Richard Lett: ‘All you can control is yourself’
Being in the middle of an ocean is a great lesson in personal responsibility, says CUNA Lending Council Conference keynoter.
Richard Lett looked after Prince William while the future King of England grew up. He also ran security for the London Olympics in 2012. He’s sailed across the ocean. And now he leads a national health and life insurance agency.
And from all of those experiences, Lett says he’s taken away valuable insights into what it takes to be a leader.
“Each one gives me a different perspective of what it’s like to sit at the top table and responsibility for one’s fate,” says Lett, who will be a keynote speaker at the CUNA Lending Council Conference Oct. 30 to Nov. 2 in Las Vegas.
Throughout his varied career, Lett learned lessons about risk management, responsibility, decision making, and being prepared for anything. The lessons began when he joined London’s Metropolitan Police—commonly known as Scotland Yard—in 1982.
On his first day in uniform, Lett was assigned to attend a garden party at Buckingham Palace. His shoes were shined and trousers were ironed, and Lett says he thought it would be a fantastic day. But a bomb went off, killing members of the ceremonial guard.
Despite the training he received in cadet school, Lett wasn’t prepared for the events of that day and the enormity of the carnage and injuries that followed.
“You’ll never be ready for certain things in your life. You do the best you can,” he says. “Something will happen and all you can control is yourself.”
The lessons continued after he was named a member of the Personal Guard for the royal family. His assignment? Looking after Princes William and Harry.
The appointment came shortly after Princess Diana died in a car crash in 1997. Lett saw the impact it had on the two boys, who were unable to hide from the spotlight, and how they moved on with their lives.
“They taught me a lot about leadership, from how you make decisions, to how you live your life under intense public and media interest,” Lett recalls. “Never forget how precious anonymity is.”
As the CEO of a healthcare company, Lett says he’s familiar with what takes place when decisions need to be made, and the need to be accountable at board meetings.
Decisions and accountability are similar, but the consequences can be very different. When he sets out on a 16,000-mile journey by sailboat in 2017 on behalf of the Gillette Children’s Hospital in St. Paul, Minn., he’ll be the only person aboard. That will leave all decision-making up to him as he twice crosses the Atlantic Ocean.
“You know what’s it’s like to be the CEO in that top chair,” he says. “But on the boat, you really know what it feels like to be on your own—there’s no one to help. Being in the middle of an ocean is a great lesson in personal responsibility.”
Lett took over as CEO at the LeClair Group two years ago. The company saw 20% growth in the first year and is on track for 40% growth this year.
He says his leadership style is one that invests in technology, education, and resources for everyone. LeClair Group’s culture is one of confidence, commitment, and ownership in everything the team does.
It’s key for him to focus on the business, creating the right environment, culture and systems, Lett says, and to let his team own their performance and delivery.
“The role of leadership is about partnership and confidence,” Lett says. “It’s about giving security to your organization and making everyone understand we are doing the right things together.”