Road to Recovery

Leadership, resilience and managing through crisis

We present highlights of a special Moodie Davitt Webinar from 19 May, in which the focus was on how individuals and teams can build resilience in the face of challenges, with emphasis on the COVID-19 crisis and on travel retail.

As CEO of Aer Rianta International (ARI) for 13 years, and now as a business mentor for entrepreneurs and senior executives, Eamon Foley has an acute understanding of the pressures facing team leaders in today’s uncertain environment. His contributions to the latest Moodie Davitt Webinar on 19 May were therefore timely and well received.

He spoke on the theme of ‘Leadership, resilience and managing through crisis,’ homing in on how individuals and teams can become more resilient in the face of challenges, with emphasis on the COVID-19 crisis. He addressed specific challenges facing players in the travel retail industry and possibly actions to overcome those, both personally and professionally.

Defining resilience as “the ability to bounce back after adversity”, he said that this trait can be learnt and built over time. “Research has shown that resilient people are best able to turn adversity into a growth opportunity, and to leverage it into new experiences and ways of working and living.”

Eamon Foley: Resilience can be built over time

Leadership characteristics and behaviours, from positive to negative

On the business climate today, Foley used the acronym ‘VUCA’ or volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous.

“We are experiencing not just an economic slowdown or even a temporary shock event. Many of you are dealing with a near total shutdown and the inevitability that our business will never be the same again.

“I’ve worked in the travel retail sector and spent time as an ex-pat in my career. Given the geographical spread of our businesses and the markets in which we operate, I know that many of you are experiencing isolation, loneliness and even homesickness. I’ve spoken to some of you who are separated from close family and are worried, more than normal, about elderly relatives at home.

“I’m aware that we have thousands of staff around the world who are furloughed or temporarily laid off. Many are still being paid or are on government schemes. However they are aware that this cannot continue indefinitely. They feel hopeless and left out and are understandably very worried about their future.

“We all need to be resilient if we are to emerge stronger and more resourceful. Once the COVID-19 threat is over, we cannot go back to how things were. We will become more agile or rigid; stronger or weaker; better or bitter depending on our resilience.”

Having spoken to leaders in the industry in the run-up to the Webinar, Foley said that all of them admitted feeling stress about the future, and especially about the wellbeing of their staff.

He said: “The one thing we are certain we can control in life is our attitude or how we react to any set of circumstances including adversity. Put simply, we can control our destiny.”

Foley laid out a model of how resilience is built and how individuals can take actions to cope, from ensuring purpose in one’s life and role to controlling and choosing thoughts and attitudes.

“We must accept the situation we’re in and face up to it. But we need not despair; there is hope and we can all learn to be resilient and flourish in the face of adversity.”

On solving problems, he noted: “We need to be open minded and flexible in our problem-solving approaches. Team working is critical to generate different views and perspectives and we must encourage innovative and inventive ideas.”

Crucially, resilience also involves easily giving and accepting assistance and support, he added. “Studies have shown that an effective way of boosting your own resilience is to assist others in need, even if you’re struggling with adversity yourself. Giving support enhances your own confidence and generates positive feelings from helping others.

“We can be slow to ask for help for fear it may be perceived as a weakness, or we are not up to the job or simply not coping. And, the higher we are on the corporate ladder the slower we are to ask for help.”

On leadership in COVID-19 times in particular, Foley said: “Leaders need to be many things: visionary, inspiring, motivational, flexible, trustworthy, have presence, be great communicators etc. The list is a tall order. However, none of these will matter if they’re not resilient and unable to fill the role.

“When people are asked to consider what were the standout features of high performing teams in which they worked, the one that is always mentioned and in most cases ranked first in order of importance is ‘clarity of purpose’. Not only do we as individuals need a strong sense of purpose but teams also need to be clear about their purpose.

“As leaders we need to ask; ‘is our purpose or goal still valid in today’s world?’ Invariably it needs to change or be re-framed in the current crisis. Previously we might have aspired to be the biggest, most profitable, most innovative, or most loved operator in travel retail. Today, our purpose might be to survive and not run out of cash so we are ready to open when the opportunity comes.”

Communication: A critical management tool, especially in times of crisis

Communication is a watchword in today’s environment. “It’s critical that you keep in contact with your team now more than ever. You probably have to over-communicate as people are in a vulnerable place. You need to connect more often but probably for less time. This will be challenging with so many working from home and even more furloughed but don’t assume anyone is okay just because you don’t hear from them. In these times you’ve got to create a culture where we accept we don’t have all the answers and it’s okay to ask for help and indeed it’s encouraged to give help.”

He noted that many front line staff, many of whom are furloughed, are lonely and vulnerable. “What does their sense of purpose look like? Consider how connectedness can be delivered for them. Remember you will need them when you reopen and preferably energised and grateful for how you treated them in hard times.

“I’m aware of one operator sending out daily updates to staff with a weekly video update from the CEO. Another has a rule that every member of staff is contacted at least once a week. Most others I know are communicating at regular intervals with updates and useful tips and links to articles and videos about maintaining our well-being, both physical and mental.

“As leaders we must examine our team culture. We must create a culture where it’s okay to speak up, where it’s expected we ask for and give support, and where collaboration and teamwork is encouraged.

“Companies are communities and what makes a community resilient isn’t all the big stuff that you can measure. It’s the infinite number of small things that can never be measured that happen between people every day, building social capital.

“I believe we have to move from the fixation in recent years of scientific management or managing by the numbers. We’ve moved to managing our people by giving them goals based on KPIs and measurables and put them in straitjackets to the detriment of empowerment, inventiveness, and innovation.

Tips for building and maintaining resilience

“It has been suggested that in these pretty horrible times we should scrap the HR manual and replace it with two words: ‘be kind’.”

That applies equally to managing teams and to oneself. “Look out for your team. Be flexible and try to understand how they’re feeling and what challenges they are facing. But look after your own physical and mental wellbeing [too]. This is not about being selfish as you can only function and be of help to others if you yourself are healthy. Cut yourself some slack. We’re not in a perfect world anymore and understand that good enough is good enough.”

He added: “Don’t isolate yourself. You don’t have to be alone. This is particularly important for those of you in GM or CEO roles. Use your executive team as a support. You too are vulnerable and should be prepared to ask for, as well as give support. If you don’t already have one, get a coach or mentor. A coach will provide a safe space and can be a valuable sounding board who will also provide independent challenge.”

Tips for building resilience include taking part in stress control sessions online; ensuring you have support, using past experiences to inform the present and keeping a journal.

Concluding, he made these key points in summary:

  • Start by accepting where we are.
  • Understand that it’s normal to be stressed in these times.
  • Focus on what you can control.
  • Analyse the situation. Consider what the worst-case and best-case scenarios are and the most likely and realistic outcome.
  • Be positive by challenging you doubting self. It’s rarely true or as bad you’re fearing.
  • You don’t have to be alone. Use your network and look for support.
  • Be kind to yourself and others. You’re no use to your colleagues if you’re not well yourself.
  • Count your blessings and be grateful.
  • And remember, this is temporary.

Eamon Foley can be contacted at

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The Moodie Davitt eZine

Issue 280 | 3 June 2020

The Moodie Davitt eZine is published 12 times per year by The Moodie Davitt Report (Moodie International Ltd). © All material is copyright and cannot be reproduced without the permission of the Publisher. To find out more visit and to subscribe, please e-mail

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