Tim Richardson: Part 2 of an interview by Bob Morris

122fbf9Formerly, Tim Richardson headed Leadership and Talent at PWC (2000-2009), where he was the driving force behind the creation of an integrated talent strategy and leadership development. He started his career in financial services. He now focuses on talent and leadership consultancy bringing insights to senior people, Boards and all levels in organisations to encourage a more responsible approach and response to leadership challenges. Over the last 20 years he has worked with corporate clients such as: HSBC, BBC, Lloyds TSB, Thames Water, Barclays, Unilever, and Tear Fund as well as extensively within the voluntary sector. He has considerable international experience, including the Far East, Central Asia, mainland Europe, North and South America, and Africa.

Tim has worked with senior partners and leaders around the world in a coaching and facilitation capacity often bringing insights to strategic forums. He has designed and facilitated large conferences of up to 300 people and has himself spoken at a number of conferences around the world on the subject of talent and leadership. His first book about leadership – Monday’s Times – a modern day allegory of the search for leadership soul in business, was published in 2009.

Tim has a bachelor’s degree in business studies from Greenwich University and is a fellow of both the Chartered Bankers Institute and the Royal Society of Arts.

His book, The Responsible Leader: Developing a Culture of Responsibility in an Uncertain World, was published by KoganPage (February 2015).

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Morris: Now please shift your attention to The Responsible Leader. When and why did you decide to write it?

Richardson: I was invited to write it a couple of years back and it has been an opportunity for me to take stock of my personal leadership journey and reflect on what I believe to be important. I wanted to encourage leaders to pause and think about their leadership and their worlds, to own their choices and personal agency. I guess I believed that I had something to say and contribute, and that this was another way of saying it in addition to my work with individuals and groups.

Morris: Were there any head-snapping revelations while writing it? Please explain.

Richardson: I guess that as I knew where I wanted to take it, as it emerged and took shape I was reminded how inspiring it is to be around truly responsible leaders and that most of these people are unsung heroes who don’t seek fame or status but are responding to a ‘louder call’ as it were. I think my next book could be about ‘reluctant or accidental leadership’ as it seems to me that it is often people that are humble and not led by their own egocentric forces that will be the people to whom we will look for guidance in the future.

Morris: To what extent (if any) does the book in final form differ significantly from what you originally envisioned?

Richardson: Not a great deal to be honest. I would have liked to have included even more stories of real people and scenarios but space did not allow for this. I did not set out to write an academic text and I think I have struck a good balance between theoretical and pragmatic.

Morris: Did you learn anything especially significant about yourself during the process of completing the manuscript for KoganPage? Please explain.

Richardson: That I am great at planning but rubbish at sticking to the plan! I know that I often feel most inspired when up against deadlines. On a deeper level, the value of an editorial eye encouraged me to really focus and crystallise my thinking. I found myself appreciating the fact that responsible leaders do accept levels of personal risk and this challenged me about my own levels of comfort and risk. So watch this space!

Morris: Of all the great leaders throughout history, which – in your opinion – most fully exemplifies the nature and extent of responsibility that you so eloquently affirm?

Richardson: Wow, this is question I both love and dislike from clients I work with. Everyone wants to know who are the greatest leaders and whom they should mirror. If only it was that easy. However, we all need people to look up to and around whom we form our mental models so here is a stab. Mother Teresa who followed her heart and responded selflessly to reach out to the poor of Kolkata. She didn’t force her approach on others but through her daily actions, she impacted the lives of so many of us who never came into contact with her. She also changed the way people think about poverty and those less fortunate.

She was someone who did not seek fame. Someone who did – Abraham Lincoln – tried his best to stay connected to people and regularly met with folk to tell jokes and stories and to gauge what it was like literally on the front line. He also realised that it was he who would have to stand for something he believed in for the greater good even though it cost him a lot personally. His story inspires me.

Morris: What specifically can supervisors do to develop a full sense of responsibility in those for whom they are directly responsible?

