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Bossing It: Rikke Wichmann Bruun on Empathy, Essentialism and Empowerment

MRM UK's managing director on reaching big business goals, recognising the human element of failing and how motherhood started her road to leadership.

April 2022
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Rikke is a strong believer in putting people first and is an open-minded and transparent leader. Honest and to the point, she inspires those around her with her frankness and focus. With over twenty years’ experience, Rikke is dedicated to building enduring client relationships while bringing the best out of those around her.

Rikke has worked across a wide range of businesses, industries, and sectors – from FMCG, to automotive, FS and manufacturing. She has worked at Arc, AMV BBDO, Ogilvy, Saatchi & Saatchi, 360i (Dentsu) and Oliver and therefore has a truly integrated skillset having touched almost every point within the consumer journey – from advertising to media and most things in between.

LBB> What was your first experience of leadership?

Rikke> Motherhood ☺ – 16 years in and still learning.

LBB> How did you figure out what kind of leader you wanted to be – or what kind of leader you didn’t want to be?

Rikke> In my first leadership role I didn’t have a clue and tended to look around me (and mostly incorrectly) tried to copy other people’s style in an attempt at finding my own. But deep down I always knew that my leadership style was and still is a little different from the norm. I stay true to myself and apply the simple value that a happy leader, makes a happy team. I have always known that I didn’t want to be a micromanaging dictating leader – through my own experience those styles have never given me anything positive so that has always been a big watch out for me. My style is to lead with empathy, essentialism and empowerment.

LBB> What experience or moment gave you your biggest lesson in leadership?

Rikke> A difficult restructure just before a holiday season is where I learnt my biggest lesson on how to care and ‘not’ care. I also learned that breaking down in tears in the boardroom with my CFO afterwards is a great cleanse after hard moments like that.

LBB> Did you know you always wanted to take on a leadership role? If so how did you work towards it and if not, when did you start realising that you had it in you?

Rikke> Never intentionally from a title point of view, but I have always been most satisfied and felt most accomplished by reaching bigger business goals. I have an insane drive and energy when it comes to doing hard things – some might call me a stubborn masochist in that regard, and I think that has driven me the most. I am a twin so attempting to be the ‘leader of the pack’ has been there from birth.

LBB> When it comes to ‘leadership’ as a skill, how much do you think is a natural part of personality, how much can be taught and learned?

Rikke> I 100% think it is a mix – I think the drive, ambition and resilience is a personality thing. But I am a firm believer in continuing to refine how this transcends into leadership through coaching and learning. Learning should never end; I know that I will never feel like I know it all and I will always strive to be a better leader and person.

LBB> What are the aspects of leadership that you find most personally challenging? And how do you work through them?

Rikke> It is always hard when you have to restructure or/and let good people go for various reasons. One of my first leadership tasks was to do that. The unforgiving and harsh application of ‘caring, and not caring’ with empathy and openness in those situations has helped me throughout my career.

LBB> Have you ever felt like you’ve failed whilst in charge? How did you address the issue and what did you learn from it?

Rikke> All. The. Time. I guess I address them by being aware of them and to be honest I don’t let it put me down. I truly recognise the human element of failing and I’m not afraid of sharing my mistakes and learning from them with my teams. When I fail (not all the time I hope) I work from the principles of: Fail fast, fix fast and learn fast.

LBB> In terms of leadership and openness, what’s your approach there? Do you think it’s important to be transparent as possible in the service of being authentic? Or is there a value in being careful and considered?

Rikke> Transparency yes 100% – I believe in transparency and think it’s the way we communicate it that sometimes fails. I believe our people deserve to know what is going on within our business – in good and bad times. I have never shied away from sharing hard times and have equally always been loud about our successes.

LBB> It’s been a really challenging year – and that’s an understatement. How do you cope with the responsibility of leading a team through such difficult waters?

Rikke> I’m very connected to my belief in transparency and bringing people on the journey with me. I think it’s important to allow my team to see that these times have been hard for my “leader” self too. I have a firm belief that things are going to get better and sometimes going through it to get round it is the only way forward.

LBB> What are the most useful resources you’ve found to help you along your leadership journey?

Rikke> My daughter and watching her grow up in two different countries and a global pandemic.


Originally published by Little Black Book.