Believe in yourself — You are the author of your destiny and achieving your potential. Others can help you but the grit to make things happen is our responsibility. Self-belief is the ability to live our dreams on our terms and not live our fears on the terms of others.
In this interview series, we are exploring the subject of resilience among successful business leaders. Resilience is one characteristic that many successful leaders share in common, and in many cases it is the most important trait necessary to survive and thrive in today’s complex market.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Denise Richardson.
It took Denise twenty years to share the story of her harrowing childhood in her new memoir, Cruel. Despite her beginnings, Denise has had successful careers as a nurse, a police officer, and an international business executive.
Denise now works as an international personal success coach, a public speaker and a mentor to women who have experienced similar circumstances to her own. She is a an expert in removing fear and building confidence, writes on personal development and runs workshops for those who seek purpose, confidence, self-belief and the knowledge that they have more to gain from life.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory?
My adult life has been blessed; I have been lucky enough to work within three professions, which has enabled me to meet culturally diverse and interesting people. I am an optimist who has learnt always to look for the positives in life.
I was raised in an impoverished single-parent family, with a mother that was an alcoholic and abusive. At fourteen, the Police removed me from my home, and I became ‘a ward of court’ for my protection. Shortly afterwards, my mother passed away, and I spent the remainder of my childhood in children’s homes and foster care. I was determined to make a difference not only in my life but also in the lives of others.
Getting a vocation that helped others became very important to me, so I started my journey by qualifying as a nurse, while at the same time in the evenings, studying for business qualifications at the local college.
Three years after qualifying as a Nurse, I trained and became a Police Officer. Back then, the Police force was not as diverse and progressive as it is now and so I resigned after two years.
With the business qualifications I had gained, I secured a position as a business manager for a recruitment business that recruited nurses. Recruitment became my long-term career and one that spanned over two decades.
During that time, I was privileged to live and work internationally, in diverse cultures; including, Australia, Malaysia, the Middle East and the USA during my tenure as a Managing Director.
I left the recruitment industry in 2019 and moved to Mexico. There, I spent a year writing my memoir, which subsequently was published. I now run a consultancy business with the purpose to inspire and help women develop, build confidence and achieve their aspirations.
I undertake public speaking engagements, and I am active in supporting charities that assist the homeless and abused children and women.
Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
There are so many stories to share, but one that changed my life and shaped my career was when I became the Managing Director for ManpowerGroup in Malaysia. It was a business that needed turning around. I was 35 years old and took on a 3-year assignment to transform the business.
The first six months were the most challenging of my career. I was the only expat, on a leadership board comprising of local Malaysians who had been in the business for almost ten years. All of them were my seniors in age, and I had taken over from the incumbent who was a Bumiputera (Malays and Oran Asil or indigenous peoples of Malaysia/Southeast Asia) who remained in the business and on the board.
The role was my first position in a non-western business environment. I had to build credibility quickly, both internally and externally. Culturally, being a woman and not a local Malay, added to the challenge. Still, back then as now, I relish challenges.
After three years, the business had tripled and was highly profitable. During my tenure as the Managing Director, I feel proud that I retained all my direct reports and members of the board.
There were two big take-aways for me from the whole experience.
Firstly, when undertaking business in another country, you need to learn and respect the people and their culture and understand the correct business etiquette.
Secondly, it is teamwork. As a leader, you need to be humble and recognise others strengths and qualities. I surrounded myself with people who had the skills I didn’t, and this meant I needed to repress anything ego-driven when it came to leading the team: especially problem-solving and decision-making.
Malaysia was a challenging training ground, and it enriched my skillset for more demanding assignments when I was called upon to manage several countries in the Middle East and China.
What do you think makes your brand stand out? Can you share a story?
My brand is all about authenticity. Throughout my career, I’ve lived and breathed the lessons I learned at an early age. Those lessons offer insights and skills that are highly relatable and useful when I lead, coach, guide and support people facing challenges inside and outside of work.
Being authentic offers to those I help, a fair amount of empathy, straight talking, pragmatism, practical skills, personal experience and honesty.