Richardson: I am going to use an example from the book here. I think that when people put themselves into their wider system (physically standing in it) and playing the roles from all perspectives, people begin to feel what it is like to be a positive agent in the system. So supervisors would be well coached to involve their people in creating their own ‘responsible narrative’. A good question is often, ‘imagine this is your business and your skin in the game. What do you want clients and wider stakeholders to be saying about you and it?’ Generally most people do not come up with ‘we make loads of money and don’t care about people!’.

Morris: As I indicate in my review of the book for various Amazon websites, there are dozens of passages throughout your narrative that caught my eye. For those who have not as yet read the book, please suggest what you view as the most important point or key take-away in each of these passages.

First, Internal assuredness and attractiveness (28-33)

Richardson: We know that as humans we have a ‘move towards or move away from’ neuro response. What also know is that as followers we are drawn towards people who attract us either with their narrative and/or their natural presence. Effective leaders know that it is not their force of personality that draws people to work with them but their natural authority that comes from an inner assuredness of who they are and what they stand for. They are genuinely trustworthy. Spending time and energy to cultivate this is important as we develop responsible leaders.

Morris: Adaptability and learning orientation (34-38)

Richardson: Being open minded and curious about people and scenarios requires humility and a real willingness to listen and learn. The pace of change in the modern world requires us to embrace a state of mind in which we simply cannot know all the answers and in which we will only thrive (note this is more than survive) if we can embrace the tensions inherent in ambiguity.

Morris: Thinking and operating relationally (39-44)

Richardson: There is so much in this, but in a nutshell, the future will be shaped by and belong to those who collaborate and build healthy interdependence as it is most likely that from these relationships innovations will emerge. Innovations in thinking, product design, scientific development etc. Leaders who think that only they or their company have the answers will be short lived and will not be able to cultivate the environment in which people are generous with their ideas and in which co-creation is possible. Competition will be less attractive than co-creation. ‘Self’ will be less important than ‘other’.

Morris: Purpose and focus (44-48)

Richardson: Quite simply, responsible leadership is about have a compelling narrative that is clear in purpose. Why are we doing this? Where are we going? And then, it’s about how responsible leaders focus their energy (and that of others) to realize the vision.

Morris: The organizational dimension (63-73)

Richardson: Responsible leaders understand that their specific organizational system requires them to pay attention to the different forces and tensions at work in the system. They appreciate that each ‘stakeholder’ in the system will have demands on them. But when as a responsible leader (sure of their own inner identity) they fully appreciate their role as an agent not a victim in the system, they can bring the system together effectively.

Morris: The wider global and local connection (73-80)

Richardson: Once we begin to realize that many of our decisions have ripples in places and situations that we would not initially think about (for example purchasing decisions impacting the well being of citizens in far flung countries) we can become globally thoughtful and responsible. Our choices make a difference – positive or not so – on the economy around us, on our fragile environment and on our communities. And when we can align ourselves and our organisations choicefully, then we can exercise our true citizenship. It sounds vaguely Utopian and starry-eyed, but when we accept that things are more connected than we perhaps realized it does in a strange way liberate us individually and collectively. Moreover, we don’t have to be a large multi national. These days, the power of the individual can be influential and we should recognize this even if it is only on what might appear on the surface to be a small scale locally. You never know where your ripples will reach!

Morris: Listening to hear through the noise — cultivate serenity (84-88)

Richardson: Our world is increasingly full of distractions and intrusions into our minds and consciousness. Some of this is helpful and edifying. Much is not. To be blown this way and that following every distraction and piece of information is to be rendered out of control. Responsible leaders can focus their (naturally limited) energies and attention where it matters for leverage and real results. Cultivating discernment is an important trait to develop and leads to that assured inner confidence we mentioned earlier. This is one of the tensions inherent in our modern world. We have all the information at our finger tips and yet few understand the difference between acquiring information and knowledge and the exercise of wisdom. The latter is to be sought and highly prized. The former is linked to the illusion of busyness – the more meetings I have, the more emails, the more tweets etc, then the more effective I must be. In reality the complete opposite is true. Few of us really know how to listen deeply and intentionally. Yet this is the route of focus.

