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By Observing, We Can Thrive

An Interview with Rachel Montagu, Owner/Director at Montagu

Rachel Montagu is a woman of many talents and skills. She is a headhunter, a coach, a women’s advocate, a mother and a friend. Rachel runs her own business and demonstrates daily that by listening, asking questions and observing the world around us, we can only be better. This includes coaching as a leadership style, empowering everyone around her to be their best selves, and collecting insights from both the young and the tenured alike. Rachel knows that we never stop growing and embraces that in her life and approach too. We are so happy to be featuring Rachel and her unique style as our next Inspiring Leader.

WeInspireWe: Thanks so much for being a part of the WeInspireWe community, Rachel. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Rachel Montagu: It’s a pleasure to be here. I headhunt senior advisors, board members, and top talent internationally for private equity, find board members for family offices, and I also coach and mentor executives in transition. I am an advocate for diversity in the boardroom. I have over 25 years in business and expertise in executive search, board search, consulting, private equity, energy and resources, consumer goods, hospitality and financial services. I am passionate about my family and our dog, the work I do for the Prince's Trust in the UK for engaging young people in education, work or entrepreneurism. I also love playing tennis, skiing, food, nature, traveling, the mountains and of course my friends.

WIW: Tell us a little bit about the path that has led you to be the strong, female leader you are today.

RM: It has been a winding road of uphill crashing and smooth sailing. I have learned the most from mistakes – bad hires, unexpected external factors and my persistent fascination in talent and humankind. I have learned to ask more questions, to trust my instincts and to be completely honest with myself. It has meant that I am more fulfilled professionally and am more aware of how I like to use my time and energy – seeing and supporting others to blossom.

WIW: How would you describe your personal leadership style?

RM: I would describe my style as a coaching style. I choose to lead by inspiring and empowering others to be their best selves and work as a team for something bigger than themselves.

WIW: How has your approach evolved over the years?

RM: It has moved from an authoritarian leading by example to a coach-based style. As I have matured professionally, I have gained an understanding that I am not the best. I was good at leading by example as a young manager headhunting and running a team across Europe. However, when I got older, I realized that you can empower more through a coaching style than through purely results-based autocracy. The benefit of leading through a coach-based style is that it takes the pressure off the leader and focuses on the delivery team – who then feel they are being backed and supported. They can be their best selves and use their competencies and resources for optimal results.

WIW: Tell us about a time that you had a major “aha” about the leader you wanted (or want) to be.

RM: In 2015, I experienced a personal crisis that made me reflect on all parts of my life. My mother, who I was very close to as a friend and business partner, had a traumatic accident which had her in a coma for 5 months and then left her with a severe brain injury that altered her mind forever. We were by her bed every day in different hospitals and rehabilitation centers for 2 years. This had an effect on my business and also forced me to get involved in her business as we worked out how to manage in her absence and into the future.

I learned that we must make a succession plan and plan for different eventualities whether one is a leader, owner or board member. And through this all, my leadership style evolved by giving me an acute awareness about the importance of always having a succession plan. I take this forward in my business in how I advise clients, and in the boardroom. This is now always on my agenda.

The second evolution of my leadership style was in seeing the importance of recruiting the right people at any given time. I have based my career on this critical part of business. As a leader your organization's success is dependent on your ability to recruit well and invest in the right people. No other process should take greater precedence when building a business.

WIW: What has been your biggest learning lesson as you’ve established your personal leadership style?

RM: Be open to change. Keep learning, asking questions, listen and reflect. The world is full of marvelous, clever, better, brighter, newer, kinder, outstanding, and innovative people. We can never tire of keeping up with the times. I have especially learned this through my children and their friends. Through the wonder of hope and opportunity in youngsters eyes, one can see the world as it really is – a gift of time that have the responsibility to look after. My conclusion is that if we care, then we are curious and will engage by listening and trying to understand other points of view to always grow and evolve.

WIW: How would you like to see your leadership style evolve in the future?

RM: I would like to see my style develop further to empower more female talent. Women have an opportunity to make more of an impact and to take bigger roles of responsibility in board rooms and decision-making roles and I would personally love to empower and inspire that.

WIW: Can you give us an example of a particularly difficult leadership situation and how you handled it?

RM: In 2014, a managing director and shareholder was mismanaging the finances of the company I was working for. I gave him numerous warnings at meetings that were minuted and then engaged my board in helping negotiate an exit for him. In retrospect, I should have fired him myself with the board's consent. I was too soft. I learned that I need to "trust my gut" more, be firm in my beliefs and maintain an inner calm. As a leader I believe it is important to set clear goals and a system in place for accountability and transparency and it’s my job to enforce that around me.

WIW: When it comes to female leadership and opportunities for growth, what do you believe?

RM: There should be no prejudice in selecting leadership. Female leadership has been proven to work across all sectors. Women are and have the opportunity to be in greater leadership positions including on Boards and in CEO positions. As a collective, we need to do more to allow for female leaders to thrive by encouraging paternity leave, allowing for childcare in work places, and increased flexibility in the work place in order to not lose female talent.

We also need to champion more for one another and break barriers of male-dominated clubs and glass ceilings.

WIW: What advice do you have for a young female employee beginning to develop her leadership style.

RM: Observe good leadership from both men and women. Be natural. Dare to step out of your comfort zone when you believe in something. Be true to your values and trust your instincts. Don't allow men to bully you by speaking more or louder than you. Be smarter and get a sense of humor.

The future is bright and women in leadership is on the rise. Data shows us how diverse leadership, both executives and in the boardroom, get better, more sustainable results.

Thank you, Rachel, for your words of wisdom and for sharing your perspective and personal stories with us. We value your experience and approach to leading and love the idea of coaching, listening and observing as a way to empower each other and ourselves – and also the idea of trusting our instincts too which also requires listening and observing. What a beautiful leadership philosophy!!! Thank you for inspiring us to be the best we can be.

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