Dr Lynda Folan On Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Uncertain & Turbulent…

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Dr Lynda Folan On Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Uncertain & Turbulent Times

The most prominent mistake organisations make is taking short-team decisions without adequately considering long-term implications. Businesses often resort to redundancies or restructures in the presence of short-term financial pressure. This is not always the best strategy; we must get more creative about balancing short- and long-term decision-making.

As part of our series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times”, we had the pleasure of interviewing Dr Lynda Folan.

Dr Lynda Folan is a workplace psychologist and Managing Director at Inspired Development Solutions. She has over 35 years of experience working with businesses and a strong academic background in the psychology of organisations.

Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

I have lived and worked in four countries across three continents and enjoyed exciting opportunities for my career, for learning, growth, and exploration. My career has allowed me to take on a broad range of roles in diverse businesses across the globe and has supported me in growing my experience, knowledge and expertise. At the same time, I have been able to indulge in my passion for travel and exploration, including travelling to over a hundred countries on all seven continents. As a parent, it has allowed me to provide my son with fantastic opportunities and experiences.

I was born and brought up in South Africa and completed my first degree at the University of Natal in Durban. Like most young people, I was uncertain about my career direction when I left school and wanted to explore my options. To keep these options open, I chose to do a triple major in Psychology, Economics and Marketing. My first job was as a Human Resources officer in Local Government in Durban. This early experience of supporting engagement in a challenging work setting ignited my passion for organisational psychology. From that point on, I became single-minded in developing my capability as an Organisational Psychologist and Human Resources Professional. This included taking on new challenges, continuously learning, honing my skills, and developing a toolkit to support my passion.

At 22, when the opportunity arose to go and live and work in Belgium, there was no question about making a move. At that time, I had never travelled outside South Africa, so it was a huge step. It was also the start of a life transformation that opened a world of opportunities. Living in mainland Europe made travelling easy, so I indulged my passion and started exploring the world. During my time in Belgium, I also completed an Honors degree in Organisational Psychology.

Two years later, I moved to the UK to take up an opportunity at Tesco. This was pivotal in the evolution of my career. It was a fantastic time of learning and growing. It allowed me to be part of one of the most remarkable organisational transformations. At 29, way ahead of my planned career trajectory, I was appointed to my first Board Directors role as Vice President of Human Resources for the Hard Rock Café. This was, again, an incredible experience and exposed me to extensive travel and remarkable experiences. I had always aspired to study at the University of London (Birkbeck), one of the top schools of Organisational Psychology. While at the Hard Rock, the organisation supported me in completing a Master of Organisational Psychology at Birkbeck. This had challenges, as it required balancing studies with a demanding role and extensive travel.

During my time in the UK, I built a highly successful career leading International Human Resources and Organisational Development teams and delivering large-scale cultural change programs in various organisations. I was involved in the purchase and sale of businesses, a management buyout, the closure of a business operation, and an extensive range of business transformations. This provided a fantastic range of opportunities to hone my skills, knowledge, and experience in my chosen field. My corporate roles in London included Tesco Stores (Retail), the Hard Rock Café, Wyndham International (Hotels) and The Number (Telecoms).

In 2003 I fell pregnant with my son, precipitating a shift in priorities and focus. His entry into the world was unexpected; however, he was and is utterly adored and will always be the most important person in my life. While my career focus remained consistent, Matthew’s arrival brought significant life changes. As a family, we made a lifestyle choice and commenced the process of migrating to Australia. In June 2007, we landed in Australia after spending three months exploring Africa en route to our new home. I initially worked for an established consultancy business in Australia, but in 2012 decided to set up my own company, Inspired Development Solutions Pty Ltd. The business is a niche Organisational Psychology consultancy firm founded on strong client relationships and delivering bespoke solutions that deliver results. Over the years, the business has continued to grow and develop in diverse areas.

Working with leaders across the globe, I developed an interest in understanding what supports leaders, their teams, and their organisations to achieve excellence. This evolved into a very defined interest in the personal attributes that support outstanding leadership, which was the starting point of my Doctoral studies. Unlike most academics, I never set out to complete a Doctorate, and it was not in my life plans. However, in 2020 after eight years of research and hard work, I graduated with a Doctorate in Organisational Psychology. Completing this took a significant effort, as I am not a natural academic. In school and my early university studies, I achieved average results. And as a teenager, I recall my father telling me I would have to work hard at university, as ‘I was not university material’. He was right; academia is not natural for me. However, I was passionate about making a difference for my clients, so I never gave up, even when it was very challenging. After submitting the final version, one of my mentors suggested that it was a waste not to turn my research into a book. As you can imagine, after eight years of study, my initial response was not positive. However, after careful consideration, I spent the next eighteen months converting the research into a book. In November 2021, I published my book, “Leader Resilience — The New Frontier of Leadership (2021).” The book has generated significant interest worldwide, particularly in the present context, where resilience is a critical topic.