Morris: Redefining success (93-102)

Richardson: Leading up to the financial crash of 2008, shareholder value was the holy grail for all C-level executives. CEOs were assessed on their personal ability to impact the share price. Given that the latter is measured hourly, by and large this fuels short term thinking and actions. KPIs although stating that balance is important, will revert to top and bottom line numbers unless visionary leaders can point to other ways of defining success. Again this is a tension between delivering results and building confidence for investors AND delivering sustainable long term performance that is additive to wider stakeholders and communities. Such value will touch many aspects of life and require courage on the part of leaders to manage the dilemmas inherent in wanting to demonstrate agility to respond to new developments whilst also being focused on what is really important for the common good. Tough indeed! Some businesses are getting this and I hope that it will soon be the case that annual reports lead with different perspectives of success rather than the financials. It is beginning to happen.

Morris: Enhanced learning cycle (109-123)

Richardson: I believe that learning will be a vital key in our journey of responsibility as leaders (and society). But this means real learning at deeper levels- cognitively, emotionally, spiritually, insightfully. This requires attention, good questioning, creating space for thinking, pausing to notice what is both actually going on and what this might be provoking by way of insights from deeper sources – our gut instincts for example. What I tend to find though is that people are all too quick to be spectators in their own learning as they wait for a ‘trainer or manager’ to teach them, critiquing and judging ‘takeaways’ to apply instantly in their busy jobs. When you hear yourself asking the ‘so what’ question, maybe this is a prompt to ask a tougher question, perhaps ‘what is my responsibility to consider what I am noticing in me and others, to explore my own personal blind spots, and to remain open to changing to be more effective as my true authentic self?’ Worryingly, when this narrow thinking is translated organizationally, it means that patterns of decision making keep repeating themselves. Organizational blind spots are ignored. Only recently a large UK based bank fired its CEO who was appointed post the 2008 crash to restore trust and reconnect the organization with its values and longer term perspective. Apparently, he wasn’t moving fast enough and shareholders were getting restless wanting the investment banking arm to be more profitable. This was the very part of the business that brought it so close to collapse six years ago. Priceless.

Morris: Creating impactful and lasting development opportunities (124-131)

Richardson: If real learning is about ‘deeper learning’ for individuals and organisations, then we should try to create more opportunities for people to learn at this level. We make a mistake if we assume that this can be done simply in the classroom or through cognitive, analytical processes. These have a place but as humans, genuine learning happens when we experience things, make sense of them in our own way and connect emotionally with what is going on. More and more, organisations are realizing this and setting up ‘immersion’ opportunities for leaders to experience bringing together cognitive, analytical, emotional and even spiritual learning for people. These often take people out of their normal worlds and comfort zones to examine other worlds and perspectives.

Morris: Responsibility from commitment, not compliance: it starts with our view of the world (136-144)

Richardson: When I reflect on the role that performance plays in our business world, I am struck by the relationship between performance and behaviour. I am also curious about the relationship between performance and compliance in which we are encouraged to reach targets (and get rewarded for doing so) whilst conforming to ever more rules and ‘thou shall nots’. What is often missing is the creating of a culture in which people are encouraged to think for themselves and take personal responsibility for decisions and choices based on a greater goal than simply a performance target. When people think for themselves about consequences of choices, they are more likely to behave based on commitment rather than simply following rules. Sadly we also know that people are creative and break rules or ignore them in order to meet targets and stay in the zero sum game – the I win you lose mindset. A mindset shift to one in which the whole can be enlarged tends to foster a culture in which people commit to a ‘bigger purpose’ especially if measurement is more imaginative than simple bottom or top line targets. However, this is not say that this is a straightforward either or. Leaders need to strike a balance between creating the culture for commitment which in turn leads to thoughtful compliance.

