May 25, 2022

Pursuing Better Together with Kate Richardson-Walsh OBE

Insights International

“Vulnerability is where the good stuff lives.”

Kate Richardson-walsh, Olympian

Pursuing Better Together with Kate Richardson-Walsh OBE

In Episode 1 of Arch’s new Pursuing Better Together podcast series, we caught up with Kate Richardson-Walsh OBE, the Gold-medal winning captain of the Great Britain Women’s hockey team and BBC broadcaster who was a central part of a cultural transformation that lifted the GB team from second bottom in the World Championship to 2016 Olympic Champions in just two years.

“We were very much aligned in terms of our culture and our behaviours. We were one,” she said of the gold-medal-winning team. However, getting to that point took of a lot of hard work and introspection, including from Richardson-Walsh, who had to evolve as a leader.

“I was shy, introverted and lacked confidence in the beginning,” she said. “Growing up, all the leaders I was led by were very autocratic. You get on board, or you get off. That was what I thought leadership was, which was terrifying to me.”

A key step in her development was the realisation she had been voted captain to serve those around her, giving her a sense of responsibility to herself and the team.

She also realised that kindness, empathy and the ability to create a safe space for people to be honest about how they were feeling were all integral traits in a good leader. This included acknowledging her own vulnerabilities.

“If you want to embrace that next level of leadership and really develop yourself and people around you, vulnerability is where the good stuff lives,” she explained.

“Sometimes care and kindness is an arm around the shoulder and sometimes it means having a really challenging conversation. I’m doing you a disservice if I don’t challenge you and get the best out of you,” she added.

Richardson-Walsh also learned that being a good leader means taking a balanced approach between leading and delegating responsibility. “Sometimes you have to make a decision without discussion and be clear on the reason why, and at other times you have to empower people to make decisions themselves, and go with them. It’s giving people a sense of ownership and the power to be creative without risk.”

According to Richardson-Walsh, any great team culture is built on a clear vision and sense of purpose in realising it which must be continually reviewed and challenged. “Does this serve our vision? Does our purposes serve us any more or should we adapt it? These questions create a healthy friction,” she said.

She also learned that as a leader, you can’t be all things to all people, so you have to lean on the strengths and connections of the people around you and seek inspiration from diverse sources.

“Some influences you will pick up and put down again. Others you will absorb and make your own,” she says, highlighting books by NBA coach Phil Jackson and NFL coach Bill Walsh as key inspirations. “Both of them spoke about standards, leading from within, connecting with people and building something greater a bigger purpose and that really sparked something in me.”

In fact, Richardson-Walsh believes everyone should see themselves as a leader, whether it’s in their job title or not. “How you behave in your organisation’s environment also has an impact on outcomes, goals, mission statements and purposes, and on the people around you and whether they are able to thrive,” she explained.

So how do you determine what kind of leader you will be? “Go within,” she said. “What are your strengths as a person, as a character? What are your personality traits? What do people value in you? What lights you up? Tap into those things because they will help you develop your personal style of leadership.”

Her final advice is to embrace failure, even though it feels uncomfortable, because learning from these experiences is often what separates excellence from just “good.”

“Failure is a springboard to bigger and better things,” she said. “After every failure in my career, something amazing has happened.”

About Arch Insurance International Podcasts

Welcome to Arch Insurance Insights podcasts, available on Google Podcasts, Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

During our Pursuing Better Together series, we’ll hear from luminaries both inside and outside of the insurance industry about how they have “pursued better” within their chosen professions.