It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

In the earlier part of my career, I took on a role and joined an organisation that I had not effectively assessed. Once I got past the glossy induction to the organisation, I quickly realised that the culture and the way things were done clashed with my values and beliefs about how people should be treated. I kept trying to make it work and keep myself positive, but in the end, I knew I had to move on. This was a big learning curve for me as I had to admit that while I could do the role, I could not be truly successful in that environment. Partially it was accepting that I had not succeeded and letting go of my ego’s need never to give up. Another key learning for me was the importance of values and culture in getting the best out of people. Since that time, I have always sought to ensure that the organisations I work with align with my values. It has also precipitated a significant shift in focus for my career to look at how we create cultures that are psychologically supportive of everyone.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

Over the years, I have been lucky to have some fantastic people as mentors and coaches. The mentor that stands out for me was one of the CEOs I worked with, who then became a mentor. He taught me a tremendous amount about leadership while I worked for him. He was not only an inspiring strategist and communicator, but he was also a supportive coach and career guide. He continued to mentor me after I left the organisation, unselfishly offering his time and expertise to support me in evolving my career. His guidance and advice over the years helped me achieve far greater success than I ever believed. As a result of his role modelling, I am now passionate about providing this type of support to others.

Extensive research suggests that “purpose-driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your organisation started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?

Inspired Development Solutions’ mission and vision have been driven by my passion for supporting people and organisations to achieve greatness. Below is the business mission and vision that provides our focus and direction.


Creating and delivering leading-edge developmental solutions that deliver transformation for individuals, teams and organisations.


To be the most sought-after Leadership and Organisational Development Consultancy, delivering unique and bespoke solutions that transform individuals, teams and organisations.

We will achieve this by:

  • Being a valued and trusted partner to our clients, supporting them to discover new horizons and enhanced success.
  • Constantly pushing the boundaries to find unique and innovative solutions for individuals, teams and organisations.
  • Inspiring and challenging individuals, teams and organisations to grow, develop and succeed.
  • Building resilience and supporting individuals, teams and organisations to flourish.
  • Mentoring and supporting the next generation of organisational and leadership development experts.

Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?

Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?

There have definitely been points when I thought about giving up. Particularly during the time when I was running a very demanding business, completing my doctorate, going through a divorce and parenting a teenager with an independent streak whose life was destabilised. I was fortunate to be studying the topic of resilience at the time. This clarified what I needed to do to maintain motivation through this very pressurised period. Clarity about the link between resilience and leadership also allowed me to understand the determinants of resilience and develop some good coping strategies. The findings from the research had a massive impact on my ability to manage my resilience levels in this very challenging context. What has always sustained my drive in a work setting has been a deep inner passion for making a difference in people’s lives and supporting organisations to improve the people aspects of their business. I feel fortunate to have found a career that is also my passion. Because I love what I do, it is easy to maintain my energy and drive no matter how busy I am.

I’m an author, and I believe that books have the power to change lives. Do you have a book in your life that impacted you and inspired you to be an effective leader? Can you share a story?

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. The book inspired me when I read it over 25 years ago, and I was then lucky enough to have the opportunity to study with Stephen in Utah. Having the opportunity to learn both the Seven Habits and Person-Centred Leadership under his expert guidance was one of the most incredible experiences of my life.

What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?

First and foremost, it is crucial that leaders maintain their resilience levels during challenging times. Leaders cannot help their people through difficulties if they don’t support themselves. Research shows that a leader’s ability to leverage a transformational leadership style, essential for navigating challenging times, is directly linked to their resilience (Folan, 2021). If leaders don’t actively maintain their resilience, they can’t effectively lead their teams through volatility and uncertainty.

When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?

In the context of uncertainty and change, communication is vital to maintaining engagement (Gilley & Gilley 2008). Leaders must make the time to listen to their team’s concerns and communicate regularly to reassure and support their people.

Secondly, making time to have fun and relax together as a team. It is the little stuff that matters. Take time to have a coffee with each of your team members and make time to do fun activities or just chill out together.

Positive reinforcement is also essential in this context — regular feedback on the great stuff that the team and individuals are doing.

Finally, it is essential to be open and transparent with people and not tell them everything will be OK. Research shows that it is vital to be realistic about the impact of change so that people can make the necessary adjustments (IBM Research 2008).

What are the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?

It is essential to communicate openly and transparently about what is happening, even when it is challenging news. It is also vital that the organisation provide support from their Employee Assistance providers or outplacement services to assist people in making the emotional transition in these situations.

How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?

