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Confidence amongst business leaders lowest in the South West

Kavita Patel

Business leaders in the South West are emerging from the pandemic the least confident, new research by law firm Shakespeare Martineau has revealed.

1 in 4 bosses (25%) in the region say a lack of confidence is holding them back as a leader, compared to just 10% of leaders in the East Midlands.

One thousand senior decision-makers in UK businesses were surveyed by Censuswide on behalf of Shakespeare Martineau as part of its annual Ambition Index.

South West respondents also spoke about how their confidence struggles makes them feel more lonely and isolated in their careers.

Kavita Patel, regional head for the south and head of investment funds at Shakespeare Martineau, said: “Those in the southern regions were affected by the pandemic earlier than leaders in the midlands and the north of England, so those areas may be more naturally cautious as a result.

“Not including central London, the south is quite local when compared with the likes of Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds, for example, which are centres in their own rights and the corporates are all located more closely together as a result.

“This is bound to have an impact on confidence as it results in people feeling more alone if they don’t have trusted advisors they can turn to for advice or support. It’s important business leaders know they are not alone.

“I’d recommend they cultivate a reliable and safe support system where concerns can be expressed and honest, unvarnished feedback provided. Not only does surrounding yourself with the right advisors deliver professional counsel and solutions for complex situations – boosting confidence – it also enables senior leaders to focus on their business and its customers.”

Also placing high on the list was time, with 29% of respondents stating not having enough hours in the day is holding them back as leaders, as well as being unable to maintain a work-life balance (22%).

Kavita said: “Rightly, there is a big focus on the levelling up agenda in boosting the north with investment, but are we missing a trick by not sharing learnings and lifestyle changes experienced outside of the M25 in order to level up productivity and job satisfaction too?

“In the midlands and the north, businesses are moving towards more agile ways of working and the southern regions are taking more time to catch up. This is likely having a negative impact on work-life balance and time.”

However, despite this, ambition among leaders in the South West has capitulated to above pre-Covid levels, with 54% of respondents stating they now feel ‘very ambitious’ compared to 43% before the pandemic.

Kavita said: “Despite the region’s leaders struggling with their levels of confidence, it is positive to see ambition increasing. There was a concern that as a result of the pandemic, a lot of businesses would be in real difficulty, but this hasn’t materialised. Senior leadership teams have had to navigate choppy waters over the past 18 months, which has no doubt made them more resilient and ambitious as a result.”

More than 1 in 3 (37%) leaders in the South West plan to invest more into their organisations in 2022 when compared to the past year. Technology (48%) topped the list of resources bosses will be investing in, followed by IT (33%) and learning and development (31%).

Kavita said: “This is a very encouraging sign. While we need business to invest to grow and support economic recovery, it’s pleasing to see that leaders are also looking inwardly and building business resilience. There is also a shift in focus to technology, IT, and learning and development – rather than product development, fixed assets and property – which will support businesses become more efficient and agile.

“It is also clear that businesses have understood the impact an inability to focus on training during Covid had on their workforce. Now we’re back face to face, companies are ensuring people development is continuing at pace, so there isn’t a generation whose skillset isn’t up to scratch. They are trying to rebuild a base level of appropriate skills and knowledge within the business.”