Rich Cooper, who describes himself as “technically minded with a coaching approach” shared ten leadership principles on LinkedIn. As we found them authentic, wise, positive and forward-looking, we’re sharing them with our readers – we feel they will be especially relevant for those of you aspiring to be leaders, whether at work or elsewhere in your lives.
Leadership is all about compromises, making judgement calls and balancing the past with the current and the future, prioritising your time to those who want and need it the most.”
One of the commenters on Rich’s original principles described them as “deeply human traits” and made the case that “being the distinctly human beings that we are is critical for current and future leadership as we increasingly augment tech[nology]”. For Protagion’s related take on how we can stay abreast of the changing technological landscape, see our post on embracing new technologies.
Rich’s own professional career experience covers various workplaces, across different industries like financial services, banking and insurance, from different perspectives including technology and management information. He has also had very many career conversations with people over the years, coaching and supporting them to achieve career success, and believes in the impact of job crafting, where employees redefine and reimagine their jobs in ways which are meaningful to them personally and play to their strengths. His blend of technical expertise including data and analysis, as well as people development skills, is incredibly powerful and shines through in his style.
Read more to discover Rich’s leadership principles, and see how the emotional elements come through strongly too, including his references to the “see-saw of thoughts and conflicts” and self-limiting thoughts.
Workplaces, in my experience, do not play a pro-active and supportive role cultivating future leaders – the energy and resources are diverted to [the] present, not for tomorrow. Leadership training and development is pitched towards fixing and supporting existing leaders, not the to-be leaders.”
He cautions, however, against some of the feelings that may come with getting stuck in: “You may be doing work that is above your pay grade. You may be compensating for others who are not pulling their weight. You maybe leading others when your manager should be leading. You might not get rewarded for that in the short term.” But, he says, “the reality is you will be the one to prosper when the time comes.”
Another advantage is that “if you do get that leadership position [in future] it won’t feel like much of a change as you will have already been doing most of it anyway. You won’t get strange looks from colleagues when the new job announcement is made because they have been expecting it... Do the right things, move in the right direction and opportunities will come to you.” First practising and then meeting the expectations of a role makes it significantly easier to outperform when you are officially given the responsibility; this is why shadowing seniors and/or caretaking elements of their roles is a great help in preparing for your next position.
2) Be careful of inward thinking, and instead consider from others’ perspectives
Considering situations only from your own perspective can potentially be insular and become self-destructive and self-limiting. Interpreting neutral situations negatively can lead to a reputation as a negative person too. To combat this, “try to step out of your own thinking, ask questions and understand why decisions are being taken. Be supportive even if it feels difficult. Step into different types of shoes.” Think it from different perspectives including those of colleagues, team leaders, managers, executives, stakeholders, customers and competitors. “Once you have stepped out of your thinking you will then realise how you can use your strengths and personality to benefit others, but most importantly yourself.” This outside-in viewpoint can be very helpful in reframing a situation for yourself, and developing empathy for how others are affected by it.
3) Practise leadership skills by supporting your leaders
This principle builds on the first one, and Rich uses the analogy of a car driver to illustrate it. He explains that “one of the biggest challenges of leadership is having 360 vision… You are constantly switching between your own thoughts whilst trying to keep others happy” i.e. moving between an inward perspective and an outside-in one. “When you are a passenger in that car [that your leader is driving], be observant, be considerate, ask questions, remember the routes, help with the map reading. Future leaders know how to drive before they need to drive.”
4) Compromises and thinking on your feet
Rich explains that leaders regularly encounter situations that they are unprepared for: “The reality of leadership means you need to adjust and become comfortable with the fact that you cannot polish everything. Every day there is a compromise.” Reacting in the moment, and doing your best is okay, and Rich expands that leaders often think ‘If I had more time I would…’: “The biggest reality of a leader is that your time is in short supply. There are things you can plan for but many others that you cannot plan for. Humans can be unpredictable. Businesses can be unpredictable… Your true learning starts when then is nobody in the passenger seat.”
5) Keep calm and prepare before the storm
While the environment can be uncertain, evolving and unpredictable, one of the important qualities of a leader is to respond in a calm and measured way – this inspires trust from your team, and increases your chances of weathering the storm. Rich explains: “Be calm, know your team, know their strengths, know their stressors, lay the groundwork and always be prepared for that storm. If you are not a leader show those qualities anyway, people will be watching.” He shares a personal example from a bank during the Global Financial Crisis, explaining that his senior leader responded in a calm, structured, methodical and re-assured way: “They knew their team – they were called into action without panic or fear. They knew their jobs and they trusted in their leader. The leader had always invested time and patience in them; it was now the team who would repay that when it was needed the most. Most importantly because they were calm, they were approachable. Being busy and a state of panic will often mean you miss the most obvious.”
6) Know your strengths and get involved
Rich emphasises how important it is to know your strengths and weaknesses as a leader, and advises: “Understand what energises you. Do more of it. Pivot. Experiment. Understand where you can add value, understand how you can solve problems for a leadership team.”
Describing another experience from his investment banking days, Rich recounts his attendance at performance ranking meetings, where individuals were discussed by senior managers. “In the investment banking [world], ranking was key to success and reputation. I started to understand the process, understood what made people stand out, what marked others down. At times it was brutal. I still remember those conversations that were held in that room. I realised my name would be discussed when I left and I now fully understood exactly how difficult it was for my manager when they are competing with everyone else.”
See our article on Carla Harris for more information on subjective meritocracy, sponsors, and perception being the co-pilot to reality.
7) Build your profile with the right behaviours, including building trust
Rich also shares his thoughts on building our reputations, and others’ perceptions of us. He says: “Like it not, we all have a profile… others will look out for signs, however small, that confirm the opinion that has been formed. When your name is being discussed in meetings, leaders will generally use very short descriptions to sum you up... It can take a while to change a perception that others have about you.”
8) Vulnerability and showing your humanity
Reinforcing the emotional and human elements of leadership, Rich explains that his leadership role models are the same person in and out of the workplace i.e. authenticity. “They show their vulnerabilities, they ask for help when they need help, they give credit to others and foster long term trust with their staff. They don't have all the answers and they are okay with that.”
9) Invest in your own development and growth
Rich’s 9th principle also resonates for us at Protagion. He describes different situations during his career where he participated in self-development programmes and benefited from training and development, including talks by external speakers. One of his reflections is that “taking me out of my work environment and spending days with colleagues I didn’t know was key for developing my self-awareness and testing my ability to build rapport with others”. He acknowledges that “as well as face-to-face personal development, reading and podcasts have forged as massive part of my leadership knowhow”, and he encourages us all to invest time and energy in developing ourselves.
The resources available now are staggering. These have formed the backbone of my ideas and strategies. When we are busy it can be difficult to make time for personal development but start small and pick something that resonates, you never know which direction it can take you.”
10) Take the opportunity
His concluding principle centres on taking action: “the worst thing you can do is nothing”. He entreats us to control our thoughts and drive our development, setting out a number of related suggestions in the uplifting quote below.
Do things that move you in the right direction. Try not to over plan. It's very difficult to solve problems in your head that are yet to happen. Be curious. Experiment. Ask for help. The film that you play in your head may not actually be the reality – try not to overthink. Challenge your limiting beliefs. Be clear if you know what you want – don't assume that others will know what you are looking for. Be supportive of those around you. Good things will come your way if you shift the way you think. Tell your story. Don't wait.”
Rich’s original LinkedIn post can be found here: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/my-10-leadership-principles-rich-cooper/