We live in a VUCA world, which means that things are unpredictable and will remain this way into the future. It is essential that leaders still plan the future. Leaders must continue to set a strategic focus while remaining agile enough to change this focus as and when the business requires it. Regular review of strategic plans is essential in the present context. Leaders must provide meaning and purpose in the work that is done. This is essential for keeping people focused on delivering in the context of uncertainty.

Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?

Communicate, communicate, communicate, and when you think you have done enough, do some more.

Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?

The most prominent mistake organisations make is taking short-team decisions without adequately considering long-term implications. Businesses often resort to redundancies or restructures in the presence of short-term financial pressure. This is not always the best strategy; we must get more creative about balancing short- and long-term decision-making.

The second common mistake is to stop all training and development and cut well-being expenses. This is a massive mistake. To retain talent and ensure engagement through times of challenge, it is essential to continue developing your people.

Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each


Simon Sinek (2011) makes it clear that for organisations to transform and move through change and turbulence, they must start by defining the ‘Why’. The ‘why’ inspires people to take action towards the future even when things are uncertain. Much has been written about the importance of a clear vision and strategy, and research supports the need for clarity of focus with a clear vision and strategy (Kantabutra & Avery, 2010; Taylor, Cornelius & Colvin, 2014). The Tesco transformation in the mid-1990s from the number 3 retailer to the number one retailer is an excellent example of this. During this period, the organisation was utterly focused on a vision for the future that was clearly defined and understood. And even with the removal of several leadership layers causing significant disruption, people remained focused and optimistic about the future


After spending many years working with organisations and leaders across the globe to assist them in coping with business disruption, there is one clear rule that applies. The leader must maintain their resilience and optimism in times of disruption. This is the foundational requirement to ensure they have the capacity to build a positive and engaging culture in the context of turmoil and uncertainty. A senior executive I have coached for over a decade is an excellent example. She started in a middle management role about ten years ago and has consistently managed her resilience and leadership capability over the past decade. As a result, she is highly valued by her organisation and has been promoted every few years. She now holds one of the most senior roles on the executive board of an FTSE 100 company. No matter where she is in the world when she gets support to maintain her resilience and ensure she can deliver exceptional leadership to her people.


Edgar Schein (2010) says, “The only thing of importance that leaders do is to create and manage culture. in the context of disruption and change, it is essential that the organisation focuses on building a culture that is positive and engaging to support their people to navigate the challenges. One of my existing clients in the Not-for-Profit sector is an excellent example. They invest in leadership development and culture building on an ongoing basis over the prior five-year period. Recently, they were faced with having to make a significant number of people redundant due to sector challenges. In the middle of this redundancy process, it was time for the annual culture review. As a leadership team, they decided to go ahead and hear from their people even though it was a challenging time. The culture scores improved even in the context of a redundancy situation, and there were several positive comments about how well the organisation had handled the redundancies.


Organisations must keep a watchful eye on the external environment to realign their strategy and maintain responsiveness. It is no longer acceptable to wait for strategic planning sessions once a year or to be pushed by external factors. Organisations must have external networks that allow them to stay attuned. If organisations do not continuously assess their environment and align with these changing dynamics, they will eventually decline or become irrelevant. The organisation’s external networks must be well developed to stay ahead of the curve and maintain an understanding of any economic changes in a volatile context.


Well-designed development strategies are crucial to unlocking the organisation’s potential and ensuring people have the skills to make them successful in the future. In turbulent times there is a tendency to stop doing development. However, this is a serious error. It is fundamental to the organisation’s long-term sustainability to continue developing the people. In particular, strategies designed to enhance resilience are essential for maintaining a resilient culture and protecting against the impact of business disruption. Another fantastic client that epitomises this critical leadership focus in times of change. The organisation’s leadership decided to support their people with developmental strategies at the height of the first stages of COVID disruption and in the middle of lockdowns. They commenced by running online (the only option at that time) resilience workshops for their whole organisation, including their leaders. They also supported their leaders with ongoing coaching to help them in navigating the challenges of COVID. The benefits of this investment were evident in all aspects of their response to COVID. They could cope with the difficulties without any loss in revenue or business continuity, and they have had a significantly lower impact on turnover from the great resignation.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.”

Nelson Mandela

How can our readers further follow your work?

LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/feed/

Website: https://inspireddevelopment.net

Dr Lynda Folan, the author of ‘Leader Resilience, The New Frontier of Leadership’ (2021), is an Organisational Psychologist and a renowned specialist in Leadership and Organisational Development. Lynda has considerable expertise in leading organisations through transformational change and works with organisations across the globe to deliver Leadership Development, Organisational Development, Resilience Building, and Executive Coaching. Visit https://www.inspireddevelopment.net/

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

Dr Lynda Folan On Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Uncertain & Turbulent… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.