Leadership in the Face of Threat

A new Korn Ferry report investigates the impact of Brexit on leadership in the UK.

By: Hein Wendt

Four years ago, people in the United Kingdom voted in a referendum on whether the region should remain a member of the European Union (EU) or leave the union entirely.

In the period that followed, organizations postponed their investment decisions, uncertain whether or when the government would formally start the withdrawal procedure and what kind of agreement would be made with the EU.

What was certain, however, was that a wide range of sectors would be seriously impacted by new migration restrictions and barriers to trade, such as tariffs, caused by Brexit. Fearing a no-deal scenario, the UK’s key employers, including Airbus and Siemens, threatened to relocate to other countries, together putting 30,000 jobs at risk. In fact, many organizations were re-evaluating their decision-making because of the Brexit vote and its implications for the economy—both known and unknown. In early 2018, leaders of over 150 companies in the UK had discussed potential relocation plans with the Dutch government. Overall, in the years following the referendum, many organizations have felt the looming threat of the UK leaving the EU.

In its latest report, Leadership in the Face of Threat, the Korn Ferry Institute took a look at how the outcome of the Brexit vote impacted leadership in the UK. And what the Institute found is that, following the referendum outcome, directive leadership behaviors had increased in a large sample of UK managers. This would suggest that these leaders perceived Brexit as a threat, and that the anticipation of harm can have effects as potent as the harm itself.

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