An example was when I was asked to coach a senior female leader in a large corporate organisation. The CEO of the organisation explained the challenges the leader was facing and explained that either she became better at her job or he would have to let her go from the business. He also wanted to know if, during the course of our coaching discussions, she expressed anything negative about him or the organisation. Additionally, he said, “You have two weeks to fix her or she is out.”
I offered some feedback to the CEO regarding his approach for the lady’s development and declined the coaching opportunity.
I believe I could have helped the female leader but I would not betray her trust in me as an independent person trying to help her.
None of us is able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I would not have achieved the success I have if it had not been for so many mentors. One mentor in particular that I respected was my direct line manager — Manton. He was firm but fair and he genuinely cared about his team as individuals
It is funny how people come in and out of your life, but ten years on, I still remember him, even though we have had no contact. He taught me one of my biggest lessons in business, and that was how to develop a strategy and how to translate it into an executable business plan.
In my first year writing a business plan, he returned it for amendments so many times. His focus was to ensure my business plan was robust, actionable and measurable.
Although at the time, I didn’t appreciate the midnight emails, with very short deadlines for amendments, I quickly respected why he was so firm; especially when I started to put the plan into action.
Even now, I still follow his structure on every strategic plan I write.
We would like to explore and flesh out the trait of resilience. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?
For me, resilience is about having the mental fortitude to cope with challenging situations. When you really want to achieve success, or you have a goal in your life, that you genuinely believe in, nothing will stand in your way — you will stop at nothing.
Resilient people have an infectious drive; they are so passionate about the end goal that they find solutions to any problem that may arise until they achieve it.
I believe the characteristics of resilient people are:
- They often have robust emotional intelligence traits.
- They can assess challenging situations in a logical way, without attaching subjectivity and emotion.
- They possess a high degree of self-awareness and self-governance.
- They possess strong problem-solving skills.
- They are socially astute and not afraid to ask for help.
When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?
Malala Yousafzai — After being shot in 2012, she didn’t become a victim; her resilience led her to become a prominent activist for girls and women’s rights to education. As the youngest Nobel Prize recipient and the founder of the Malala Fund. Malala encompasses resilience and how you can turn a negative situation to something for the greater good. I’m sure she still has a lot of great things she will do with her life.
Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? Can you share the story with us?
You will always come across naysayers during your journey in life. A few people told me I was crazy moving to Australia, and kept saying I would be back in 6-months.
I was still in my late twenties, had a really good job and at the age of 21 had already purchased my own home. I knew it was the right decision, even though I didn’t know anyone in Australia. I sold my house, all my belongings and moved with just a suitcase and myself, to the other side of the world. Other people thought that I was taking a huge risk, and I think most of my friends didn’t believe I would go through with it.
It ended up being a great decision and really launched my corporate career, culminating in becoming an international business executive and board member.
I believe if you have aspirations, you need to take risks to not only to develop and learn but also, to achieve your dreams and goals.
Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?
Yes. My most painful setback was when I purchased a restaurant and event centre on the Sunshine Coast of Australia. It was substantial in size, and I used all of my savings to buy it. I employed 40 people; the restaurant had 80 covers and the function room catered for over 300 people.
Over the year that I made the acquisition, the Australian dollar was very strong, and tourists didn’t come in their usual numbers and worse still, Australians were making the most of travelling overseas with such a strong currency.
Within 18 months, I was bankrupt. I lost all my life savings and had to rebuild and go back to the corporate world. It was a requirement to spend three years, sending 50% of my corporate salary back to Australia during the bankruptcy term. It was personally a significant setback on my finances and my ambitions at the time. I was delighted the day that my bankruptcy term ended but proud that I kept fully to the terms and obligations of the bankruptcy.
I learnt a great deal during this time and mainly about my inner resolve, capacity to generate solutions and the true value of remaining optimistic and positive.
I also learned from this experience that to succeed in life, you have to take risks, learn from failures and fully respect life lessons as they present themselves to you, without becoming bitter or cynical.
Which experiences of growing up contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share a story?