Morris: Impacting culture intentionally (145-159)

Richardson: These points are inter linked as they argue that leaders should and can foster a responsible culture through their choices, their role modeling, the way that they use every one on one conversation they have to impact the culture positively. In the book I talk about other ways in which this can be done practically.

Morris: Restructuring alone will not yield results (168-171)

Richardson: OK, some say it was the Roman military commander, Gaius Petronius, who (so the legend goes) identified that they were constantly being reorganized in the assumption that it led to better performance and effectiveness whereas it only served to sow uncertainty and lower morale. It is behaviour and choices that shape culture and make structures come alive. Structures can inhibit effectiveness for sure but simply rearranging the chairs on the deck (or names in an org chart) will not mean people will change their behaviour. It can be another illusion of progress.

Morris: A new way of being — stepping forward for the greater good (182-190)

Richardson: I wanted to paint a positive vision of the future to end the book with and encourage people to look for themselves for examples of responsible leadership. For me, there are a few examples in larger organisations (for example, a recent large client of our who has restated its desire to enrich the world and not to exploit it) or the public eye (for example Pope Francis who is modeling leadership quite differently and challenging countries, religions, businesses to see the world as an interdependent and fragile system to be stewarded rather than exploited), but there are far more people individually stepping forward in their own local communities or businesses realizing that they have a choice to take a ‘I can and I will’ attitude to shape my little piece mindful that I can contribute to a larger purpose – a greater good. We each have the opportunity to be responsible leaders and like never before, the interconnected world in which we live is crying out for each of us to play our part, be it as a CEO of a global corporation or as a volunteer with a charity. And if we remain open minded and curious we can find examples of this all around us from which we can draw inspiration and whom we can encourage to keep going!

Morris: Of all the great leaders throughout history, with which one would you most want to share an evening of conversation if it were possible? Why?

Richardson: Earlier I mentioned Abraham Lincoln so I would go for him. According to his biographers he was witty, told great stories and connected with ordinary people. He also had personal tragedy and failure in his life which I suspect made him more human and naturally authentic and attractive.

Morris: Let’s say that a CEO has read and then (hopefully) re-read The Responsible Leader and is now determined to establish or strengthen a workplace culture within which personal growth and professional development are most likely to thrive. Where to begin?

Richardson: Talk to people – your people. Meet them where they are and listen – deeply. Then take time to reflect…..on what responsibility means to you personally and collectively. Think of the tough questions that you might be avoiding….

Morris: For more than 25 years, it has been my great pleasure as well as privilege to work closely with the owner/CEOs of hundreds of small companies, those with $20-million or less in annual sales. In your opinion, of all the material you provide in The Responsible Leader, which do you think will be of greatest value to leaders in small companies? Please explain.

Richardson: I also work with smaller companies from time to time and leading such companies is tough given the need to secure revenue and manage performance carefully whilst looking for growth. However, the times we are in right now mean that smaller companies can really begin to set the agenda and build reputation and trust. Bigger companies are struggling with this and I believe that smaller, more agile businesses that ‘get the fact that there is a bigger agenda’ will attract customers who are themselves nowadays more informed and therefore more thoughtful. So my advice would be to clarify your own ‘core’, focus on an attractive purpose that sets you apart from the masses somehow, stand for something that the wider public can relate to, and listen and learn – constantly.

Morris: Which question had you hoped to be asked during this interview – but weren’t – and what is your response to it?

Richardson: I’m not sure I can think of one to be honest. It has been a thorough interview. I’m glad I was not asked whether leaders are borne or made….I often get asked this… as it is both and! I certainly believe that responsible leadership can be “taught” and imparted to people. Moreover, I believe we need to be teaching and imparting this in our children and emerging leaders in our schools and colleges. That’s my next project….

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Here is a direct link to Part 1.

Tim cordially invites you to check out the resources at these websites:

The RSA link

Abundant Community link

Bright Future link

Eden Project link

Waverley Learning link


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