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Interview with Russell Saunders

Speaker Russell Saunders’ wide range of life experiences make him highly knowledgeable and skilled as a coach and speaker. As partner at inchigo and The OceanTree Group, Russell works with people development to help create profitable, sustainable solutions. Previously, he has been a tennis player & coach as well as an actor. These experiences gave him the skills which help him as a speaker to engage and inspire his clients. Learn about leading through times of uncertainty and more in this interview.

What got you interested in your keynote topic of leading through times of uncertainty?

On reflection, I think dealing with uncertainty has been a pretty constant theme of my life!

I suppose my conscious interest started when I was playing tennis, twenty or so years ago. As I got older and more aware of strong tactical play, the more I was interested by the impact both changing tactics (doing something different to win points) or “mixing it up” (constantly shifting the pace, spin, positioning of shots and my court position) had on the people I was playing against and on myself. It was then I realised that some people have a capacity to deal with uncertainty that others don’t… and that this capacity can have a direct impact on our success.

Secondly, when I trained and then worked as an actor. During this phase of my career, I was learning about and experiencing how audiences become excited and engaged by what is different, unexpected and unusual. Here, uncertainty seemed to be an incredibly powerful tool in captivating people. In fact, some theatre practitioners will say it is the most powerful tool in an actor’s repertoire.

More recently, as I’ve worked in business, I’ve seen what you might call “certainty pretending”. That’s to say, a fear in some individuals, teams and organisations to admit that they don’t know…. a belief that that they are in their roles to provide certainty about EVERYTHING. The impact of this is that it stifles creativity, shuts down debate and diminishes the organisation’s ability to spot and act upon disruption.

Being from the UK, don’t get me started on Brexit!


Do you have any favourite interesting experiences throughout your career in tennis, acting, as an entrepreneur and keynote speaker?

I have quite a few from when I was acting that spring to mind. I can look back and laugh now but at the time they were disheartening and even traumatic!

Advert auditions were always especially depressing. Inevitably, you’d be auditioning to play a generic character – a dad, a policeman, the best friend – and there’d be quite a specific physical brief attached to that – height, skin tone, hair colour, build etc. So, you would arrive at the audition to be shown into a waiting room that was populated entirely by people who looked incredibly similar to you but to your eye were around 5% better looking. The process would always be running an hour late and when you were called in to meet the casting director (who often you would have met many times before for similar briefs) you’d be positioned in front of a camera where you’d say your name, your agent’s name and show your facial profile and the condition of your hands. Then you’d be free to leave. That was it! Your interaction in the audition would have lasted 5 minutes at the most.

As you became more experienced you’d try a range of different techniques to be remembered or to extend your time with the casting director. However, it would always be such an unsatisfactory experience.


What do you think defines a great leader?

I think there are many models for a great leader, not just one definition. What makes a great, successful leader will almost always be, at least in part, context dependent.

However, I do think there are three fundamental questions that great leaders are able to answer:

Who am I?
How do I connect to others?
Why am I here?


What are 3 tips would you like to give to leaders?

1. Uncertainty is not the enemy, it can be your friend.
2. Stop pretending.
3. Meet “the other” – those who look, think and see that which you don’t.


When creating sustainable business solutions, what do you take into account?

At inchigo, my consulting organisation, our expertise is in developing people. We believe that the rapidly changing and complex world requires business to be sustainable, meaningful and enable all stakeholders to thrive.

For this to happen, profitable business, social engagement and human development need to be integrated to become one and the same. This means businesses should look to generate economic, social and human value in what they do.

Fundamental questions around what business is, the nature of its relationships, its purpose in the world, and how it grows and develops, need to be re-examined and explored, through reflection and action.

So, we help businesses and their leaders to expand awareness, embrace new perspectives and create context-specific practices that positively impact all their stakeholders.


How much does humor factor into your keynotes and other speaking engagements?

A smile or laugh are never far from my face. I grew up in the pub that my parents ran. You soon learn that if people don’t have a good time, they don’t come back for another drink. Humour is an essential tool in engaging any audience. My keynotes are no different.

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