Nicola Thompson is a Senior exec, ex CEO and COO, with over 25 years experience gained in some of the UK’s fastest growing retail e-commerce brands, including C-Suite roles at ASOS.com and Made.com where she was COO, and CEO. She is currently a Consultant and Board Advisor to high growth start-ups and scale-ups.
1. What values are most important to you as a leader?
Without a doubt the value that is most important to me as leader is trust – if you can’t create an environment where people feel they are trusted, and you can’t trust your people as a leader, then the team cannot achieve great things. Organisations win or fail at the speed of trust – low trust environments are painfully slow and erosive – think about all the times you’ve been in a room and nothing can get decided because it needs someone who is not in the room to make the decision. It causes fear and makes us feel that only a few people have all the answers. Conversely, when high trust is at the heart of the leadership values of the organisation then it forces you to think better about how to hire, how to behave, how to empower and develop, and how to deal with failure.
2. Who or what is your biggest inspiration?
I think my biggest inspiration is our capacity to change and grow. I’ve been going through a lot of personal change over the past year and it never ceases to surprise me that even though at the time I am convinced I will never feel any different, or understand any better, 6 months down the line I have changed. I think this is inspirational because it’s very hopeful and it means that even though we don’t have answers today, we are on our way to finding them all the time. Over the past months I’ve also had the chance to spend more time with founders who have built amazing businesses in completely different ways – profitably, on their own terms and I’ve found that very inspiring too – seeing different ways and opportunities to do things makes me feel very inspired.
3. Best piece of advice you have been given?
Too many to name – the world is full of great advice but I’ll give one. When I was earlier in my exec career a mentor said to me ‘don’t get entrenched in your position, it’s not a weakness to change your mind, it shows your capacity to take on new information’. That has really stuck with me because it forces you to be an active listener at all times and be open to the idea of changing your point of view, I find that keeps me really objective.
4. What would you tell your younger self?
I would tell her to relax, don’t worry so much – there is no perfect right answer – to take the opportunity to travel when you have it as you are never going to be as free as you are now. That ultimately pretty much everything can be sorted out with a bit of time.
5. What has been your most important or profound lesson as a leader?
My most profound lesson is that sometimes you can do all the right things and still get the wrong outcome. We all tend to overestimate the level of control we have over situations, and the truth is we can’t control everything. The benefit to you as a leader and your teams of focusing only on what is within your control and doing your absolute best to create clarity and agency around this, whilst accepting what you cannot has been a powerful lesson.