By the time I was 13, I had attended 14 schools, lived in 12 different homes and been homeless three times. I had the responsibility of looking after the home and my mother before I was a teenager. So I learnt to build resilience from an early age.
My mother was one of my naysayers, who always said I would amount to nothing and probably be pregnant before I left school. When I sat in the children’s home after she passed away, I made a decision that no matter how hard it got, what setbacks came my way, I would break out of the family cycle and do something with my life.
I have always looked back with gratitude for the lessons I learnt early on. If I hadn’t had these experiences, I would not have been so motivated to achieve as much as I have in my life and I would not be in the privileged position I am now to help others build their resilience.
Resilience is like a muscle that can be strengthened. In your opinion, what are 5 steps that someone can take to become more resilient? Please share a story or an example for each.
1. Overcome negative belief patterns — Negative beliefs are so destructive, you will never become resilient while you listen to your negative beliefs.
Many belief systems, especially negative ones, are formed at an early age. Nick Vujicic exemplifies how, at an early age, he decided to reject the negative belief systems he and others formed about him being born with no arms and legs. Bullied at school, Nick rose above the negative belief systems associated with his condition and is living a life without limits.
2. Obtain a sense of purpose — when you develop a sense of purpose you will be inspired to take action. Develop goals around your purpose and take incremental steps. Always celebrate small wins.
My desire to write my memoir had its genesis when I was in my late thirties. It remained I my subconscious until I decided the time was right. I set a breakthrough goal to make it happen and underpinned it with the purpose not only to write the book but have it as a platform to help others. Writing was sometimes an emotional and intellectual challenge but after completing each chapter, there was a sense of moving one step closer to the book being published. Purpose creates progress.
3. Believe in yourself — You are the author of your destiny and achieving your potential. Others can help you but the grit to make things happen is our responsibility. Self-belief is the ability to live our dreams on our terms and not live our fears on the terms of others.
When I finally left foster care at eighteen, I was on my own. I set myself a goal that I would buy my own apartment within two years. I had an abiding belief system in my abilities to work hard, seek opportunities and overcome obstacles. The more I believed in myself, the closer I came to my dream of owning my own home. Almost to the day, two years after I left the children’s home; I bought my first apartment.
4. Embrace mindfulness — Being mindful offers a way to gain control of chaotic thoughts and emotions. It offers a way of grounding you in the present so that you can bring perspective to your life and its challenges.
I meditate daily. It allows me to bring focus to a single thing and quiets the diverse thoughts and emotions that accumulate over the day. No matter how challenging the day, meditating provides time for the whole of me to find calm, peace and a sense of being grounded.
5. Test your perception — A perception that distorts reality, invites self-doubt, fear and limits choices.
Everyone knows the report from John (Jack) Swigert, the Command Module Pilot of Apollo 13, when he said, “Houston we have a problem.” This one report caused the astronauts and scores of engineers on earth to solve a variety of challenging problems to ensure the astronauts returned to earth safely.
To be successful, they needed to focus on solving the problems and not on their emotions — which included fear. As each challenge arose, their resilience grew because they focused on the real size of the problem and didn’t allow emotions to magnify it. Reality testing is an important element of developing resilience because it focuses on solutions, problem solving and identifying options.
If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
I have a dream to build ‘Confidence Academies’ — confidence affects most people; no one is 100% confident and free from some sort of fear. Can you imagine if we spent more time developing people to fully believe that they could achieve, anything they put their mind to? Imagine how different our world could be.
Mental health would be significantly improved; there would be reduced self-esteem issues; there would be less tolerance to violence and abuse, and all forms of relationships would be enhanced. There would be more innovation, as people would put their dreams into action. From a socio-economic viewpoint, the benefits are endless.
We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?
I didn’t hesitate with this one, Michelle Obama. She is a role model for women, she is inspiring, compassionate, intellectual, and genuinely cares for people.
She embodies everything I’m passionate about — removing poverty, educating women, improving children’s development, and an emphasis on health and wellness.
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Cruel: One Child’s Story To Survive by Denise Richardson is published by New Horizon Publishing, priced £7.95. See more at https://www.fearlessoutcomes.com/