can’t reproduce the reality of facing a leadership challenge: a big decision with far reaching consequences; a team in crisis; or choosing the right area of focus in an avalanche of tasks.

You learn leadership by doing it. By setting a direction. By mobilising and motivating others to follow. By navigating the twists and turns of a project. By facing the unexpected and learning as you go. Therefore, the winning organisations of the future will be giving their future leaders the opportunity to lead, learn and develop now.

Consider who in your team:

  • Has great people skills but hasn’t yet had to mobilise others who are less able, less motivated or less experienced?
  • Is fizzing with ideas but hasn’t had to implement a big idea through to completion?
  • Delivers again and again operationally but couldn’t tell you what the five year plan is?
  • Shows big potential but is divisive – you either love them or hate them

Reacting to Brexit will require a myriad of skills and talent. Senior teams will be tempted to hunker down and wait until they have a plan before involving others. Instead, this is the perfect opportunity to give your leaders-in-waiting a seat at the table. This could include creating a junior leadership team to provide ideas and to challenge to the senior board, or opening up your decision making to wannabe leaders so they see first-hand what the issues are. Offer leadership shadowing. Give major projects to those leaders waiting in the wings to show your faith in their talent. Allow them to make their mistakes now and to learn from the process.

Coaching can play a key role in accelerating the development of your budding leaders. It creates an opportunity to reflect and learn quicker. It supports an in-depth self-awareness of strengths to build on and areas to strengthen. It allows budding leaders to engage with the real issues facing your organisation and deliver back to you their best ideas and their best self to implement them. Be brave. Don’t wait for your wannabe leaders to find you. Seek them out, nurture them and reap the rewards.

On a personal level, the referendum also reflects our own need for change – we all, in big or small ways, get to points in our life where we desire a change. This could be of job or career, house, country, partner or a complete way of life – isn’t this what 52% of people were looking for? Whether they get it is another matter. What will matter is that we step forward into some discomfort (a place we all now find ourselves in), take responsibility and turn this into a positive.

Executive coach Alan Denton of The Results Centre, explains how Brexit could open up opportunities in the legal sector – with the right attitude and support

About the author

Alan Denton is a professional executive coach who works in many sectors, including legal. His organisation, The Results Centre, provide executive coaching and people-development interventions that deliver results either on a one to one or group level. They work to find potential in the workplace and initiate strategies to help businesses get the most out of their employees. They provide career and executive coaching and organisational development programmes whilst pushing people’s boundaries and making them face their fears to change perspectives and outcomes. To discover more please call 01858 414 240 or visit



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