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7 Questions on Leadership with Richard Kohn

Name: Richard Kohn

Title: Global Head of Marketing

Organisation: RedSea

I am the proud father of three incredible powerful and independent women. I speak three languages fluently, and continue to learn more, as it's a gateway to truly understanding people.

In my spare time you'll find me in the Arabian deserts, or drumming.

Following a successful 12-year career as a commercial lawyer and Partner in London, I took the bold move to shift my career into commercial and industry roles.

I have held senior management positions in the print, FMCG and Parapharma verticals - working during that time in the UK, Netherlands, Germany, Isreal, Poland and now the UAE.

In my current role I am responsible for the Marketing Department of one of the fastest growing AgTech companies in the World.

Thank you to the 2,000 leaders who’ve generously done the 7 Questions on Leadership!

I hope Richard's answers will encourage you in your leadership journey. Enjoy!


Jonno White

1. What have you found most challenging as a leader?

Learning to flex my style to get the best out of everyone I work with.

When I left private legal practice to enter industry, I was initially shocked by what I saw as the 'quality' of the people with whom I was working. Having been surrounded by truly exceptional brains, it took me some time to understand that the problem was me, not the people around me.

Obviously, I set very high expectations of myself, and felt challenged that the way of working of other team members was slower, less precise and quite deliberate.

I know that I am am problem solver. I will very often have the problem to a solution significantly faster than others. That's just the way I am. It's a massive personal strength that I can take a complex fact pattern and very quickly devise a strategy and tactics to arrive at a given objective - but that's only useful if you can take the team with you: because as a leader I cannot do ALL the work.

So I learned to flex, to accept that people work differently, to appreciate that they need different inputs to get to the same place, and to realise that getting the solution quickly might not always be the target. Getting there together creates a better result, even if sometimes it is slower.

It's made me a much more empowering leader: I see my objective as being a guardian of their careers during the period that they give me the trust to allow me to lead them. My job is to help them succeed, not the other way round.

2. How did you become a leader? Can you please briefly tell the story?

As long as I remember, I've always been a leader. From school age I was a leader in youth groups, I was a leader in social and sports environments. It's natural position for me. Perhaps that's arrogant to say, but I have never been scared to take on a role of leadership when ever it was offered. And that's the difference: I will stand up and offer myself when others stand back, because they are afraid of failure. I am not afraid to fail.

I don't pretend that I will get everything right, or anything for that matter, but I believe that there always has to be someone that will stand up and be counted. It's very easy to stand on the sidelines and carp - the true leaders are those that say, I'll take that risk and come up with the solutions. If you don't like the solution, then come up with something better.

I was the youngest ever Partner appointed in my law firm. I moved from Law to industry and took on a leadership role almost immediately and was running a subsidiary with 24 employees within a year of that move.

Having said all that, I don't HAVE to be the leader. If someone else is in charge, I will play my role in the team. There is nothing more disruptive in an organization than someone that objects to a leader and tries to undermine them. That's simply not my style.

In every role I have had my employer (yes, we almost all have a boss!) has simply seen the potential, the desire and ambition and given me the privilege of trust to lead.

As I am more advanced in my career, I tend now to be appointed as a leader in the team.

3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?

I am up most mornings around 5.45. I use the first 30 minutes activating my brain by language training.

I will then do some form of exercise.

Normally I will take a small breakfast break, check in with my wife and then be at my computer by 8am. I will check the plan for the day - where do I need to be, which meetings, prioritise the deliverables that need to be sorted that day/week and then I will check in on mails.

My mornings tend to be spent on the daily priorities - especially attending to the tasks that I enjoy the least, but which still need to be done.

I try to stop for 30 minutes in the middle of each day. This might be for lunch or just to reset for the afternoon.

Afternoons are usually set aside for creative or more focused and time consuming tasks.

Clearly, there's meetings that have to take place within this - but I carry over from my legal practice days two skills that I truly value. The first is the ability to switch from one subject and be incredibly focused on it to another very quickly. The second is a good memory of what is happening on multiple concurrent projects all at the same time.

I've seen other people need to be focused on one task and find it a challenge to shift gears quickly. For me that's a natural state of affairs.

I'll be working through to around 6.30 - 7pm most days when I will stop to eat.

I tend to use my evenings to decompress. Perhaps watching TV, or playing music.

I used to read a lot. I find now that with the volume of documents passing in front of me each day I have a much lower appetite to read.

Evenings are also for catching up with friends and family. I do not look for evening engagements - I guess I am a morning person.

By 11.30 I will be in bed and normally fall asleep within minutes of my head hitting the pillow.

4. What's a recent leadership lesson you've learned for the first time or been reminded of?

I was challenged by a team member recently who said to me that Senior Leadership was not committed to the same strategy: they felt that inconsistent messages were coming from the team.

It reminded me that leadership is much more about coaching the people you have the privilege to lead than anything else.

This person was confused because they had interpreted the words they heard, as opposed to trying to understand why those words had been used.

Helping less senior people understand that there are many different perspectives to any problem is critical.

5. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?

The Four Agreements: It's a book that I normally give to the whole team at some point during my 'tenure' as their leader.

Each of the Agreements sets out a basis on which you promise to interact with your team. It's not a typical leadership book (and I've read a lot of them).

By leading the team with these four principles, your team knows exactly where they stand with you, what they can expect from you and you from them:

Be careful what you say - just be honest. If there's a problem, tell me straight away and we will find a solution, not look to blame someone. Don't bad mouth people, it's not helpful. There's so much in this one.

Don't take things personally - it's business. [Even though I think that this is important in all aspects of life]. When something does not go how you want, or you feel you did not get what you deserved, it's not personal. As long as we focus on the business of the business, we can also get on with even some of the more challenging people in any organization. They act the way they act because that's their story and for some reason that's what they need to do.

Don't assume anything - massively important. Check stuff! Ask, be curious. Make sure you understand. If you don't understand my requests, ask again and I will explain in a different way till you are 100% sure that you know what's required. I've seen far too many people go off and 'do something' because they thought that's what was said only to find they wasted hours on the wrong task.

Do your best - perfection is an impossible objective. Just do the best you can on any given day. Some days you will be incredible, on others less so. And that's OK. Just as long as you do the bet you can that day.

6. If you could only give one piece of advice to a young leader, what would you say to them?

Leadership is a privilege not an entitlement.

You're not the boss of anyone (except yourself). You may have climbed a corporate structure and be close to the top and 'achieved' a lot. Well done. But never treat that as an entitlement to treat anyone in the organization as being beneath you. Make sure you thank the cleaners and the security guards every day, show appreciation and understand that you are only a leader in most cases because someone else put you there. That can be taken away as quickly as given.

7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader, so far?

Be very choosy about the type of leaders you learn from and how you deal with their reactions to you.

From quite an early age, I saw that less competent or confident leaders were terrified of me and would try to undermine me or bad mouth me as a result. I'll admit, when younger I was quite impatient with poor leadership and did not respond as I would now which exacerbated the situation.

Experience has taught me that you don't need to be the official leader to lead. Sometimes, just supporting them in the right way, empowering them, making their lives easier will be the sort of leadership that you need to demonstrate. Because after all, it's not all about me, it's about empowering other people to be excellent and achieve their full potential, and the title they carry is not the true badge of leadership, it's what they do with it.

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