Nov 08 2021| Leadership | conference

Leading Through Adversity

Insights from Major General Patrick Marriott CB, CBE, DL

by Phil Eyre Founder

At the recent Inclusion Conference in Guernsey, Major General Patrick Marriott brought a high-impact keynote packed with ideas and tips on how to lead through adversity. If you are leading in tough circumstances, whether directing change or enacting change, these insights will resonate strongly with you.


There are four critical elements to leading well through adversity, summarised with 20 tips:


  1. The mission 

Keeping a focus on the mission is crucial. It can be tempting to focus instead on details, such as specific issues or people that are not working well, and miss the most crucial thing - the mission.  Leaders must constantly ask themselves three questions:

  1. What is the aim? What is it that we are seeking to achieve?
  2. Why are we doing this? What is the purpose, the point? What is compelling this effort?
  3. What is the end-state? What will it look like and feel like when we have achieved the outcome that we’re working towards?

Communicating the end-state effectively is crucial for people to apply themselves to achieving it. The end-state needs to be:

i)   A highly complex, confusing description of what you want to achieve is difficult, if not impossible, to work towards.

ii)   The homework needs to be put in to make sure that the outcome is to some extent possible. This is not to mitigate all risk, but it is to ensure that action is taken on the basis of considered risk.

iii)   There need to be obvious benefits to the change being enacted.

iv)   The end-state needs to be communicable. Can your people readily convey the objective that you’re working towards to other colleagues?

In our experience, we encounter many leaders who possess the vision and mission, but presume that others understand what’s in their minds. Failing to take the time to clarify and communicate the mission – the aim, purpose and intended impact - often results in a highly frustrating change environment.


  1. Planning

There are seven tips for effective planning:

i)   Consult widely. Do not presume that your ideas and expectations are perfect. Seek a variety of perspectives from within the organisation. Understand the impact via different people’s eyes.

ii)   Avoid consultants. External consultants rarely understand the context that you are in. Instead, use in-house planning teams who themselves are supported by experienced mentors. These mentors can be outside of your organisation; their role is to support those inside, not run the project themselves.

iii)   Think ‘constants and variables’. Hold on to the constants and change the variables. This is about holding on to the best of what’s gone before and changing those things that are variable. John Buchan, novelist, historian and the 15th Governor General of Canada, put it like this: ‘Bring all change into harmony with the fundamentals from the past.’ Patrick’s former headmaster conveyed the same idea: ‘Love new ideas but hold on to the old standards.’

iv)   War game! Practise and drill the concept and get everyone involved. This is vital in order to prepare for implementation.

v)   Perform limited trials. Prove the concept under contained conditions before pushing the boundaries. Evolutionary change is more enduring than revolutionary change.

vi)   Stop and recalibrate along the way. Leaders must subsume their pride, be willing to be wrong and reorientate direction when required.

vii)   Think to the finish. Field Marshal Edmund Allenby led with ‘think to the finish’ firmly in mind. Planning to the end, sometimes beyond the immediate impact, is essential for each step to contribute to the objective. Caring little for how your part contributes to the overall objective is lazy thinking at best, dangerous at worst.


3) Persuasion

Field Marshal William Slim said that there are three methods of leading: compulsion, persuasion and example. Leading change, especially through adversity, is all about persuasion and example, not compulsion. Five tips follow:  

i)   Take the time to understand the genuine and felt concerns of your people. Brigadier Ed Butler passed on this wisdom to Patrick: ‘Think through other’s eyes.’

ii)   Tell the truth. Truth builds trust. Be open, honest and inclusive. Tell the truth, don’t ‘spin’ the truth. Decision-making should be inclusive, decisions made together ‘in the room’ and not by unofficial ‘inner rings’.

iii)   Be willing to compromise. Throw out your egos and be tolerant of each other’s views.

iv)   Choose to trust. Again, put your own ego aside and trust others. Trust creates intuitive engagement and creativity. It empowers and unifies any team. Do you delegate only to those you trust, or in order to create trust? The best leaders delegate in order to foster trust in their teams.

v)   Leaders must ‘play it straight’ if they are to inspire and persuade their people to follow. There must be congruity between what leaders a) say, b) think, and c) do. When one axis of this triangle fails, integrity collapses, e.g. if a leader fails to do what they think and say.


4) Reassurance - the most important point

Reassuring your people during adversity is the most important of all of these points, yet too often is way off a leader’s radar. This is all about keeping the people with you once they’re persuaded, even as conditions get harder. The essence is loving people; love them and keep on loving them. Four key tips:  

i)   Provide open and truthful updates. There can be no spin or fake news. If the news is bad, be honest.

ii)   Provide regular opportunities for two-way reviews and - importantly - be willing to change the change as a result of the feedback. Forums to review the change can be powerful in reassuring your people.

iii)   Avoid metrics when you can. Elevating only those things that can be measured will miss the far more important things that can’t be measured. Many mathematical measures are unintelligent and serve to distract rather than inform. Some of the most important things in life can’t be measured with a metric: love, courage, grief, fear, surprise and beauty to name but a few. These are more intuitive, felt and sensed rather than measured

iv)   Look after those whom you cannot persuade. Be kind to those who are displaced, or at the margin. People who cannot (yet) get on board with the change. People who are impacted negatively by the change. For example, think about those who have not been promoted before those who have been.


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About The Author | Phil Eyre

Phil is Leaders’ founder. He has an enthusiastic and inspiring style, drawing on his experience in business, academia and social sectors to help any leadership team to achieve phenomenal performance. Phil has significant expertise in sophisticated psychometrics and in the application of human data for individual, team and organisational success. He has trained with and been mentored by, global leaders in this field, notably Dr Chuck Coker in the US. Phil began his career in the UK offshore finance industry in 1994, working for a wealth management company, Canaccord Genuity Wealth International. Phil was head of the company's Guernsey division, with a staff of 120 and assets under management of £4.5billion before resigning from executive responsibilities in 2008. Since launching Leaders in 2017, Phil has worked with many senior executives and boards primarily in the Channel Islands and City of London. He regularly writes for a variety of business publications and is often invited to speak at events for institutions such as the IoD and the British Army. Phil works closely with clients on focussed projects and long-term retainers to raise leadership standards. He is a popular and inspiring educator and coach who, with the insights gained from psychometrics, is able to accurately detect the strengths and weaknesses in leadership teams and boards. Phil has served on the boards of various charities, ran the Guernsey hub of a national theology college, received accreditation as a pastor in the Baptist Union of Great Britain and is accredited in various motivation and behavioural techniques.

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